BIM4Housing Follow-Up to Levelling Up Committee Meetings - Q1 - How do we prevent incorrect design, selection, and installation of fire safety products?

RICHARD Here is the question: How do we prevent incorrect design selection and installation of fire safety products? We’ve got a number of answers from people already, there’s 25 there. We're not going to get through all of those, but we don’t need to because I have a grid of the top three from a number of people who are in this meeting, so we’ll go through the most popular ones. George, do you want to put this into context?

GEORGE What we’re trying to do here is address the conundrum that we’ve come across a lot, that we might have the right product, it might be perfect, but it’s then put in the wrong context or its fitted in the wrong wall, so therefore that product selection is really important. I think under the new gateways we’ve got the opportunity, from a legal and contractual perspective, to get that right because certainly on some of the key things like dampers and things like that which can be the source of problems, those have got to be selected prescriptively before you move into construction. In other words, by gateway 2 you’ve got to have picked the products that you’re actually going to install and not simply swap them out during a value engineering exercise.

That’s a massive change for the industry, but it’s one that in our experience at these meetings, it’s been welcomed to a great extent because it is the source of a lot of problems. I’ve got an example I can show when we get underway that Paul McSoley has given as an example.

RICHARD Let me explain what we’re doing in terms of the process here. We’ve had a lot of input from people on these answers already, I’ve not had the time to collate and include that in these answers. Ron Burns has made a number of comments on the actual answers themselves, all of which I agree with. But that will come later once I come down to putting it all together.

The most popular in terms of which people think are the most important is number 4: a regulator should prevent companies from using uncertified products by providing clear guidelines on compatible options.

GEORGE How could the Regulator do that?

RICHARD I’ve no idea. I’m going to ask Ron how the Regulator is going to do that, since you put it as one of your priorities, Ron.

RON BURNS As I said before I’m new to this country, but from where i come from the certificates that are used to prove a product is certified is very weak. It's a one page item, it doesn’t contain complete information and you never get to see the supporting document which underpins the ventilator. For example, if you’ve got a ventilator, it’s very difficult to get 67%, 70% efficiency all the time, but some vents achieve that, but when they open the blades sit inside the ambient airstream which means that they can’t function properly because the wind will change the aerodynamic area. So I think that the Regulator should make sure that the information that goes out into industry on the certificates are more detailed than a one pager which is then underpinned by a salesman’s schedule of areas, and that’s just using the vent as an example.

GEORGE There is more detailed information available though, isn’t there? Through the test evidence and all that stuff.

RON BURNS The difficulties we have is that that is deemed proprietary information and it’s very difficult to get that information from a manufacturer. Whereas if there was, take a ventilator and if you want to put burglar guards on that ventilator, the geometric area doesn’t change but the aerodynamic area changes because you’ve put a restriction about the discharge of the vent. Further to that, if you have a grain store that you’re protecting and you have burglar guards for people and bird mesh for birds, because birds can fly through burglar guards, you can lose 19% on the efficiency of the vent using those two products. But not all of the vents are tested with those components in, so how do we accurately determine what’s the correct aerodynamic area of that vent dependent on what’s put on it?

GEORGE The interesting thing about that is that that’s potentially made up of several different manufacturers who’ve each got their own tested products and it’s then brought together into a fabricated solution, who you might also say is a manufacturer. I don’t know whether I’m saying something to your example, but certainly as far as doors are concerned a door set can be made up from the products that several manufacturers are producing and have tested. And then the door set itself can be tested, but then that isn’t what sometimes gets applied because the information then goes through to a fabricator and the fabricator will put together a door set of a number of different tested components.

RON BURNS I would then say that that product that gets soled that’s put together by various tested components does not comply with the regulation because if we went to Mercedes Benz and we bought all of the components for a Mercedes Benz and we built it in my garage at the weekend, would I have a Mercedes when i’m finished? The answer is no because there’s other requirements that take place. I just want to stick on the vent, because I understand the vent and not the fire door, I can go as a vent manufacturer and I can source different components, build a vent, and then the vent gets tested. I can’t go and then buy those parts that are individually tested and build a vent that’s not tested as a complete component. so when you buy a certified product it’s tested from start to finish, it’s not just a whole lot of certified products put together to make it complete.

JOHN FIELD I’ve just moved into this area with regards to specifically fire doors and I’d suggest we look at things holistically, it’s not just that the items that we’re sticking together have been tested individually, it’s that they’ve been tested together so that they are appropriate and they work together. So you have a selection of materials you could use, but they are tested together at some point to certify that they’re all OK to fit together like a piece of puzzle. It’s not just getting random stuff off a shelf that is acceptable and then putting them together in the hope that it will be compliant.

PAUL WHITE It’s a good point, I was going to ask Ron a) what type of vent? Was he talking about an AOV vent for a smoke control system, or was he talking about a louver that essentially just lets air in and out? Because they have different functions. But the aerodynamic free area of a smoke vent as a for instance and also the free area of a damper is quite important, certainly in natural systems. And then of course the other point about adding those things is you also have the issues with Part L potentially of the building regs in terms of energy because if you haven’t designed it with it in there and you add it in there you’ve added pressure drop. You might need to change your fan, you’re changing all of your characteristics.

