by Jess Sharman
Based on a webinar of the same name by NBS Technical Author James Smith, this article looks at the importance of having a robust fire safety strategy and why it should be integrated into your specification. Key points include:
- Why it is essential to identify and integrate a fire safety strategy from the point of project identification through to operation and end-of-life
- How that strategy must be integrated into the specification and continually delivered against throughout the building’s lifecycle
The Hackitt Review: an independent review of building regulations and fire safety
In response to the June 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government commissioned an independent review to be led by Dame Judith Hackitt. The analysis comprised an end-to-end evaluation of the regulatory system, including an assessment of the effectiveness of building and fire safety regulations, particularly in high-rise residential buildings. The resulting final report was issued in May 2018 and recommends a fundamental reformation of the whole system, shifting the focus from meeting regulations to being able to prove what you’ve built is safe.
The report also highlights the importance of maintaining a ‘golden thread of information’ throughout the project and building’s lifetime. Simply put, this is a shorthand term for digitally housed, living, accurate and up-to-date building information from design through operation. By digitally holding and maintaining the information, we promote and ensure building safety and encourage transparency, thus providing a higher level of accountability.
As an introduction to the NBS fire safety webinar (found at thenbs.com/events), Dame Judith Hackitt addresses the report and key findings. You can also obtain a written copy of the report, formally entitled Building a Safer Future, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report via the GOV UK website.
NBS considerations and approach
While NBS doesn’t determine what complies with fire requirements, we do offer guidance and resources that help specifiers make those decisions. Our specification tools also provide a structure that allows fire strategy and expectations to evolve as you work your way through the project timeline.
When writing and researching related content, NBS technical authors look at and consider fire performance, including resistance, reaction, surface spread, etc. We then try to structure the content in a flexible way that allows for either performance or prescriptive specification, depending on what contract you are using.
NBS Chorus provides template clauses that provide the means to set out fire performance requirements tailored to meet individual scenarios.
- Project management
- Whole project requirements
- Building fabric
- Services installation
- Civil engineering
- Landscape provision
To support this, general and clause guidance text includes relevant regulatory guidance, standards, codes of practice and other reference resources (trade body literature, appropriate websites, etc.).
NBS and the RIBA Plan of Work: our response to Grenfell
Since the tragedy at Grenfell, the UK construction industry has gone through an intense period of re-evaluation to ensure that it does not happen again. Building a Safer Future – commonly known as the Hackitt Report – has pinpointed areas within the industry that need improvement and suggested ways forward.
The RIBA responded by issuing several documents, including and updated RIBA Plan of Work (POW) 2020 and the RIBA POW for Fire Safety. The POW 2020 replaces the 2013 version and emphasises the importance of fire in project design – from initiation through asset management. The POW for Fire Safety sets forth a simple, effective and clear structure based upon Hackitt’s ‘golden thread of information’, identifying:
- When built environment professionals, legislators and those invested in building projects are required to review their deliverables against the current fire safety information
- At what point duty holders* are required to sign-off the information as conforming to the regulatory requirements and approved plans.
* i.e., the person(s) or organisation accountable for confirming the requirements at each stage.
At NBS, the specification’s importance in maintaining the original performance requirements –particularly concerning fire – is an essential subset of the work we do as an authoring team. We have put a lot of effort into reviewing how fire is dealt with and what we can do to improve the golden thread.
Fire safety strategy and specification
NBS Chorus is based on Uniclass 2015 and allows you to specify at various project stages by creating and maintaining an online work-in-progress document. This ensures that original building design requirements and any subsequent changes are captured, recorded and retrievable.
Chorus aids in delivering fire safety and the supporting golden thread by allowing granularity when setting project requirements. To ensure that desired outcomes are achieved, specification decisions are captured throughout the project timeline, creating follow-through from inception to completion and on into facilities management and in-use appraisals.
Briefing: POW stages 0 and 1
The RIBA POW briefing stages include Stage 0, Strategic Definition and Stage 1, Preparation and Briefing. To support these stages, Chorus uses editable project management clauses to help you set out strategic fire performance requirements, which you can then use to outline a compliance route for the whole project.
There are typically three compliance approaches that meet UK Building Regulation requirements: general, alternative, and fire safety engineering. The most appropriate method for the project can be set and adopted using information gathered from risk evaluation, client input and sections from the Uniclass 2015 preliminaries content set (in this case, PM 35 30 30, item 10, fire safety – compliance route). The guidance in this section is substantial and points the specifier towards information that will help ensure a full evaluation is performed before making a decision with the client.
- The wording in Approved Document B for England around common building situations has recently changed, now falling in line with the NBS approach, stating:
“…those with responsibility for meeting the requirements of the regulations will need to consider for themselves whether following the guidance in the approved documents is likely to meet those requirements in the particular circumstances of their case.”
A lot of buildings are atypical, so you may need to consider alternative approaches.
- If a fire engineering approach is used and requires modelling, etc., it will be outside of the specification’s capability. However, the process outcomes and requirements can still be specified
- Multiple special building types have further requirements set upon them for various reasons. (For example, a healthcare building may need to comply with health technical memorandums.) The clause item at the bottom of the screen in the example PM 35 30 30, item 20 provides advice on other additional considerations.
