FACTCHECK 3 | Dáil + Fire Regulations


28 June 2016

In a Dáil on 22nd June 2016 (Link Here), Clare Daly TD (pictured aboveasked Damien English TD the following question:

Clare Daly TD (Ind): “To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the current fire regulations that have to be adhered to in the construction of family homes here and what checks are in place to ensure compliance with those regulations”

BRegs Blog ‘FACTCHECK’ Team have looked at Damien English TD’s response [Bregs Blog Notes in Bold]:

Damien English TD, Minister for Housing: “Part B of the Building Regulations 1997 (as amended) sets out the legal requirements in relation to fire safety in respect of new buildings and in respect of existing buildings undergoing works involving an extension, material alteration or a material change of use. The requirements under Part B represent the national statutory minimum standards of fire safety provision applicable to the construction of new buildings, including dwellings.

Bregs Blog: So far, so good.

My Department publishes technical guidance documents to assist those involved in the design and construction of buildings with regard to compliance with the Building Regulations. In the case of fire safety, where works are carried out in accordance with the national guidance provided in Technical Guidance Document B – Fire Safety (2006), this will, prima facie, indicate compliance with the fire safety requirements set out in the Building Regulations. It is also open to designers to use alternative approaches, premised on the use of fire safety engineering principles, to meet fire safety requirements provided compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations can be demonstrated.

Bregs Blog: No problems there. 

Primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations rests with the designers, builders and owners of buildings.

Bregs Blog: This means that compliance with fire safety regulations is principally a private matter for the owner or the developer.

Implementation and enforcement of the building control system is a matter for the 31 local building control authorities.

Bregs Blog: This means that the local authorities can inspect and enforce the regulations, but it’s up to each local authority to decide if they do. The Minister is not responsible for making sure that buildings in Ireland are safe in a fire. It’s left up to the construction industry to regulate itself. 

The Building Regulations are subject to continuous review and improvement in the light of technical progress, changes in standards and construction practices as well as developments within the construction industry. In this context, a review of Part B of the Building Regulations is now at an advanced stage within my Department; it is anticipated that a public consultation in the matter will be announced shortly.

Bregs Blog: Yes, we have good standards. Compliance is the problem, not the standards. 

In response to the many building failures that have emerged over the past decade, my Department introduced the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 which require greater accountability in relation to compliance with Building Regulations in the form of statutory certification of design and construction by registered construction professionals and builders, lodgement of compliance documentation, mandatory inspections during construction and validation and registration of certificates.

These regulations are just another version of what happened before that led to the many building failures.  Inspection and certification is left up to the building owner. Compliance documents may be uploaded to the local authority for storage, but drawings and buildings are not checked by the local authority. Former Minister Phil Hogan called the new system ‘Reinforced Self-Certification’.

Statutory certificates of compliance, where relevant, must be given at commencement (design only) and completion and must be signed by a registered construction professional (i.e. an Architect or a Building Surveyor or a chartered Engineer who is included on a statutory register maintained respectively by the Royal Institution of Architects of Ireland, the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland or Engineers Ireland). The statutory certificate of compliance on completion must also be signed by the builder.

Bregs Blog: A builder can be anybody. There is no control of who can sign-off as a builder, it can even be a limited liability company that folds the next day. 

In effect, the statutory Certificate of Compliance on Completion certifies that a building is compliant with all relevant requirements of the Building Regulations, including the fire safety requirements set out in Part B and the accompanying technical guidance.

Bregs Blog: This means that when you buy an apartment there is a piece of paper produced by the developer saying that the building is safe. There is no independent check. The developer may have folded before the problem comes to light. Most developers set up project-specific limited companies for tax purposes that are folded once a development is complete.

The Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 were reviewed following their first 12 months in operation. It is clear from this review that the recent reforms have brought a new order and discipline to bear on construction projects.

Bregs Blog: The Department Review was not about the effectiveness of the regulations and did not look at this. It was specific review of the high costs of implementing the regulations in the housing sector. The outcome was to exempt up to half of all new houses from the system because of very high costs that had not been anticipated. 

 I am confident that as the transition to the new arrangements for the control of building activity continues to progress, these reforms will in time prove capable of transforming the culture of the construction industry in Ireland to one of improved compliance and quality.

Bregs Blog: Many in the industry do not have confidence in a system that exempts half of all new houses from any checks on fire safety and relies on the developer to arrange the sign-off on the other half, without any independent check. Continued self-certification will not change the culture of the construction industry. 

Other FACTCHECK Posts:

FACTCHECK 2 | Dáil + Building Regulations

FACTCHECK 1: “If my house is defective, Do I have any rights?”

Other posts of interest:

Reintroduce State Inspection of Buildings | Mick Wallace T.D.

Ministerial Review into Fire Safety is “…a joke” | Irish Examiner

The State still has no function in testing compliance of building regulations

Michael Clifford: “when will we address cracks in construction?” Irish Examiner

BC(A)R SI.9 Submission Series No 3: The Legal Environment and Consumer Protection | Deirdre Ní Fhloinn

You can still buy a non-compliant home…and it’s all perfectly legal | SI.9 Loopholes

Further questions over Newbridge fire-trap houses that have ‘no resale value’

Fire Trap Home Buyers Beware | Still No Consumer Remedy

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