You’re absolutely right, if you’re buying an AOV, most AOVs for some vent probably don’t have bird mesh on because they probably wouldn’t be open, unless there was an incident or they were being tested. But if there was some reason why they were open a lot (I’m not sure what that would be) then they would need burglar mesh or even insect mesh which would be even worse, and that certainly would change the…and the manufacturer, if they’re planning to have it used with that then they should test it with that and give you a comparison.

CLIFF I just wanted to mention about LABC, the Local Authority Building Control, have details that are registered and these are different components that are bought together to create a system. I think that moving forwards this might be the answer to some of the questions. The example given was for a vent, there are many different instances where different products are brought together, but if you were, for example, trying to give some kind of warranty or assurance that a door is fire proofed sitting in a wall, you could get that door in a wall built into a system and get it tested and approved and it becomes a robust accredited detail. I think maybe that’s the way that the industry will move because that system is already in place with LABC, just at the moment they focus quite a lot on thermal bridging and things like that. But there is no reason to say that that can’t be used for other junctions in the building.

RICHARD The process is there, it’s just got to be implemented.

CLIFF Yeah, it is there, and if you use the robust detail LABC approved, you don’t actually need to have building regulations because it's already been approved. Like I say, you’d have to build the thing you need, the whole system, and get it tested so that it becomes certified as a robust detail. Seeing as the industry is becoming a bit more robust and there is a regime in place now LABC will start to test more common junctions, but you’ll always get new junctions using different products as the come on the market. But quite often we’re using the same type of products and the same situations.

GEORGE Yeah, and I think there should be more standardisation of that type, that seems to make sense to me.

COLIN WHITE I think Paul’s already asked the question, the initial question related to ventilators and the mention of a grain store suggests that it is industrial ventilation and process handling. Paul’s right when it comes to CE marked or UK CA marked smoke exhaust ventilators, they wouldn’t have bird mesh on them necessarily, or insect mesh, and he’s right that in theory they only operate in an emergency. The question is quite valid because you often see, particularly in shopping centres and commercial buildings with atria where the building owners start hanging down advertising boards or acoustic pods underneath the ventilators and I’d suggest that has more impact on the efficiency of the vents.

A lot of people don’t understand or realise the difference between geometric area and aerodynamic area. For example, if I take the doorway in my office, if I take the door off at the hinges and I’m just left with a frame, I’ve got a clear opening of 2 metres by 1 metre, that is defined as the geometric area. If I stick the door leaf back on the jib and the door is 15 degrees open, the geometric area of that doorway is still 2 metres. If I open the door 60 degrees it is still 2 sq metres geometric. An aerodynamic area can only really be derived from tests and it works out the resistance that a door, depending on what position it’s in, creates to the air flow through it. So there’s a lot of confusion everywhere, even within the industry, about free areas, geometric areas, aerodynamic areas, and then all of the other stuff. If you’ve got smoke control dampers, whilst there is no specific aerodynamic test for smoke control dampers, but fore example if you have a decorative grill that’s going to go in front of the damper, if it’s within 200 mm of the damper it actually has to be tested with the damper, but there is nothing in the test that give you any air flow through it.

PAUL WHITE Putting the grill within 200 mm is actually to do with insulation, but the actual point about if you put a grill in front of a damper with a nominal 1 1/2 sq metres free area that’s the damper, but you have to take into consideration that if you put perf in front of it and it’s 50% perf then it’s 50% of the free area that’s gone. There’s also implications with regard to that, natural it probably won’t work and mechanical you’ve increased you resistance.

ALAN OLIVER I don’t think that the Regulator will be able to prevent companies from using uncertified products. Coming back to fire doors, for years the construction industry has through ignorance or for cynical reasons has bamboozled Building Control. You can buy a fully certified door set, but the majority of building projects over the years have brought in a certified fire door leaf and then they’ve sourced door frames or the wood to make door frames from other sources and they’ve brought in various ironmongery. And in theory they can create  a fully certified door assembly, but in practice even this year it’s been proved that 70% of fire doors have not been installed in a fully fire compliant state.

I don’t really think the Regulator wants to take on that role, I don’t think they’ve got the level of expertise to be expert at every product. I think they’re looking for people to say this is fully certified, but the devil is in the detail and some people will claim that everything is fully certified and they’ll find that people are buying door blanks and they’re cutting apertures in it and fitting their own vision panels and all sorts of things. I think it would be the wrong approach to expect the Regulator to pick up all of those sorts of issues.

RON BURNS I want to make a comment on the damper. As soon as you put the damper in front of a grill and we expect it to work in a natural environment, then we’ve created a natural ventilator. And then it needs to go through an aerodynamic test that doesn’t involve forced ventilation. When we use the damper inside a duct system the damper doesn’t come with airflow rates because it’s controlled with the velocity of the air moving through the cross-sectional area. As far as the Regulator goes, the Regulator is there to control. If the Regulator doesn’t set up a controlling certificate to validate the tests the person purchasing the equipment doesn’t know if it’s tested or not to what it’s tested.

Just like if we put a tyre on a car, the tyre is tested to a specific speed, so you can’t put a lower grade tyre on a Mercedes that can do 180 km per hour because it’s unsafe. And the Regulator needs to have a standard set of certificates that have the correct information on it and people selling the products need to comply with those minimum information criteria.

