The Grenfell Tower fire has triggered an overhaul of Approved Document B, the government’s official advice on how to comply with building regulations, with a consultation on new guidance set for this spring.
Pressure to update the document has been building since the fire on 14 June last year, after which many industry experts argued Approved Document B is too ambiguous and needs to be amended. The document has not been changed significantly since 2006, although it was updated in 2010 and 2013.
In a letter last week to building control bodies, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the revised advice would include guidance on “appropriate use” of desktop studies in Approved Document B following a recommendation from Dame Judith Hackitt, whose interim report on building regulations was published in December.
Hackitt had argued desktop studies, which can be carried out in place of a physical test to prove a building complies with regulations on fire safety, are “not properly managed” and the government should clamp down on their use.
“The widespread use of desktop studies to assess equivalence of products and systems is not properly managed or controlled in terms of both the circumstances in which they can be used and the qualifications and experience of those undertaking them,” she wrote in December.
“The government should significantly restrict the use of desktop studies to approve changes to cladding and other systems to ensure that they are only used where appropriate and with sufficient, relevant test evidence. Those undertaking desktop studies must be able to demonstrate suitable competence. The industry should ensure that their use of desktop studies is responsible and in line with this aim.”
Selected industry experts are currently drafting the new wording ahead of the spring consultation. A new “user-friendly” version of the document is also being drafted, which will be consulted on at a later date.
Several fire safety experts told New Civil Engineer this week how the Grenfell Tower fire has already made the industry more cautious when assessing fire risk in buildings.
The letter from MHCLG deputy director for building regulations and energy performance Offer Stern-Weiner added the government could change its guidance policies as a result of the consultation.
In the letter Stern-Weiner wrote: “We are also exploring, in line with Dame Judith’s recommendation, our wider approach to guidance contained in Approved Documents and will be seeking views on how the guidance is used and how it can be improved in the future.”