Committed to building safety

The Chancellor’s March budget was one that promised to deliver change and one of the areas where funding was announced  to propel change was building safety. Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) explains more.

At the BWF we welcomed the announcement of a Building Safety Fund of £1billion for urgent work to make the UK’s housing safer, but there is an opportunity to go further. The Fund forms part of the Government’s wider focus on fire safety that includes several strands, all of which the BWF is actively lobbying on to ensure the voice of the woodworking and timber manufacturing industry is heard. The Building Safety Fund announced by the Chancellor in March will enable local authorities to replace dangerous cladding to reduce the risk of fire. While the Fund is a welcome introduction and is a measure the BWF has backed for some time, it doesn’t currently include vital funding provision for fire door replacement.

We know that a significant number of councils in the UK have yet to replace inadequate fire doors, with an Inside Housing investigation in 2019 finding that councils believe that approximately 10% of their fire doors are unlikely to satisfy the 30-minute required burn time. This means that in an unfortunate event of a fire, people remain at risk. Since the break-out of a fire is never predictable, a fire door, unlike any other door must perform to its prime purpose – to delay the spread of fire and smoke, protecting lives and property.

Last year we wrote to the heads of all councils in the UK to highlight the urgency of this issue, but they need support and guidance from central government in tackling it. The Government must step in to provide broader funding as well as clear and unambiguous guidance on fire door specification, maintenance and testing.

While funding remains an urgent priority in tackling fire door safety, it’s encouraging to see action on building safety including the conclusion of the Building a Safer Future consultation and launch of the Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill, which will provide greater accountability and enforce more rigorous standards. But as ever, there are key policy asks we are making as an organisation to ensure that the standards we set within our industry become requirements.

Chief among our requests to policymakers is that independent third-party certification of fire doors and other passive fire protection products is enshrined in law. This would limit the opportunity for substitution of untested and dangerous products through tighter regulation, better guidance, and effective building control.

We aren’t there yet on mandatory third-party certification, but important progress is being made on accountability. The Fire Safety Bill, currently before Parliament, will put it beyond doubt that building owners and managers of all multi-occupied residential buildings must assess the risks of front entrance doors under  the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Additionally, as a result of the Building a Safer Future consultation, duty holders will be responsible for creating and maintaining building information related to fire and structural safety – known as the golden thread. This will contribute to information being more easily kept up to date, maintained, accessed and used to ensure delivery  of safer buildings.

Improving the fire safety of buildings across the UK is a significant task, and for it to be effective the supply chain needs to come together more than ever before to share information, skills and technical expertise, as well as providing clear guidance to the market. The replacement of inadequate fire doors and introduction of third-party certification are vital in ensuring that fire doors save lives. 

We recognise that for third-party certification to become enshrined in legislation, the government must introduce an authority with industry oversight to ensure service levels and fair market practices are adhered to by certification bodies, which we are taking forward in our lobbying efforts. There is lots of work to do and the BWF will continue to add our voice to the debate in order to ensure crucial standards are set and maintained.

www.bwf.org.uk

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