GEORGE I agree with you Ron, but in practice that isn’t what the Regulator in the UK is doing.

RON BURNS Yes, nowhere I’ve been does the Regulator put out enough control to prevent ambiguity and as long as we’ve got ambiguity strange things happen.

PAUL WHITE The issue is that we’re now talking about flow design, we’re not necessarily talking about fire safety and if the flow design doesn’t work that’s not necessarily critical. However, if the fire safety doesn’t work then it is and at the moment if it’s a damper free area seems to e OK, if it’s a vent to outside, because you’ve got a certain expansion, then you use aerodynamic free areas. But at the moment there’s no requirement to measure aerodynamic free area on dampers. I’m  not saying it can’t be done because I know it can, but there is no standard that requires you to provide it.

CLIFF I just reread the question and wondered if it could be clarified a little bit because it says a regulator should prevent companies. Does that mean a control body? And are the companies the manufacturers of the products? Is this question about, because Ron gave the example of different products being brought together to create a system and nobody has tested the entire system. is that what the question is driving at, that the Regulator should prevent that from happening? Or is it for each product? It says a regulator should prevent companies from using uncertified products by providing clear guidance on compatible options.

GEORGE I think the companies would be the contractor or the client, that’s my reading of it.

CLIFF Yeah, so I don’t think a control body would be giving clear guidance on compatible options. I was thinking about what Ron was saying about the ventilation system and thinking that are we still answering this question? And then does the question need to be clarified?

RICHARD Anybody feel free to suggest changes to the answers, they’re certainly not set in stone.

GEORGE The purpose of this really is we’ve got 20 or so different responses from people that have got a lot of knowledge in this area, but what we want to do is filter that back to three or four so we’ve got something to fight with. There is a degree of replication in these as well.

Paul McSoley, who’s one of our BIM4Housing colleagues, is a technical director at Mace. He has a passion about the right products being selected. I’m just going to show Paul’s slides. (shares screen). I won’t be able to deliver this in anyway as well as Paul does. Fortunately Paul White is on the call, who knows a lot more about this than I do. The point that Paul McSoley has explained is that all of that conversation that we’ve just had about whether the product has been tested as an assembly, for example, and you’re buying let’s say a smoke damper. He’s saying that the right product, a product that’s perfect in terms of compliance, can then be put in the wrong situation because of the wall it’s going into, for example. He’s tried to work through a process, a decision tree, that shows how those decisions do need to be taken.

It’s very complex, but it’s complex because it is complex and what we need to perhaps do is figure out some way of simplifying it. What Paul’s saying is that really you start off with a specification that is descriptive and that descriptive specification is great, but you then need to, before you go into detailed design, make it prescriptive and you need to have a product that satisfies that requirement and then be able to manage it going forward. What he’s done here with great diligence is he’s gone through and looked at a particular scenario of saying we want to select a fire damper, and just for selecting a fire damper and installing it all of these different steps, that you can’t read because there’s too much detail in here, actually have got to be considered at different stages. And whatever decision you take, it can then lead onto a selection of a solution. So in principle if we can get this right we could turn this into some sort of AI process, a decision tree anyway, that could follow through and then suggest the right alternatives.

Paul has tried to simplify that very complex decision structure into saying, well, what is it that we’re actually trying to achieve? What purpose is that particular fire damper being selected for? And we initially need to identify what the safety risk is for that space and then look at how that fire damper will fit into the system that is supposed to be delivering that particular safety. But then we start to look at what the classification of the product is and then moving on from there what wall it’s going into, what substrate etc, so you’re then making sure that you’ve got a tested product that’s the right product for the right requirements (it could be a good product, but not for the right requirements). And you’ve then got the complexity of what wall it’s going into and then you’ve got the complexity of was it installed properly.

What Paul’s been trying to do is to work this through a series of different steps that then allow us to understand what the sophistication of this process is so that it can then be more easily tracked, and there’s a range of different elements in this.

PAUL WHITE What you’ve explained is exactly right. So you go through your space risk, you go through the building type, you determine what classification of damper you need. But then the next thing you have to do, before you get too far, is what type of wall it’s going into and then that gives you the type of product and the type of testing that you need. The point that Paul is also trying to make here is that this whole process is actually exactly the same for flues, pipes and trays, fire doors, the wall types themselves in fact, busbars, fire curtains and ducting. So you have to go through this process and pick out your wall at some point because once you’ve determined your space risk and the property that you’re in, then you can go on to select the actual product.

And it’s just to show people that it isn’t easy at all, even fire dampers which seems relatively straightforward, as soon as we get onto the doors, as a for instance, if the door is a different shape you might not be able to but this door from this person. And this is the point, certain people will have tested certain things and you can’t assume that everybody has tested every different type of wall because it’s not physically possible to do that. That’s the area where we fall down, it’s that there’s more and more walls and floors every other week and you can’t keep up with…installing the products.

GEORGE And it’s an iterative process. For example, it’s not unusual for somebody to start off by saying this is going to be the internal wall structure and they’ve designed it around maybe a British Gypsum solution and then for whatever reason it then gets swapped out for a Knauf solution. And that Knauf solution, when the fire dampers were selected they were perhaps selected to go in a British Gypsum solution and that type of iteration is something that we need to understand. I suppose that’s why the new legislation requires change control to be more robust.

