In March, I wrote an article (a copy of which can be found here) on the Draft Scottish Advice Note "Determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems in existing multistorey residential buildings" and the responses to the consultation on this draft document. The Scottish Government have now published the final version of the Scottish Advice Note ("SAN") (available on the Government website here) taking account of those responses.

What is the purpose of the SAN?

The SAN is a part of the Scottish Government's response to the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire. It is intended to provide advice for the owners of, or individuals who own a property in, multi-storey, multi-occupied residential buildings, to assist in determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems ("EWS") in those buildings. The SAN makes it clear that its concern is life safety, and it is not a guide for valuation or insurance purposes. It also notes that the SAN is not intended to be read in isolation – readers should also consult the other fire safety guidance documents which it refers to.

The SAN confirms that in order to establish the risk posed to a multi-storey building, then a fire safety risk assessment will need to be carried out and that, in cases where a conclusion cannot be drawn from the initial assessment, a further intrusive appraisal of the EWS will also be required.

What has changed from the draft SAN?

As I noted in March, one of the key issues was that consultees were concerned with the accessibility of the draft SAN, noting concerns that non-technically qualified readers may find it hard to follow, and suggested that a non-technical version of the SAN may be useful. The Scottish Government have not gone that far but have taken steps to restructure the SAN to make it more accessible. The SAN now forms two parts:

  • Part 1 (General Advice) – focused on informing owners, employers and building managers.
  • Part 2 (Technical Advice) – focused on those responsible for undertaking fire safety risk assessments and appraisals

The SAN also highlights that, despite recent changes made to the Domestic and Non-Domestic Technical Handbooks in relation to demonstrating fire safety compliance by the use of fire engineering reports (covered in our earlier post found here), BS 8414 fire tests and BR135 reports can, in the appropriate circumstances, be used to confirm the safety of an EWS.

Fire Safety Risk Assessments and Appraisals of EWS

The SAN explains that fire safety risk assessments should be carried out to establish whether a building is safe and situations where remedial works may be required.

A key principle of fire safety risk assessment is to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of people from harm caused by fire. It is made clear that this undertaking an assessment is a specialist task and that those undertaking assessments should have the required skill set to assess the particular type of building the have been engaged to consider. A list of points which will be considered as part of the fire risk assessment are set out in the SAN and include a range of factors – not limited to the EWS – which will be taken into account in reaching a view on the safety of a building. The assessor may provide recommendations on any number of these factors.

In terms of the EWS, a risk assessment can have one of three outcomes:

  • No action required;
  • The need for a more detailed EWS appraisal (where the fire risk assessor is unable to reach a conclusion or offer appropriate advice on remedial works);
  • Immediate removal of the EWS (in cases where the building is extensively clad in the most dangerous type of MCM material).

An EWS appraisal is noted as beyond the capabilities of most fire risk assessors, and readers are pointed towards specialists (with appropriate qualification and insurance) to carry out such an assessment. This is a far more detailed assessment of the external walling of a building and may well involve opening up of EWS to inspect the construction.

Annex 5 to the SAN contains a helpful flow chart showing the decision process to establish the steps involved in the overall assessment process.

Key Takeaways

  • A framework now exists to provide comfort to those who live in or own properties with external walling systems.
  • The SAN is clear that Category 3 MCM should be removed from buildings as soon as possible – this is not something which can be assessed around.
  • It is the overall safety of a building which is of paramount importance in an EWS appraisal. This means that it is not necessarily the case that an old building (built to earlier standards) will now be unsafe because it does not meet the 2021 standards – each building will have to be judged on its own merits.
  • Where remedial works require to be carried out, the SAN also provides advise on temporary measures which can be carried out in the interim. The specific measures required for each building are likely to be recommended either by the person undertaking the fire risk assessment or the EWS appraisal.

Contributors

Eric Johnstone

Legal Director