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Issue One - ALL FIRED UP! - The monthly newsletter for the Fire Safety Industry

Fire

​Welcome to our inaugural newsletter for the Fire Safety Industry.   In this issue:

  • We have a review of a recent report about the risk of collapse in CLT structures during fire;

  • An interview with Geoff Roberts of Igni Fire;

  • A Fire Safety Easter activity to do with the children and encourage Fire Safety Consultants of the future;

  • An update on IR35 and what it will mean for self-employed consultants in the Industry;

  • A reminder to book for FIREX International 2021

  • News about May’s Issue where we cover salaries in the sector


Cross UK published a report  this week that presents concerns about the fire safety of multi-storey buildings comprised of cross-laminated timber (CLT) structures.  The reporter suggests an unacceptable risk of collapse in the event of an uncontrolled fire, particularly relating to multi-storey sleeping risk buildings in the UK.  This report highlights a growing trend in the industry regarding fire safety of buildings comprised of cross-laminated timber (CLT) structures. The design intent typically is to achieve 60 minutes fire resistance for structural load-bearing elements based on tables in Approved Document Part B (Part B).

Buildings regulations and Approved Document B

Compliance with this guidance does not automatically confer compliance with building regulations, which are the functionally based legislative requirements all new buildings must meet.  Clause B3 (1) of Schedule 1 in the building regulations requires that a building’s ‘stability will be maintained for a reasonable period’ in the event of a fire.

This, in the view of the reporter, is generally understood to mean that a structure should maintain its loadbearing capacity for as long as a fire could burn given available fuel sources; a fire should be able to develop, grow, naturally decay, and self-extinguish without intervention by the fire and rescue services, and without causing undue risk of collapse.

This is also the original basis for the longer fire resistance standards specified in Part B for multi-storey buildings and is referred to as design for burnout. Design for burnout is usually demonstrated by ensuring the structure meets a predefined period in a standardised fire test e.g. 60 or 90 minutes. However, the aim of the regulations for longer fire resistance durations is not to merely ensure that a test has been passed, but rather to ensure that a building’s design is suitable to withstand burnout without collapse.

Is CLT self-extinguishing?

In buildings of non-combustible construction, such as steel and concrete, meeting the prescribed fire resistance in Part B is generally sufficient to ensure design for burn out. However, for combustible construction it is also necessary to demonstrate that the structure itself would self-extinguish as the fire decays, continues the reporter. They go on to say that there is considerable academic research indicating that CLT does not reliably self-extinguish.

They go on to say that there is considerable academic research indicating that CLT does not reliably self-extinguish

Rather than benefiting from the build-up of insulating char, as would be expected from other types of structural timber, delamination (sometimes referred to as char fall-off) often occurs. This delamination process causes underlying CLT layers to become exposed and reignite during a fire. The result can be repeated episodes of charring, delamination, and reignition of underlayers; cyclical burning.

The reporter believes that as CLT does not reliably self-extinguish, one of the following methods should be used:

  1. Demonstration of self-extinguishing behaviour should be provided for the particular CLT construction used, or

  2. The CLT should be fully encapsulated in fire resistant plasterboard (or similar material) to limit the risk of it becoming involved in fire in the first place.

Fuel load from CLT

Part B guidance is based largely on risk associated with the anticipated fuel loading i.e. the combustible content expected in the building based on its use. However, this is for the building contents only. There is no consideration to additional fuel load contributed by the structure itself.

Therefore, Part B guidance should only be applied in buildings where the structure is not anticipated to burn and contribute additional fuel i.e. either non-combustible construction or fully encapsulated CLT as noted above.

Fire performance of CLT

A 60 minute design fire resistance period in accordance with Eurocode (BS EN 1995-Parts 1-2) would assume a char layer will build up over time along the external surfaces of exposed timber structure during a fire. This char layer is then understood to insulate the inner portions of the structure to ensure continued structural stability. The phenomenon also leads to eventual self-extinguishment of the timber.