- Client, insurer or warranty requirements may impose specific, supplementary demands, typically concerning property protection, and they should be checked early in the design stage. They can be identified and recorded at this stage to assist with the design as it progresses.
All NBS Building content is also available in NBS Chorus. It can be found by using UK – CAWS Preliminaries and UK – CAWS Work Sections in the content set selections when adding a specification.
Within CAWS, the B05 section covers early-stage fire strategy. While comprising a small part of the specification, it is crucial and will allow the fire safety strategy to be laid out early on, defining the fire performance method that the rest of the specification will follow. This is new functionality, and we have included a significant amount of guidance, with references to the appropriate regulation and standards.
Design and delivery stages
POW stages 2 and 3
Next in the RIBA POW are design and delivery, beginning with Stage 2, Concept Design and Stage 3, Spatial Coordination.
At this point, you should review Building Regulations 7 and 38 to ensure the use of appropriate materials and that the responsible person receiving the fire safety information upon completion is identified.
- Regulation 7 states that all materials used should be 1) adequate, proper and appropriate for their circumstances, and 2) applied, used or fixed in a ‘workmanlike manner’ that ensures they are performing their function as designed. It also says that the fire safety information handed over to the responsible person should include all fire design measures with enough level of detail and accuracy to aid that person in safely operating and maintaining the building.
- Regulation 38 states that the contractor is responsible for handing over as-built fire information to the responsible person either at completion or upon occupation. This includes new builds, extensions and change of use conversions.
- Fire performance can be expressed in the form of the fire resistance and reaction to a material’s or product’s fire properties.
- Fire resistance performance considers the ability of an element to withstand fire or offer protection from it. Usually, fire resistance cannot be determined for individual items or system components but must be provided by the whole.
- To determine fire resistance at the elemental level, PM 35 30 30, item 20 can be used, which includes all the main elements. Separate clause items cover European and UK classifications, depending on which is appropriate for the project.
- Plumbing – sprinkler systems
- Mechanical – vertical platform lift systems
- Electrical – smoke and heat detection shut down control systems
POW stages 4 and 5
The next two stages in the RIBA POW are Stage 4, Technical Design and Stage 5, Manufacturing and Construction. Within Chorus, you can achieve this level by specifying systems or products.
Example – doorset: Every component within a fire doorset or fire door assembly effects fire performance. Making changes to any of its components has a significant impact that can lead to non-compliance. Therefore, to ensure compliance, all the doorset’s components must be tested together.
In this stage of the specification, you can also add facility management requirements. In the doorset example above, that would include things like fire door inspection and maintenance.
Note: While the example used here is architectural, please note that Chorus covers many disciplines, including MEP, structural and landscape. Examples related to fire performance include:
When doing technical design, it is vital to maintain fire integrity. Chorus prompts the specifier to consider the junctions between construction elements and requirements around fire stopping, cavity barriers etc. either through guidance prompts or via system and product clause items. In cases where there isn’t a prompt, you can add it yourself, either by adding new rows or by using the ‘More content’ functionality. This can be selected at the bottom of the drop-down menu of each row.
Construction Product Regulations (CPR)
At this stage, CPR may come into effect, requiring CE marking and supply of a Declaration of Performance for any product (or kit) covered by a harmonised European Standard (hEN).
- Under CPR, the CE mark is not a mark of quality, and third-party testing and certification should be relied upon for performance validation. We recommend checking the manufacturer’s certification before specifying and ensuring that the standard referred to is the most current hEN.
- There can be a substantial delay between a standard being issued and becoming harmonised (via publication in the Official Journal of the European Union). So, while it is important always to check, you must also be aware that the latest standard may not be the current standard that the product can be manufactured to or sold as.
Defects period, aftercare and evaluation
The two final stages of the POW include Stage 6, Handover and Stage 7, Use. There are several ways that NBS can assist in these closing phases.
While many people consider verification as an end of project activity, there are opportunities throughout the Chorus specification structure to state how and when the project and construction information should be checked and verified. Taking advantage of these enables you to record the various stages of fire performance verification and, therefore, maintain the golden thread.
Once you reach the end of a job, there is an opportunity to evaluate the project and identify lessons learnt. You can feed the gathered information into your masters, which can then be used in your next project and provide future guidance for your design team. While we cannot cover masters in this article, there is a tutorial available through Chorus’s help menu, should you wish to view it.
NBS Chorus can help to deliver specifications that are in line with the fire safety strategy defined in the RIBA POW through both performance and prescriptive specification and using editable clauses supported by technical guidance. Our content is continuously evolving, informed by research, user feedback and industry drivers, and we are continually reviewing the fire content to improve clarity and usefulness.
At NBS, we’re hopeful that with dialogue and exchange between practitioners, the wider construction industry and ourselves, we can help to accelerate these actions.
Transparency, the audit trail and substitution recording
For more information on transparent decisions and the audit trail, please visit, Producing coordinated project information in a digital world. This article is based on a presentation held at The Autodesk University London last year. It provides a good summary of an audited trail of transparent decisions throughout the project timeline.
NBS has created a new manufacturer product platform we call NBS Source. Bringing together NBS BIM Library, NBS Plus and the RIBA Product Selector, NBS Source provides a single source for product information that seamlessly integrates into a project’s workflow and provides an additional level of enhanced product data in a consistent, structured format. For more information about NBS Source, visit NBS Source.