PAUL WHITE That’s exactly the point. if you choose the product and the holes are the wrong size and you can’t put it in that hole anymore, you’ve got to get the hole size changed and then that becomes a warning or a major or whatever it is.

GEORGE If anybody is interested in drilling into this in anymore detail then put your name in the chat because it’s certainly something that we want to try and pick up in the early part of next year.

PAUL WHITE Paul is working on, the idea is perhaps as you see at the top right it says ‘passive code’, but actually we work with a passive code first and then we start looking at the individual products that are going to go through it. And then we look at the wall types, so we actually follow through a full design route, because that’s the next thing, you might have a damper going through and then some pipes and cables and they shouldn’t be in the same hole, which is the first thing. But then you find that there isn’t a test for the pipes and cables through this wall, but there is one for the dampers. And it is just such a circular process that you have to just keep analysing it and going backwards and forwards.

GEORGE Yeah, so here, for example, you’ve got the workbook for a fire damper, you’ve then got the pipework and then the ductwork. I think that process, he’s now looking at smoke control.

PAUL WHITE Paul is doing a lot of this under something called the Passive Fire Knowledge Group which is all of the Tier 1 contractors, so if there are contractors at whatever level then you can find their website

RICHARD Let’s look at the answers again. Number 13: early engagement with manufacturers during the design phase, regular checking and inspection during the construction and commissioning and testing before handover are important steps for a proper installation of fire safety products. I’m not sure anybody would disagree with that.

GEORGE I certainly wouldn’t. I suppose the question is how does a manufacturer get engaged in that way.

COLIN WHITE I’m an importer. They wouldn’t necessarily get involved in the case of smoke control dampers that I’m involved with because primarily the damper is a quite important component in a smoke and heat exhaust ventilation system, a naturally ventilated one or a mechanically ventilated one. And those systems tend to be designed and the components selected to suit the requirements of a fire strategy report. And I wouldn’t necessarily be involved with the selection of our equipment into a specific system. I can’t actually see how that would happen. All we can do, we can offer a DOP and we can back that up with a classification report on the testing that will let the specialist who we hope would be using our equipment to make the selection of the right product for his application. But I can’t recall ever being involved in or engaged with the client on this.

PAUL WHITE I support Colin’s statements, he’s exactly right and the engagement usually comes later when it doesn’t fit, but in fact all the information is generally available in the public domain. And it’s not engagement necessarily, it’s competency and learning about this stuff and not just assuming there is a solution to your problem. And there always has been because people have hidden it, and now we’re finding people can’t hide things for you. I don’t know if it’s engagement with, but it’s learning about the products and listening and building your own knowledge. This one I just thought was a statement of fact, to an extent, and it didn’t appear in my top 3. Mine was more about competence because if you’re involved in this, you should know this, that’s the point. You should know this because if you don’t you shouldn’t be doing this job.

ADAM HEATH I guess we’re slightly different in that we’re doing cavity barriers and things, so not necessarily smoke and dampers etc. I think we’d see a fair amount of early engagement in design phase for product specification to go onto detailed drawings. And then in terms of regular checking and inspection during construction, we have an app we provide to installers so that they can catalogue the installation phase of the products, or they can call our site services team and they can come and do a report as well. We’re supportive of regular collection of information on installation progress of the quality of install, it’s pretty big from a golden thread perspective in terms of handing over documentation that proves that what you’ve done is compliant with the building regulations.

I think fire stopping and things in that vein, showing that you’ve met the functional requirements, you need to be able to prove that your compartmentations in the right place with the right spec and installed to the right level of quality as well. less so on the commissioning and testing of the installed things for us because the only way you could do that would be to set the building on fire, which we’re obviously trying to avoid, but I think capturing that installation phase is key from a golden thread, both for evidencing the eventual competency of the installer, but when you get to the handover stage giving the end client confidence that what they’ve got is actually installed in terms of the project drawings and installed to the right level of quality.

ALAN OLIVER I did have answer 13 as one of my top 3, but I did suggest that it should be changed to early engagement with manufacturers and installers during the design phase. If an installer has been nominated to do the work, I’ll give you an example of that, you can look at a fire tested detail and say whether the design is compliant or not, but from a practical point of view if you’re installing fire dampers in walls where the ductwork is very big you might want to be sealing around fire stopping, around the damper, before all of the ductwork has been installed.

Simply because you might not be able to access it once the ductwork has been installed…the whole length has been installed, you might want to get at the actual damper when there is a chance to actually access it and fire stop above it. I think what’s coming out here is that a lot of manufacturers won’t necessarily want to get involved, but the installers will want to and they’ll want to make sure that it actually works from a practical point of view.

CLIFF I tend to agree with what Alan’s just said. We’ve had this before in the design office where things go to site and the contractors say ‘why don’t you guys get us in earlier in the design process?’. And the answer is because we hadn’t selected the contractor at that stage, we didn’t know who was going to be building it. But the answer to that is you could get a consultant in, you could get a contractor in a key meeting early on in the design stage, just pay them their hourly rate and say what do you think of this building we’re trying to do? What are your suggestions? They’re highly likely to attend these meetings because they’ve got their foot in the door. That was the answer and that actually worked very well, you could do the same with the installers obviously. So there is a way around it.