However, as CLT burns unpredictably and has a tendency to undergo cyclical burning rather than build up char, the application of the Eurocode method may not be suitable for demonstrating the fire performance of CLT.

Achieving design intent

Although the CLT structure meets Eurocode recommendations, application of Eurocode principles is not suitable, in the opinion of the reporter, to confirm the fire performance of CLT based on its unpredictable charring behaviour.

Although the CLT structure meets Eurocode recommendations, application of Eurocode principles is not suitable, in the opinion of the reporter, to confirm the fire performance of CLT based on its unpredictable charring behaviour

Furthermore, the design objective of 60 minutes fire resistance may not be consistent with a full review of fuel loading as the periods in Part B do not account for fuel within an exposed combustible structure.

Lastly, even if the 60 minute fire resistance period was reasonable to withstand burnout, it is also necessary to ensure self-extinguishment of the structure as a fire decays. This cannot be assumed in general for CLT given, amongst other factors, its tendency to undergo cyclical burning.

Risk of collapse in fire

What is most concerning is that these types of practices are becoming increasingly common in the industry. Guidance of both Part B and the Eurocode are easy to apply incorrectly. There are likely many other buildings, says the reporter, with exposed CLT structure which pose undue risk of collapse in fire.

Additional resources on this topic:

Full Report can be found HERE 

How did you get into fire safety?
Following on from H & S qualifications, I was made aware that changes had taken place in Fire Safety legislation. Being the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005, which came into force in 2006. I took an early qualification and I followed up with other qualifications over the years.  I began carrying out Fire Risk Assessments in 2008 and have built my knowledge and experience over the years.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Police Officer – Which I did for 30 years.
Tell Us About the Greatest Achievements of Your Career?  
Difficult one.  As a Police Officer, saving two children from drowning in an underground canal culvert.  As a Fire Risk Assessor – Receiving thank you notes from residents of rented flats for ensuring landlord implemented Fire Safety measures.
What Career Advice Do You Wish You Could Give to Your Younger Self? 
The best advice I was given in whatever role / career you choose – “Always listen to what someone has to say, as they might just know something you don’t”
Biggest change for you post pandemic?
Biggest change is the challenge of helping to build back confidence in areas of the leisure industry, such as pubs, cafes, restaurants
What are the biggest challenges facing landlords and owners of large property portfolios?
Coming to terms with both the new Building Safety regulations and Fire Safety Order.
If you could change one thing in this industry, what would it be?
Ensure that Fire & Rescue Service enforcement receives the funding and staffing levels it requires.
How can the industry attract more people into fire safety? 
Funding is an issue.  If you are employed (unless you are a member of the Fire & Rescue Service) it can be difficult to justify to management the training cost and of course if you are self-employed or looking towards such a move, then finding monies can be difficult. Maybe funding by way of Government type grants etc. could be a way to move forward.
Biggest change for the industry post pandemic?
Similar to that of Landlords etc., adjusting to the forthcoming Building Safety and Fire Safety Order implementation. It’s up to everyone, Landlords, Property Managers, owners, residents, employees, contractors, Fire Assessors and Fire & Rescue Service, to ensure we never allow another Grenfell.

Help to create Fire Safety Consultants of the future - Have fun with your little ones over the Easter Break! Fire Safety Hero Club Pledge | Sparky.org
Wishing everybody a relaxing, happy and healthy Easter.

With the pandemic many hoped that the role out of IR35 within the private sector would be scrapped, however, this has not been the case and it looks as though the reforms are here to stay. So what does this mean?

It is essential that the supply chain; the contracts; the agency and the employer, work together in terms of navigating this complex legislation, in order to protect everybody. This can only be achieved if all parties take on their responsibilities and remain transparent. It is not in anybody's interest to just push the problem down the supply chain, nor can it be indemnified against.

Why was IR35 brought in?

It's important to remember that the case law hasn't changed, simply that the liability has been extended.

Contractor numbers in the UK increased dramatically post-millennium. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) put self-employment numbers in the UK at around 4.7m in 2016, with contractors making up a third of this.

