Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there have been many years of uncertainty regarding fire-safety guidance for high-rise residential buildings. This uncertainty made it a challenging environment to build tall buildings. However, during the last year, we have started to see some clarity following the publication of the amended Approved Document B (Fire Safety) of the Building Regulations on 1st June 2022.
Approved Document B of the Building Regulations was updated to improve fire safety in high-rise residential buildings. The Grenfell Inquiry found that Building Regulations were deficient in certain areas, and that evacuation of the building was hindered by the lack of an evacuation plan, as well as some of the decisions made and features of the building itself.
The inquiry highlighted that the ‘stay put’ policy at Grenfell should have been backed up with a plan B that went further than the fire and rescue service knocking on doors. Recommendations from the inquiry included that both existing and new-build high-rise residential buildings be equipped with evacuation alert systems for use by the fire and rescue service. This led to the creation of BS 8629 in 2019, a code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of evacuation alert systems.
This code of practice is now cited in the updated Part B of the Building Regulations, which requires evacuation alert systems that adhere to BS 8629 to be installed in all new-build residential blocks over 18m in England. This should give residents in these buildings reassurance that if they need to leave the building in a fire, the instruction will be communicated clearly and safely.
Evacuation alert systems
The BS 8629 guidance states that an evacuation alert control system should be installed where a ‘stay put’ policy is in force so that when there needs to be a change in evacuation strategy during an incident, the fire and rescue service is able to inform residents of this change quickly and easily. With a BS 8629 system, evacuation is controlled and targeted floor by floor according to the magnitude and location of the fire enabling the fire and rescue service to evacuate specific areas of the building effectively. These systems also help ensure staircases are not overwhelmed.
The system must also be completely independent of the fire system, as well as from other building management systems and apparatus, such as lifts, gas valves, air conditioning and smoke control systems. Furthermore, access to an evacuation alert system should be via a patented key only – exclusive to the fire and rescue service – and must be clearly marked ‘for fire and rescue service use only’.
Advanced was at the forefront of the development of a bespoke BS 8629 solution and the first to market with an evacuation alert system. The EvacGo is designed as an easy way to meet BS 8629 and offers peace of mind to those responsible for a building that they are complying with the new Building Regulations. In addition, Advanced is currently one of a handful of manufacturers to offer an evacuation alert system housed within a box specially designed by Gerda Security to meet the recommended stringent antitamper standards.
BS 8629 states that the evacuation system must include evacuation alert control and indicating equipment, along with audio and/or visual alarm devices in each apartment, providing clear evacuation signals to building occupants. Most importantly, any compliant system must be simple and intuitive so that it can provide straightforward support to fire brigade personnel coordinating the evacuation of a high-rise residential building.
The Building Safety Act names HSE as the new Building Safety Regulator in England and, as such, will enforce compliance with the Building Regulations. The Building Safety Act will place formal responsibilities on those involved in the design and construction of any buildings to ensure compliance with Building Regulations and will give the regulator greater powers to prosecute for non compliance. It will be the duty of the people responsible for a building to put in place and maintain a golden thread of information, with their responsibility continuing for the life of the building.
Amended Part B is designed to meet recommendations from Phase One of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. However, since the inquiry also recommends evacuation alert systems for high-rise residential buildings “already in existence1”, further regulation may follow. This would be welcomed by the industry. At Advanced, we feel installation of evacuation alert systems should be mandated following a risk-based approach since the risk for occupants might be just as real at 10m as it is at 11 or 18m.
The changes to the Building Regulations have big implications for the people designing, installing or specifying evacuation alert systems, so it’s essential to be up to date on the changes. However, the current amended Part B of the Building Regulations is not the end of the quest for improved fire safety. Most recently, an amendment to BS 8629 was published in March 2023 – BS 8629+A1: 2023, as a result of the changes to the Building Regulations. It is vital architects keep abreast of the latest Building Regulations. Advanced runs a number of CPDs to keep delegates informed of the latest regulations.