GEORGE On a session we had last week we had Waites on and Paula from Waites said that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re bringing the contractors in and also selecting products much earlier. So we’re seeing a significant contractor changing the way that they are procuring which is really encouraging.

RICHARD Not just changing the way, but proving that it actually works.

CLIFF I think that the latest RIBA plan of works does actually call for a more collaborative way of working. One of the checklist items is to have the proposal reviewed by the contractor at least.

JOHN FIELD Where it says manufacture it could be pre-fabricated, it could be bespoke, it’s obviously important that manufacturers stay on top of what’s going on in the outside world, so it’s always handy to feedback to manufacturers what it is that the industry wants. So, to me that’s what the design phase element is, regular checking before, during and after photos inspections is key. Too many times I’d go and witness test an element, it could be a dry riser or a fire alarm, but what the contractor is doing is actually commissioning it at the same time, when it fails that’s just a failed bit of time. So these things need to be taken in a sequence properly to make sure that there is a robust process and each element is taken seriously, which is why I voted for this one.

RICHARD I want to quickly run through a couple. Question 24: Insurers can play a significant role in driving fire safety standards.

GEORGE That’s obvious…it’s one of the things I think we need to more widely recognise that it’s not the threat of the Regulator that should be driving a lot of this, it’s that for client organisations or contractors , if you can’t evidence what you’ve done then you’re probably not insured, which is really significant. I was talking to somebody yesterday and they believe that something like 80% of the projects are actually breaching their…if they were a claim, they wouldn’t be able to claim.

PAUL WHITE I have a slightly more cynical view of this. There’s been insurance guidance around ever since I can remember and nobody every actually does the additional stuff that they want and I’m afraid, like everybody else. For insurance people go out for three quotes and they probably take the cheapest one, so it depends on whether the insurer wants to win the business for that building or not. I think if they’re hiding behind the fact that if it’s a new job, they should probably have a role in actually checking that things are up to standard, rather than only insuring on something that they balance the risk on one thing when they probably ought to know full well that it’s a bigger risk. So is that fair to actually be insuring something that you haven’t checked.

GEORGE I’m sure insurers do that all the time because they’ll put into their terms and conditions that you have to be open and honest and all that sort of stuff. And therefore if you’re not providing them with some information about a potential risk, then when you go and claim on that they are in a position to be able to refuse it. I was talking to a fire engineering company last week who were saying they’d taken over another scheme, they were installing sensors and things like that. They took over something that somebody else had already installed all of the sensors in and they took it over on the basis of making it work and they discovered that the sensors themselves weren’t working. They went back to the manufacturer who said you didn’t buy them from us, so therefore you’ve got no warranty.

They ended up getting in the middle of a situation where they had a £750,000 claim on them and when they tried to get their cover under their insurance they were left high and dry. So they recognised the criticality of that and they’ve taken it very much from an insurance perspective. I’ve now had that conversation with several different organisations and insurers could be a major driver in terms of getting this right. I think it complements what the threat of the legal action from the Regulator which I think most people think is unlikely that it’s going to happen, but insurability is going to be likely. if you’re the CEO of a large construction company or you’re on the board of a housing association you’ve got some responsibilities there to make sure that the processes that are in place are actually reflecting what’s needed.

PAUL WHITE I agree George, I think it’s more the fact that the insurer should play a bigger part in helping people comply with their insurance requirements.

JOHN FIELD When I worked at Imperial College London, obviously multimillion pound buildings, they took a massive part in ensuring that everything was as it should be. What we’re talking about here is some insurers will put in the small print that certain things are required, but there’s no, perhaps, insistence until they’re making a claim. It’s too late then, if you try and get your car insurance with no claims discount they will insist in seeing that no claims before they allow you to progress with the insurance, otherwise they’ll charge you more.

I’ve only ever been asked to do a fire risk assessment by someone because their solicitor had advised, they’re trying to sell it, trying to rent it, you need to get a fire risk assessment. I’ve never had someone come and say my insurer is insisting that you get a fire risk assessment, so I think they could go a step further and insist in seeing certain documentation as part of that insurance, rather than wait for it to burn down and say we’re not paying out, but it is related to cost and how much things are insured for.

PAUL WHITE That was exactly my point.

RON BURNS Would it not be good if the insurers gave cost saving incentives to the clients who’s buildings had passed risk assessments? If you incentivise, the insurance guys are the biggest people we have because they control the money. The control who gets paid when the building burns down and who doesn’t. So imagine if you had a sticker on your building saying when it was last serviced, then shoppers could decide to go in or not go in.

GEORGE There is a separate thing I could perhaps share at some stage. There was something called the Housing Association Property Mutual that ran for about 20 years because housing associations, when they were first established during the Thatcher period, were uninsurable. Because they’d come out of local authority control and the track record for building failures was so high that it was too big a risk for any insurance company to take on because when they were part of the councils they were self-insured. An organisation called the Building Performance Group and the Housing Association Property Mutual were set up to address that whole process. So there is a historic, very successful way of addressing this. It’s just when the actually managed to iron out all the problems, the risks dropped and therefore the insurers came into the market and therefore squeezed HAPM out. Anybody that’s interested in the insurance thing, it might something that we set a workstream up on because it’s really significant.