The government believed that companies were using contractors on a permanent basis - where they were operating or doing the same job as permanent employees. Companies were deemed to be making significant cost savings by not having to pay NICs and employee benefits by using contractors. Contractors operating as a PSC were believed to be paying less “corporation tax” as opposed to “income tax” and therefore costing the economy in lost income.

Without IR35 restrictions, the HMRC estimated that the cost of non-compliance to the exchequer would  reach “£1.3 billion a year by 2023-24.[1]” IR35 was introduced, therefore, as an anti-tax avoidance measure and a way to stop further leakage in tax.

This shifted the liability from the contractor to the employer (end client) to determine whether they were operating as a true freelancer or as an effective employee. 

What are the concerns around extension into the private sector?

  • Loss of talent and reduced productivity:The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) believes that the extension of legislation to the private sector will have a detrimental effect on the British economy. Restricting the flexible market, coupled with Brexit, the added complexity of having to determine correct contractor status, payroll and VAT will put an enormous burden on businesses. Research published last year found that the

    public sector is losing top talent due to IR35 reforms, with 71%[2]

    of public sector projects being cancelled or delayed as a result of talent leaving.

  • Determining correct status:The HMRC’s Check for Employment Status for Tax (CEST) Tool has been heavily criticised for being too vague. A judge also deemed it inadequate in an employment tribunal[3].

The rules which determine status are so unclear it is impossible to know with any certainty whether an individual engagement falls within IR35’s scope. The CEST tool, which is supposed to enable accurate determinations has been heavily criticised by many independent experts. Even HMRC, with all its undoubted expertise in IR35, has been unable to accurately assess IR35 status, having lost three out of the four cases which have come to light this year.[4]

  • Loss of earning for contractors:If it’s determined the contractor does fall inside IR35, they will be taxed as employees – usually, a higher rate than they had been paying before – and cannot claim many expenses such as accommodation in the same way they had before.

  • Increased number of legal challenges:HMRC can check your taxes for up to 20 years so even if you have changed from a PSC to an employee - you can still be liable.

Key differences in the private sector; the rules do not apply to

  • small companies with a turnover of less than £10.2M

  • Total less than £5.2 million

  • has no more than 50 employees

Overseas companies which;

  • are not resident in the UK or do not have a permanent establishment in the UK

  • are an unincorporated organisation turnover greater than £10.2 million

N.B. small company exemption does not apply to employment agencies or intermediaries

Who will bear the cost?

Should a contractor be deemed inside the scope of IR 35 incorrectly, this will affect theirnet take home pay in the region of 13 to 14% per week. Our findings to date are that contractors are not keen to reduce their earnings, recruitment firms are not willing to take a hit on margins, given the increased risk and work involved, and employers already feel that employing contractors is expensive, so are also unlikely to pick up the increase in costs.

HMRC have highlighted the awareness of inappropriate use of PSC's and as such disguised remuneration. Moving forward there is a greater focus by HMRC on the legitimate use of PSC’s and as such have introduced a targeted anti-avoidance rule task force, (TAAR), which will be aimed at the mass incorporation of personal service companies.

End users have a duty of care to demonstrate their reasoning for any IR 35 decisions, if a blanket approach is taken they could place themselves at risk of an employment tribunal or HMRC status review. The impact of the decision on a temporary workers take home pay is significant so it is important that the basis for that decision is evidenced.

The employer is ultimately responsible for determining the employment status of their contractors under IR35 rules. Dependent upon the contractual chain, the fee payer is responsible for deducting the relevant tax and National Insurance contributions at source this would usually fall to either the client or a recruitment company.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next 12 months, but there has been in shift in contract staff deciding to take employed positions in order to avoid the imposed measures, along with employers severely limiting their reliance on freelancers.

For more information head towww.fseesa.org.uk

In our May Issue we will be reviewing salaries in Fire Safety Consultancy so keep an eye on your inbox if you want to know what your peers are getting paid! Until then Keep Safe

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