Building Regulations, ADB, Standards and Innovation

This page explains the relationship between building regulations, standards and guidance, in relation to Automist:

What do the Building Regulations say?

Building Regulations are the legal requirements for all new and significantly altered buildings in the UK.  They are functional (performance-based), not prescriptive.  This means they state what the requirements are, they do not say how these requirements must be met.  Here are some of the requirements, in Schedule B, typically relevant to Automatic water fire suppression systems (AWFSS):

  • Requirement B1 Means of warning and escape
    B1. The building shall be designed and constructed so that there are appropriate provisions for the early warning of fire, and appropriate means of escape in case of fire from the building to a place of safety outside the building capable of being safely and effectively used at all material times.

  • Requirement B3 Internal fire spread (structure)
    (1) The building shall be designed and constructed so that, in the event of fire, its stability will be maintained for a reasonable period
    (2) A wall common to two or more buildings shall be designed and constructed so that it adequately resists the spread of fire between those buildings. For the purposes of this sub-paragraph a house in a terrace and a semi-detached house are each to be treated as a separate building.
    (3) Where reasonably necessary to inhibit the spread of fire within the building, measures shall be taken, to an extent appropriate to the size and intended use of the building, comprising either or both of the following—
    (a) sub-division of the building with fire-resisting construction;
    (b) installation of suitable automatic fire suppression systems.

  • Requirement B5 Access and facilities for the fire service
    (1) The building shall be designed and constructed so as to provide reasonable facilities to assist firefighters in the protection of life.
    (2) Reasonable provision shall be made within the site of the building to enable fire appliances to gain access to the building.’

Despite suppression only being cited in B3 of Schedule B, it is recommended in Approved Document B and BS 9991 as a way to improve the means of escape for occupants. It can be used to contain the fire within the room of origin and also to provide a 'compensatory measure' when other building features do not meet one of the functional building requirements, as explained in 4.2 of BS 9991.

‘Automatic water fire suppression system (AWFSS) The installation of an AWFSS can offer designers considerable flexibility. An AWFSS controls a fire to a small size, reducing the production of smoke and toxic gases and preventing the fire from spreading beyond the room or dwelling of origin. This means that there can be flexibility achieved in the design of the building.’

Regulation 7 provides guidance on materials and workmanship, i.e. the use of the appropriate materials for construction and how those who are working on the building must behave in a workmanlike manner.

Approved Document B outlines one method of meeting the functional requirements of the building regulations.

What does Approved Document B say?

Approved Document B (Volume 1, 2019 edition, page i) specifically provides for the use of non-standard systems, explaining that:

‘although approved documents cover common building situations, compliance with the guidance set out in the approved documents does not provide a guarantee of compliance with the requirements of the regulations because the approved documents cannot cater for all circumstances, variations and innovations.…Where the guidance in the approved document has not been followed… the person carrying out building works should demonstrate that the requirements of the regulations have been complied with by some other acceptable means or method.’

There are also a number of other alternative guidance documents which support the use of Automatic water fire suppression systems (AWFSS) to meet building regulations:

  • BS 9991:2015 Fire safety in the design, management and use of residential buildings. Code of practice

  • BS 7974:2019 Application of fire safety engineering principles to the design of buildings. Code of practice

What does the Building Standards Technical Handbook (Scotland) 2020 say?

2.15.1 Automatic fire suppression systems:

Alternative suppression systems

The applicant and the verifier should satisfy themselves that the alternative system has been designed, tested and approved for use in domestic and residential buildings and are fit for their intended purpose (see Section 0).

What is the role of Standards?

According to the BSI website:

‘Standards are agreed ways of doing something, written down as a set of precise criteria so they can be used as rules, guidelines or definitions. However, standards aren’t the same as regulations and following a standard doesn’t guarantee that you’re within the relevant laws. In fact, standards rarely cite the law as legislation could change within the lifetime of the standard. In a case like this, compliance with the standard will often mean you’re compliant with the relevant legislation, although there are usually ways of being compliant with legislation without using a standard. A false claim of compliance is likely to put you on the wrong side of the law.’

According to Dame Hackitt, the over-reliance on standardised solutions is one of the building industry’s key failings, resulting in “an overreliance on the system” that “discourages[s] ownership and accountability for decisions”. 

It should be noted as per BS 0:2016, A standard for standards - Principles of standardization published by BSi, clause 9:

'British Standards are voluntary in that there is no obligation to apply them or comply with them, except in those few cases where their application is directly demanded by regulatory instruments. They are tools devised for the convenience of those who wish to use them.

Particularly for the purpose of preventing anticompetitive effects or impeding innovation, whenever possible, provisions are expressed in terms of performance rather than design or descriptive characteristics.'

Standards are always subordinate to the law. It is important that they are drafted so as to avoid any confusion between the provisions of a standard and requirements imposed by law. In general, it is not acceptable for standards to contain provisions that are already requirements imposed by law, nor to contain any statement recommending or requiring compliance with the law...

Unfortunately, when BS 8458 was created the authors did not future proof it considering these principles. Disruptive innovation is not expected to comply with existing standards, only demonstrate it can provide equivalent performance. Independent third-party performance testing to the applicable parts of the nearest standard, past experience and independent fire engineering assessments allow the person carrying out building works to demonstrate that the requirements of the regulations have been complied with and an innovative product is ‘fit for purpose’. As outlined in Dame Judith Hackitt’s: Map of the current regulatory system in her ‘Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’ below which explains

Map of the current regulatory system - Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt

In order to facilitate the adoption of innovation we need more stakeholders to evaluate manufacturers technical information. This parallel route must exist because the development time for a new British Standard can take many years. As a result, standards tend to follow innovation. A proposer of a new standard or even a revision of an existing one must be able to demonstrate a broadly based need for any proposed addition and is therefore reliant on market adoption. To exclude a system based on the fact it is outside of the scope of a standard, as opposed to a technical justification, constitutes a restriction of competition, against the principles of BS:0.

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Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all of the aspects of the building regulations but rather a useful source of background information. Whilst every care has been taken to ensure that the contents of this document are correct at the time of publication, it should never be used as any form of substitution for the guidance documents. Plumis shall be under no liability whatsoever in respect to the contents of this document. It should be noted that there may be specific additional requirements dependent upon local authority building regulations and/or fire authority.