RICHARD Let’s go on to competence now. A number of the answers we’ve got involve competence. Question 1: competent individuals should be trained for their specific roles to ensure efficient planning and delivery of design work. Maintenance personnel should also be involved in the planning process to handle unforeseen events. Question 9: competence should be ensured across all roles in design, specification, installation and maintenance. Accurate and reliable product information is necessary for proper selection. This was put in by our competence specialist, Debbie. Competence is influenced by ethics and behaviours requiring a cultural change in the industry.

PAUL WHITE We’re at a stage where competence or knowledge is so low outside of certain individuals that in terms of designing and selecting products it’s just not there. Fire dampers is pretty bad, but when we get into things like smoke control which basically starts in the fire strategy it’s really concerning when the fire strategy for the entire building just says speak to somebody else. I’m also concerned with some of the designs that I see that they’re maybe not quite as safe as they should be. This is what I was saying that early engagement with manufacturers, people have got to realise that if you’re dealing with the fire safety or the smoke control in the building how can you design and specify it if you don’t know how to check it and what you’re doing with it?

You can’t just keep relying on pushing it down the contractual chain. I came across something the other day where somebody told me that somehow or other the ductwork contractor was responsible for the smoke control. I said that’s not actually legal because you know full well that they have no competency in that area, how can you make them responsible for it? Under contract, you can’t actually ask somebody to do something you know that they can’t do.

COLIN WHITE The semantic spin there is that it’s within the ductwork package.

PAUL WHITE Yes, so then they have to go and…but it’s too late because it’s in the fire strategy and it should be in the building specification. There’s levels of competence in certain areas that they just aren’t there.

KATHERINA THOMAS I work in servicing and maintenance so I deal with a lot of contractors, in terms of installing stuff and having that competency we do sometimes struggle.

RICHARD So how do you judge competence? By certification or experience? How do you make the call?

KATHERINA THOMAS For me the call is already made through procurement standards, we procure out contractors and then that’s then followed through and they go to site and do the work. Obviously we make sure that they’re certified through our procurement process, so it’s done at the beginning stages of the procurement, we make sure that they’re certified to which ever fire safety products that they’re qualified in.

GEORGE It’s interesting Katherina has just said that because what you’re dealing with is an organisation that’s actually carrying out the work, so you’re almost one step away from the person that is actually doing the work. And in fact you could be two steps away because it might be that your maintenance contract is with an organisation that’s maybe doing all of the M&E and the they let the electrical work to a third party. Then that work has been carried out by an individual electrician, so I don’t think we’ve got adequately that track through of expertise.

KATHERINA THOMAS Yeah, that’s true, we do have a lot of third parties, depending on specialist equipment. We do have a lot of AOVs and also dry risers so they are through third party contractors.

GEORGE Do you have your own workforce? Or do you outsource it all?

KATHERINA THOMAS We have to outsource it, we haven’t got the competency within the business.

JAMIE HALL I just wanted to echo that as well because I come from a small/medium-sized housing association and because there is only seven of us in the entire property team responsible for day repairs and planned maintenance and property safety, we are quite reliant on contractors and outside agencies. While we do our best, we’re quite reliant on what they tell us.

GEORGE So therefore you need to make sure that you get the right digital evidence from them, Jamie, that’s what I’d recommend, because that’s critical.

VICTORIA FINN My concern with that as well is often you can actually make sure that you do have somebody that’s competent, or at least a company that’s competent could be UKAS accredited or whatever, it doesn’t mean that the individuals going on-site are competent to do that piece of work. But even if they are and they go on-site and they install something what usually happens is that a different trade will come later and they’ll need to install something in place of that or next to it and they’ll alter it. And what’s been done then, the product isn’t right even if the person was competent.

So we can go as far as we can in trying to make sure people are competent, and there’s nothing out there to say for what type of work they’re doing what competency looks like. So we need to make sure the person that’s judging that is competent, and how do we make sure they’re the right person as well. So, it seems like a bit of an impossible situation, really.

RICHARD There are people who would actually say, well, how do we check that the people who are framing the laws are actually competent?

PAUL WHITE It’s not the laws, it’s the guidance, but anyway that’s a different thing. This is the problem, third party certification doesn’t necessarily mean that individuals are competent. It does mean that they’ve been trained at the moment, but it doesn’t mean necessarily that they’ve been assessed. I cannot give you a certificate to say that I’m competent in anything that I’ve spoken about today, so i hold my hand up for that, but i think I’ve got plenty of experience and i do a lot of research and a lot of CPD like doing things like this. You can’t necessary rely on the third party certificated company yet, and if we’re looking at smoke control, at the moment there are no qualifications for smoke control installers.

So a lot of them will be sparkies because they have to run a lot of cable and join things together, but they couldn’t demonstrate competency in installing a vent or a fire damper or some ductwork, so we’re still in the chicken and egg situation. The other point is in terms of looking at training and assessing people, I’ve got to do a trainer course and I’ve got to do a five day assessor course and somebody then comes to assess me to see if I am capable of being an assessor. So it’s not even just the hoops of the people, there aren’t enough assessors out there. There is loads and loads of training, but as i always say, I don’t know which particular animal I should pick or not, but I could stick a load of animals and a load of people and train them for eight hours.

