Defects in building fire safety

Tenos Director and Chartered Engineer Mostyn Bullock continues to investigate the competency in fire engineering practice. In an article recently published in the Solicitors Journal, Mostyn considers the decline in building fire safety standards and asks what the industry can do to stop it.

Increased demand for fire expert witnesses

“We have seen a notable increase in the workload for professionally qualified fire engineers acting as fire expert witnesses on civil cases in the UK,” says Mostyn.

“The concern is not necessarily in relation to the technical detail of the breaches which form the cases but, rather, the nature of the ground which is producing the increasing crop of cases for us to work on,” he stresses.

In his article, Mostyn identifies a number of fundamental causes for the rise in such cases including:

  1. An increase in the frequency of problems with fire safety for example; repeated omission of fire protection from the places where it is designed to be, manufacturers’ claims of product performance not withstanding scrutiny, use of products outside their limits of application, etc.

    “What has changed is the frequency of ‘discovery’,” says Mostyn. “This is not as the result of a greater incidence of fires but, seemingly as a result of other issues coming to light and being investigated first, such as failures in weather-tightness, acoustics or structure. Quite a lot of the calls which we now get as a precursor to an appointment start with the words ‘we’ve been looking at… and we’ve got concerns about what we’ve seen with the fire…’.” adds Mostyn.

  2. Disregard for Regulation 9 of the Approved Inspectors Regulations by developers and main contractors which includes this statement – ‘Approved Inspectors shall have no professional or financial interest in the work they supervise unless it is minor work’.

    “The result has been that some developers and main contractors now even request tenders for a “one-stop-shop” design and approval service with no regard to Regulation 9 and scant regard to their own liabilities,” comments Mostyn. “The result is less fully independent scrutiny of designs on the table and construction in the field. The outcome is lower standards of project delivery and greater incidence of problems manifesting themselves later on,” he adds.

Mostyn uses a number of case studies to illustrate these points and the challenges facing the industry.

In his conclusion is asks, if things continue as they are, could there be a danger of the bubble bursting?

“I think so,” he says. ““If standards continue to spiral downwards we may reach a tipping point where the legal sector is faced with so many claims for litigation that the financial structures supporting the industry can no longer carry the load being placed upon them,” concludes Mostyn.

To read the full article, click here .

As published in the July 2015 edition of the Solicitors Journal and kindly reproduced with the Journal’s permission.