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The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) has submitted evidence to the pre-legislative consultation on the Building Safety Bill. While broadly welcoming the Bill as an important step in the implementation of Dame Judith Hackitt’s report “Building a safer future”, the Association outlines a number of concerns relating to how it will ensure appropriate testing, installation and ongoing market surveillance of safety critical products / systems.

The ASFP welcomes the move to increase the rigour of construction products regulation for safety critical products. It has advocated mandatory third party certification of passive fire protection products for many years and recognises that this legislation will eventually make that a reality. However, the Association has concerns about the proposed product testing regime, primarily around how products with European/UK Technical Assessments (ETAs/UKTAs) will be treated.

The draft text of the Bill gives products with a UK Technical Assessment exemption from any ‘Safety Critical’ status; a move which the ASFP believes could potentially lead to a loophole.  Since ETAs and UKTAs are not mandatory, and there are no minimum requirements for properties within scope of the technical assessment, the ASFP recommends that “product families” must be defined, along with an appropriate level of testing. It believes that all products within a product family should be tested, assessed and certified based upon individual tests of products and systems to ensure that products cannot gain entrance into the market based upon tests conducted by one manufacturer.

The apparent lack of legislation covering the installers of safety critical products / systems is a significant concern for the ASFP. While the current bill text suggests that installers will have to meet a future requirement for a competence-based scheme, the ASFP considers this is an inadequate level of response and calls for some form of regulation of installers. The ASFP, which has long called for mandatory third party certification of installers of passive fire protection products, recommends that the Government mandate a body to establish the competence levels required within the construction industry and to oversee their implementation.

Finally, the ASFP highlights the historical challenges of market surveillance under the European Construction Products Regulation (CPR) system, noting that EU Member State Authorities charged with market surveillance under CPR have not had the necessary skills and experience. Having been informed that a new Product Regulator would be created in the UK, possibly under the remit of OPSS (Office of Product Safety and Standards), the Association notes that the draft Bill does not clearly identify this.

The text states that market surveillance tasks are to be carried out by “Relevant Authorities” and identifies a number of possible authorities, generally under the auspices of local authorities. The ASFP believes such a structure would be unable to address all the complex issues related to construction product testing, assessment, certification and installation and calls for the introduction if a regulator at national level.

Commenting on the Association’s response to the consultation, ASFP CEO Niall Rowan stated:

“The Bill seems to lay the path and take the first tentative steps towards implementing most of the recommendations from the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report. The devil, however, is in the detail of how this is followed up. Although this Bill makes the primary enabling legislation, giving the necessary powers, we still need to see how the secondary legislation will be written and implemented to ensure that all the recommendations are met.

“We believe the products and systems manufactured and installed by our members come fairly and squarely within any definition of ‘Safety Critical’. We have a number of concerns with regards to the application of the legislation to the installation, testing and market surveillance of these ‘Safety Critical’ products and wish to make certain representations to ensure the correct outcome regarding the provisions for passive fire protection products and systems within the Building Safety Bill.”