They’re all trained, but if I let the animals out on-site could they fit a smoke control system? And the answer is no. Could the people who have been trained go out and do it? The answer is possibly, but somebody needs to go and see them do it. And this is the competency hoop that we’re going through at the moment and it’s going around and around in circles because we’re now looking at fire damper competency and fire resisting duct and duct competency, but we haven’t even started on smoke control yet. And the first part is trying to find out how you get started on this ladder.

COLIN WHITE I agree with what Paul said. Are we expecting Victoria to make a judgement on the actual person who is attending her sites to do this work? Or should she be looking for an accredited contractor, for example? I know Paul mentioned there is no specific training for smoke vent systems, but there is an installer scheme that’s not mandatory, but its been recognised but the Smoke Control Association. And whilst it’s not perfect it is actually starting to check on-site checks of installs, it’s more from the point of view of making sure that they’ve got the right equipment there and the company have gone through their process. If you use a company that have gone to the expense of obtaining this third party installer certification, that’s a starting point. They do send their people down, we have people down in the epicentre of the world the West Country and we have their installers come in for half a day and we teach them as much as we can about the product and we tell them what to look out for, what to do and what not to do.

But that doesn’t make them competent. They’re trained, they’re given knowledge and information about a particular product, and that product is a component in a smoke vent system and there are other components equally as important. So how do you judge somebody being competent for the whole system? Paul mentioned they’re targeting fire dampers and then there is going to be fire resisting ducts, so to make a system are you going to have all of these five different competent experts in judging all parts of the components? I don’t know, it’s strange.

WILL COUSINS I’m from MTVH, quite a large housing provider. In terms of the fire doors we generally have technical requirements which we say that the contractor needs to get their own third party fire consultant to sign off the door sets and things like that, and then we do a benchmark on-site. And we get our own fire consultant to check that and look at the doors as a benchmark and then it goes on from that process.

Talking about competency, this is quite big at the moment. Obviously with the new gateway changes we can’t start on-site next year without gateway 2 submission so the problem that we have at the moment is that we’re tendering to contractors and as the client we need to show the competency in order to submit gateway 2. So that obviously comes down to PAS document and there is a document called a Flex document, so we’ve created a set of questions that go through all the characteristics and tender. It basically looks like it goes back to CDM, most contractors are doing it anyway so that they need to prove it in a different way…for high-risk buildings there’s a different Building Control body to sign all of this off.

I had a question as well. One part of it is we’ve drafted a whole load of competency questions that I can’t find anywhere and I don’t think anyone has done, about new tender process, but what is really baffling at the moment is when your tendering on a design & build do you appoint the design team yourself as the client through a standard JCT? Do you do a PSA to appoint the design team? Or do you ask the contractor to do that? Different solicitors or whoever tell you different things and a lot of that comes down to competency because you need to assess the competency before you get into contract. I don’t know if anyone’s got the answer to what is the better route now that everything is shaken up.

VICTORIA FINN I wouldn’t say I’ve got the answer to it, it’s an observation that I feel in the last couple of years looking at building safety to go-to is design & build contract. To me now I’m not sure that’s the right contract to look at on the new products. Often it’s because perhaps cutting corners or doing VE exercises on products and we probably need to be more specific, especially with regards to maintenance going forward. Perhaps we should have maintenance people in at the beginning as well to have a look at what product we’re going to need and how we’re going to use it in the end. And that’s part of the gateway process anyway, how is it going to be used, when it’s occupied how’s it going to be used in a fire strategy situation? But part of that is also how we’re going to maintain those products, so what should we be using?

The competency comes in making sure that when we get people on board, the manufacturers, suppliers and installers, and we look at the competencies that’s not changed. And I think a design & build contract is sometimes maybe not the way to go because it gets changed too often.

RICHARD One of the answers I read out actually stresses having the maintenance people in at the get-go, right at the beginning.

PAUL WHITE I’m afraid I keep looking at this, it’s well know that if you start out on the design process you spend a lot of money at the start and then it dwindles away. The point is that if you then change your mind part way along then your costs go up again and you end up instead of having a nice depleting curve it goes up and up and up. The other point that goes with that is that the project gets out further. There is some thought that says do the design first and just get the contractor to build it because there shouldn’t be any issues and if there are issues they should be small ones because the design is complete.

The issue that we’ve got as an industry is that nobody wants the design responsibility, and they think that solutions are always going to be there and they’ll be simple, the only reason they think that is because people have been hiding them for years and hiding the problems. So if you look at it from the point of view of cost benefit, get somebody to design it and then get somebody to build what the design is. With a building, it’s not like building a product where you build a load of prototypes, you have one go at this, so there’s no point in having loads of areas within the building that are essentially prototypes because you’re having to solve the problem on the job.

The issue is will you get somebody to actually take the design onboard for you? Because it’s not happening at the moment because one of the questions I keep asking is who has design responsibility? And then suddenly it’s down to the contractor. Well, then you’ve got to question all of the information that you’ve been given to date, you’re now responsible so you’ve got to start the design again. And it should have been done with the fire strategy and the specification and the consultant, but it isn’t. And I’ve sat in meetings, well, you’ve got a design responsibility now, you do what you want and it’s like, oh.

