Dan Daly, Head of Protection Policy and Reform Unit at the National Fire Chiefs Council on why Modern Methods of Construction require greater fire scrutiny
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) supports the requirement to build homes quickly and sustainably whilst reducing the environmental impact when they are built. There is a clear need for building stock to be built to a safe and very high standard, quickly and using greener sustainable methods wherever possible. Modern methods of construction (MMC), encompassing different materials and methods, play a key part in providing this much needed housing, however, NFCC is clear that this should not be prioritised at the expense of safety.
It is essential that MMC receive the appropriate level of scrutiny required to demonstrate compliance with the functional requirements of the building regulations. Assurance is needed that fire performance of materials, elements, and systems have been fully considered, have been tested appropriately, and provide the level of safety that residents and firefighters should expect.
Competence, as with any building and construction methodology, and its related fire performance, is critical to delivering a safe building for occupants and firefighters alike. This knowledge and understanding of methods of construction, and related building safety, should encompass competency throughout a premises lifecycle and include for example, the planning, design, approval, construction, occupation, management, and any potential future alteration.
The drive for sustainable and higher quality buildings must be balanced with the need to ensure that new and existing building stock achieves a high degree of fire safety. The apparent lack of large-scale fire test research and data, coupled with a period where construction quality and competency is questionable, does not provide us with confidence that all of these MMC projects are receiving the appropriate level of scrutiny needed for such new and innovative approaches.
In our view, there should not be a conflict between sustainability, improved building standards and fire safety. This understanding not only feeds directly into the design process but allows greater understanding of building performance in fire such that fire services can develop their operational understanding and response.
There have been several high-profile fires across the country where construction methods have been questioned, and rightly so. Investigating and learning from these incidents will contribute to the information required to allow such methods to be safely used when supported and informed with comprehensive, robust, validated and appropriate test data and research.
Whilst we welcome the current reform of building safety NFCC believe that Government and the fire and construction sector still have a long way to go to ensure that the fundamental changes needed in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy are realised. Significant cultural change in the system must take place to improve competency levels across the sector and ensure that MMC is promoted and more widely used, but done so in a manner which provides safe buildings for all. Additional safeguards are needed to ensure there isn’t an influx of potentially unsafe MMC buildings being constructed while necessary regulatory reforms are in progress.