18 - Aug - 2020

Why the Building Safety Bill will shake things up

Hype is history – article featuring Ben Hancock, MD of Oscar Acoustics as featured in
Selfbuilder and homemaker article

The draft Building Safety Bill is the most significant milestone in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and it will undoubtedly drive up quality within the construction sector. However, these new and enhanced regulations for building safety and construction products cannot come into force soon enough.

One requirement that was put in place to aid with the responsible specification, is that manufacturers will have to improve the quality of information they provide to architects including accurate testing and performance data in an easily comparable format.

Whilst there’s a need for this accuracy, there’s also a responsibility on the specifier to ensure performance certifications are reviewed thoroughly.

This is in line with one of the key features of the draft Bill to introduce provisions for architects to have greater oversight of their projects, with an increased focus on career-long learning. New powers will also be given to the Architects Registration Board (ARB) to monitor the competence of all registered architects.

As an industry, we talk a lot about standards and compliance. Being the managing director of Oscar Acoustics, a construction products supply, installation and manufacturing firm, I am frankly obsessive about quality. I also believe that fire and performance certification standards should be taken seriously. So I’m surprised and disappointed that in the past 18 months, only two architects have approached us for the full fire test reports of our acoustic products.

This contradicts the findings of the Construction Products Association (CPA) and NBS’s ‘Construction Product Information Survey’ which mentions that only 25% of users and 50% of providers rate their understanding of the testing and certification process as ‘very good’.

If a manufacturer or supplier’s knowledge is not up to scratch, how can information be passed accurately onto the user? For instance, it is a popular misconception, even with product suppliers or manufacturers of acoustic ceiling hangers that they do not need to be fire tested. When calling their technical departments, I found most are of the opinion that the hanger doesn’t need to be fire rated as the plasterboard beneath it gives it its fire rating. This is not the case. Acoustic hangers support the whole ceiling so if it fails during a fire, the entire ceiling will collapse. If the worst were to happen, who is responsible? The architect or the supplier/manufacturer? This is another indication that the Building Safety Bill is not taken seriously and is cause for concern. Something must be done, as surely, building safety is non-negotiable. For this reason, we rigorously test and achieve a 90 minute fire rating for our own British-made acoustic hangers.

My advice to specifiers is to ensure that the product manufacturer provides copies of certification, so that they have a better understanding of performance levels and issues on substitution. Ask to speak to their technical team if there are areas you’re not clear about. Taking advantage of any available training can also help.

View full SonaSpray fire ratings

Substitution

While architects can be under pressure and spread too thin, they are liable. This must be giving them cause for concern especially with the UK culture of spec-breaking, which is frequently done without the architect’s sign-off or considering the impact that a switch will have on other components. It is therefore important to apply some discretion and common sense to these requests, especially if the deviations affect aesthetics, safety or performance standards.

What’s unacceptable is when substitution happens because the product information was inaccurate, incomplete, or due to performance criteria. Agreement and approval for substitution of any product should be a given and a product specified must be fit for purpose.

Architects rely on information provided, so there is a huge responsibility for us suppliers and manufacturers to record all product details and present this accurately; unfortunately, some aren’t doing so.

It’s disappointing that as an industry we’ve had to wait for the law to tell us to clean up our act. However, it is never too late to work together to drive up safety standards and act in the best interests of all those involved.

From Ben Hancock, Managing Director, Oscar Acoustics


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