In December 2017, insulation and interior building products distributor CCF held a roundtable discussing the value of third party accreditation, with representatives from across the building and construction industry, including trade association FIS, building contractor Extension Solutions, and manufacturers Rockwool, Metsec, Promat and Tradeline.
Why choose third party accreditation?
While not a legal requirement, third party accredited installers and products provide heightened assurance that passive fire protection (PFP) systems, which are built into the fabric of a building, have been through the most rigorous of quality assurance processes and, importantly, are also being installed accurately. On the surface, third party assessment of installers and products makes complete sense, but there is still confusion across the industry over why it might be worthwhile.
Bob Westcombe, UK fire protection manager at Rockwool, commented: “There can be lots of confusion around third party accreditation. The test houses understand it, but I’m not sure that the market always does.” Andy James, director of Aktrion Transport, added: “It is a good idea if you have third party accredited products and installers, but the Building Regulations really don’t say that you must.”
It is certain that due to third party accreditation being optional, along with the fact that reduced awareness of the benefits could be impeding uptake, more needs to be done. Mr Westcombe explained: “I think talking about what the benefits of third party accreditation are for the client, for the main contractor, for the installer, for everybody involved in the chain, is important. We all talk about it but not about what it actually means.”
The value that third party accredited products and installers can add – by ensuring that product systems are always appropriate and installed correctly – greatly mitigates the risk of things going wrong and then having to add more time and further spend to rectify mistakes. This ethos has been applied outside the UK, according to Dave Oram, area sales manager for Promat, who commented: “It is interesting that if you go to Norway for fire stopping products, you are not allowed to install them unless you are approved.”
At the moment, current UK legislation for fire stipulates that if buildings have been designed and built in line with modern Building Regulations, this is acceptable. For commercial properties, the ‘responsible person’ still needs to carry out periodic fire-risk assessments, as required by the Regulatory Reform Order (RRO).
Even when following Building Regulations, problems can occur very early on if value engineering impacts the specification, explained Todd Gibbons, sales director at CCF: “Somewhere during the building process value is taken away, usually to reduce the cost, and an equivalent product is requested as a result. However, you shouldn’t deviate from the original specification too much, and if you do deviate you are taking on an element of risk and liability under the RRO.”
A reliance on the Building Regulations alone can also cause problems. Dharam Patel, director at Extension Solutions, highlighted: “As an industry we don’t have to be third party accredited, so rely heavily on Building Regulations. I do think Building Regulations need to be more stringent, though, especially with regards to how products are used.” Mr Patel added: “I don’t think enough is really done to verify if products are in the correct places, or if they are being installed properly as well.”
This view, that lack of product and installation knowledge could be risking the quality of buildings when it comes to fire safety, was further echoed by Mr Oram of Promat: “We all have to continue with that education process at all levels, and everyone’s responsible for that, but for me, it is defining that competency level. If we can define that, we are on the first step. It isn’t a solution, but a first step.”
Across the supply chain, competency is often assumed – but, what does that mean? The reality is that third party accreditation schemes aim to bridge this gap and ensure competency; however, there isn’t a nationally and legally accepted definition, yet.
Joe Cilia, technical director at FIS, pointed out: “The question is ‘competence’ – how do you describe and explain what a competent person is?” Adding to this, Gary Dixon, technical manager at Metsec, mentioned: “There’s no shortage of training or courses, but which one is going to be worth doing and make you recognised as competent as a result of doing it?”
When it comes to something as important and potentially lifesaving as PFP products in buildings, due diligence is needed at every stage. Chris Greve, regional technical director at CCF, commented: “Whether it is an ISO standard dictating competency or dictating a training process, I believe the government needs to employ the use of trade bodies to help either ‘police’ site compliance, or offer a standalone third party accreditation.”
Improving fire safety in the UK requires a commitment to best practice and continually learning and adapting to make change happen. Referencing the King’s Cross 1987 fire tragedy, Mr James commented: “The reason why there are very stringent regulations on railways for fire is because of the King’s Cross fire. This is where all the requirement for the appropriate materials, specs, installation and competent people comes from.”
Change takes time and can’t be taken lightly, pointed out Mike Turner, managing director of Specifications, who said: “Someone needs to make a decision at a higher level to make things happen and work towards that happening. It will be a major change and it is going to cost.” Overall, skimping on quality in the name of value engineering is not the answer, and the entire construction industry needs to take a long look at how design, specification and installation processes can be improved. Only then can solutions, such as those presented by third party accreditation schemes, come to the fore.