Designers, specifiers and contractors duty to manage timber frame fire risks

In an open letter to the industry, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) warned that designers and those involved in procurement will be held responsible for ensuring timber frame designs fully take into account the proximity of neighbouring buildings.

The move from the HSE follows a number of serious timber frame structure fires during the construction phase. Head of Construction Sector and Policy, Simon Longbotham said the HSE’s main priority is to ensure that fire does not spread into neighbouring buildings:

“Evidence from recent HSE inspections indicates that the risk of harm to occupants of neighbouring buildings from fire during the construction phase is not always effectively managed.”

He also added that not all duty holders understood what is required of them.

Your Duties Explained

With that in mind, here is a summary of the duties of a designer, specifier and contractor to manage fire risk in timber frame construction:

  • The primary legal responsibility for assessing off-site fire risk rests with those making design and procurement decisions before work starts on site
  • Fire precautions during the construction of timber frame structures fall within the Health and Safety Executive’s remit;
  • All those making design and procurement decisions that significantly affect fire risk should consider and reduce the risk and consequences of fire during the construction phase through design. Failure to do so may constitute a material breach for which the HSE will apply its Fee for Intervention scheme for those duty holders who have contributed to the breach;
  • Designers and manufacturers of timber frame structures duties under CDM Regulation 11 cannot be passed on to the Principal Contractor;
  • If an alternative approach to standard Structural Timber Association (STA) guidance is used, a competent person with fire engineering qualifications and experience will need to determine the risks to identify appropriate controls;
  • The Principal Contractor must adhere to the conditions required to achieve the specified category of structures;
  • The Principal Contractor must devise and apply appropriate fire precautions during the build, including control of hot works, provision of fire warning and extinguishing systems and provisions of means of escape.

Tenos welcomes the open letter from the HSE: “It clearly sets out the duties of designers, specifiers and contractors which is what the industry urgently needed.”

“It is now time for the industry to act to prevent any loss of life. We urge designers to engage fire engineers in the early design stages. A suitable, sound and cost effective fire engineered solution can be provided to effectively manage fire risk in timber frame structures pre construction and during site work.”

Read the HSE’s open letter in full.