LIAM WHEATLEY Competence from our side, I suppose it goes hand in hand with compliance. Orbit being a housing association, we look at it from the operation and maintenance side, fire being one of the largest risks to a building. I suppose the question, the view we look at it from is the holistic idea of competence around work that’s happening on a building. So you can have a contractor in that’s making penetrations in a wall, a plumber, a sparkie, they may be competent in the job that they’re doing, they may not be competent in making compartmentation correctly. And that’s where the difference lies.

So the way we’re looking at it is that we’re getting the exact people on-site that we can, so we’ll have validation of not just the company, but the individual. We’ll have their qualifications, what they’re competent in and also digital evidence of what they’re sending as the evidence of the work that they’ve done. So it’s not just showing the work they’ve done, but also making sure that nothing else within that area has been affected. That’s it in a nutshell, competence from our perspective, it’s controlling the employment and the maintenance of the contractors, rather than just the work that they’re doing on-site.

GEORGE What you’ve raised is an interesting one in that I think all of the landlords are going to be looking at that at the moment because it’s so fundamental. We’ve got a very expert person, Debbie Carlton, who is an expert in competency. We’ve also got people like David Jones from the ICM (Institute of Construction Management) and they’ve been doing a lot of work on competency as well. I’m thinking, Richard, that it might be useful to draw together another session…it might be those drafted competency questions, how confidential are those? Are they things you might be willing to share with, for example, Liam from Orbit? So that we can actually end up with something that’s been…it would be great if contractors were being asked the same questions, wouldn’t it?

WILL COUSINS Yeah, absolutely. The competency questions are all out there on the PAS, the contractor competency, and then there is the Flex document. We’ve just tried to digest it all into tender questions that make it clear, into four different characteristics of what we’re looking for in competency. Certainly I think all different HAs and groups should have a consistent mindset. I think a different meeting would help because the golden thread is the big one and retaining the CDE, its massive, that’s key to it all.

GEORGE Are there any other landlords or housing associations or councils on the group that might be interested in that? If you are put your name in the chat and just put competency and we can we can pick up on that.

RICHARD Yeah, we’ll set that up for end of January/beginning of February. Has anybody got anything they particularly want to say on the competence? Or anything else we've discussed? Or anything out from left field that has nothing to do with anything we've been talking about?

ALAN OLIVER Just to take the opportunity to give the BIM4Housing reference document a plug. Obviously competency and getting installations and design right first time, the BIM4Housing reference document on fire doors covers all of that. Obviously it’s just focused on fire doors, but I am aware that there’s a number of people in this group today who haven’t been involved in creating this reference document. For those who don’t know anything about this, over the last 12 months BIM4Housing has had a working group that’s created a reference document on how to inspect new doors, existing doors and how to manage and maintain them. We’re just about to have it signed off and I’m aware that there will be a number of people here who I think would like to have the opportunity to read it and pass comments on it before we do get it signed off.

We’ve got a new draft that’s going to be ready on Monday and I’ll send it across to Richard and George and then if it can be forwarded on. Were looking to have it signed off and issued by the end of this month for issue in January, so if people could read it and then pass comments through to me.

GEORGE Thank you very much everybody for their contribution this year. To be frank, it’s just growing and growing.

RICHARD We had 300 active members last year and we’ve got more than 1000 now.

GEORGE Alan’s also started work on other major elements, dampers etc, so that’s something that’s going to kick off in the new year.


[14:08] Victoria Finn

agree with this point, the outcomes can be manipulated.

same with spandrel panels where each element can be A1 rated but the full system hasn't got A1 testing or non A1 glue has been used.

[14:12] Emma Swaffer

Its the system, that should be the result of the test

[14:16] Victoria Finn

sometimes a supply issue

[14:24] Adam Heath

2024 we should be expecting new secondary legislation under the Building Safety Act specifically for construction products. We are also still awaiting a full response from the government to the Morrell-Day report.

[14:36] Ron Burns

Ron Burns

[14:37] John Field

John Field I am interested as is very relevant to my work.

[14:37] Cliff (Guest)

Cliff Kneale

[14:38] Joe Stott

Always interested in following this thread of work

[14:38] SCD (Guest)

Yes Please.

[14:38] Adam Heath

Passive Fire Knowledge Group – Leading Culture Change Through Collaboration (

[14:41] Victoria Finn

is this about a supply issue and making sure manufacturers can supply in the timescales required, especially for products that lots of people want

[14:42] Ron Burns

Here, Here, Paul White!!

[14:51] Victoria Finn

we are already seeing that with the amount of questions coming from insurers

[14:57] Victoria Finn

the FRA is a snapshot in time though isn’t it

[14:57] Ron Burns

I think an old snapshot is better than no snap shot

[14:58] Victoria Finn


[15:27] Will Cousins

fire doors

[15:27] Liam Wheatley

fire doors

[15:27] Jamie Hall

fire doors

[15:27] Victoria Finn

thank you.

[15:27] Paul White


[15:27] John Field

John Field Fire Doors

thank you guys for all your hard work.

[15:28] Ron Burns

Ron Burns Competency

[15:28] Katherina Thomas

Thank you.

[15:28] Will Cousins