New RIBA fire safety guideline drawn up post Grenfell

United Kingdom
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) have joined forces to create an add-on to the RIBA Plan of Work (POW). Their goal is to help ensure that, in complex project teams, critical fire safety issues, for instance cladding design and fire-stopping, do not fall through the cracks.

The POW is a UK project management tool, widely followed by the construction industry and specifically architects for the construction, design and building process. The POW subdivides the process of designing, constructing, operating building projects and briefing into eight stages. At each stage the tasks and outputs required are detailed.

The POW was first developed in 1963 but saw a fundamental overhaul in its structure in 2013 to serve the needs of the construction industry. The Planning, Procurement and Programme tasks can be suited to individualised project or practice needs. There is a project POW for small projects, providing simplified guidance on regulatory matters and core design. A Design for manufacture and assembly overlay to the POW, allows for greater offsite manufacturing and thereby minimises onsite construction. Lastly, the POW gathers accumulated knowledge from a range of clients who are willing to share their experiences to benefit architects and other clients in future.

Now a draft add-on is to provide industry with updated guidance on fire safety. RIBA consulted fire engineers, the fire brigade, representatives of building control officers and surveyors when discussing the draft in late September. Whilst work on the project had been ongoing prior, the publishing date has now been urgently pushed up due to the jarring fire safety failings that occurred in the Grenfell Tower disaster. The add-on is expected to be published as soon as Christmas this year.

The add-on will take the form of practical guidance, and will therefore have no official status in legislation or regulation. Its purpose will be to help guide project teams as they navigate requirements, it will advise when a specialist’s opinion should be sought and on the timing of key decisions.

Paul Bussey, the RIBA’s lead on the project, explained, “There is currently a gap in the fire arena. It’s become clear that we currently don’t have a plan, this is a process map, and if projects don’t use it, then they need to have their own alternative method.”

Particular care will be taken to account for value engineering or cost cutting that often affect initial specifications.

Whilst the plan currently follows the Approved Document B of the Building Regulations, it may be updated to fall in line with the ongoing public inquiry under Sir Martin Moore-Bick as well as the review of fire safety regulations lead by Dame Judith Hackitt.

The add-on process can act as a temporary, modifiable fill for the gaps left in Approved Document B since changing the document itself would take between 18 months to two years.

The investigations into the construction industries’ involvement and culpability in Grenfell continues, with forensic data and the business records of 336 organisations being collected who have been identified as having been involved in the management, refurbishment or construction of the Grenfell Tower.

The forensic investigation is estimated to last until early 2018.