A year of changes: Taking stock of the evolution of fire safety requirements in buildings throughout Europe

Jun 28, 2018 | News

Over the years, Fire Safe Europe (FSEU) has been comparing the differences in Building Regulations and Fire Safety Requirements across Europe. 2017 was a huge turning point. Many EU countries decided to review their laws and regulations in fire safety in buildings. The overview below allows to understand that changes are happening but not at the same pace.

In June 2017, FSEU showed the differences in regulations on high-rise buildings across 16 member states. The discrepancies were astonishing.

The tragic Grenfell fire in June 2017 was a turning point for fire safety. The topic became part of the European Union agenda through the creation of the Fire Information Exchange Platform.

Over the past year, nine European Member States have taken action to revise regulation for improved fire safety in buildings. Although the pace and nature of the changes is slightly different in each country, this shows that steps are taken in the right direction. However, at a European level, some key elements are still lacking, such as a common approach to assess the fire performance of façade based on one harmonized large-scale test. Similarly, the toxicity of smoke from burning construction products is not measured, whereas smoke is the biggest killer in fires.

While 2017 has put fire safety back into the political debate, and some EU countries have taken action, more ambitious steps need to be taken in order for people to be safe from fire in every building they spend time in.

We present below an overview of the latest changes and proposed changes to regulations.

Belgium, France, Ireland and the UK have commissioned reports giving an overview of the regulations and their possible weaknesses to provide clear recommendations.

Belgium: Current legislation under scrutiny

Shortly after the Grenfell tragedy, the Belgian government mandated the Belgian Building Research Institute (BBRI) to produce a report which would:

  1. Give an overview of current fire safety regulation, particularly regarding the risk of fire spreading via the facades.
  2. Give guidelines for the correct design and installation of commonly used facade systems, taking into account current and future legal requirements.

Published in September 2017, the report concluded that “the risk of fire spread within the facade is insufficiently considered in European standards. The ‘Facades’ working group of the Belgian Federal Public Service Interior is addressing the issue of this shortcoming in Belgian regulations.” As a result, the current legislation on building fire safety from 1994 is now under discussion. One of the discussion points is the height above which a building is considered to be high-rise. A final legislative proposal should come out by the end of 2018.

Ireland: A Fire Safety Task Force published clear recommendations

A fire safety task force was established in June 2017 to conduct a complete review of the national approach to fire safety. A report was published in May 2018, with clear recommendations to improve fire safety in buildings, such as:

  • The National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management to develop guidelines to be used in a campaign to help those responsible for the safety of the building to comply with their statutory duties and responsibilities.
  • Introduce a new regulation under the Fire Services Act requiring the person having control of all categories of premises to prepare a “Public Notice of Fire Safety” containing specific information, including the name of the person having control of the premises.
  • Make additional regulations under the Fire Services Act for certain types of premises in the sleeping accommodation category requiring ‘persons having control’ over the premises to implement advice and precautions. These include having an appropriate working fire detection and alarm system, ensuring doors on escape routes are easily openable from the inside etc
  • Develop additional regulations under the Fire Services Act for certain categories of large scale or high-risk premises where large numbers of the public can be present.

France: The ELAN law is underway

Following a report published by the CSTB in June 2017, which included a number of recommendations to improve fire safety, a programme addressing the identified weak points in French regulations has been developed. A proposal for a new law, the “ELAN” law (Evolution du logement, de l’aménagement et du numérique), is now being discussed. This is a global law project encompassing all building aspects.

One of the improvements proposed is the introduction of a new category of buildings, namely “medium-height” (28-50 meters). In France, high-rise buildings are currently defined as buildings with a height of over 50 meters for residential buildings and 28 meters for other building types. For buildings between 28 and 50 meters, there are specific regulations outlining requirements that differ whether the building is an office or a residential building – the protection of people being weaker in the case of office buildings. With the introduction of the medium-height category, office and residential buildings will have the same requirements.

Moreover, currently renovations addressing energy efficiency are done without considering fire safety. The new regulation will require that studies are carried out before starting with the renovation of a building, making sure that fire safety is taken into account.

United Kingdom: Independent review & public enquiry

In the UK, an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, and a public enquiry led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick were launched. The so-called Hackitt report came out in May 2018; FSEU reacted with a press release, stressing out that he results of the review are insufficient in their recommendations for a robust regulatory system for fire safety in high-rise and high-risk buildings.

The government also launched a public consultation on the ban of desktop studies as a way of assessing the fire performance of external cladding systems, and a consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in the cladding on high rise buildings.

Bulgaria and the Netherlands are in the process of revising their regulations.

Bulgaria: New legislation to be adopted very soon

Regulation to date states that for high rise buildings, it was possible to use A, B and C materials (according to Euroclass system, see here), and defined high-rise as over 28 meters. In 2017, the legislation was reviewed. The new regulation, which has still to be adopted, will allow only non-combustible (A1 and A2) materials to be used for fire barriers, and for buildings above 28 meter, only A1 and A2 materials will be authorized for the entire facade.

Netherlands: Announcement of an amendment to 2012 Building Decree

An amendment of the 2012 Building Decree laying down regulations relating to the construction, use and demolition of construction works was announced, but there is no visibility yet on the foreseen changes.

New regulations already came into force in 2018 in Greece, Denmark and Finland.

Greece: Regulation to come into force on 7 August 2018

Greece is facing weaknesses in the control of its construction sector with regards to fire safety. It has resulted in the implementation of dangerous construction practices.

In response, the Greek government developed a new Regulation regarding Fire Protection in Building which will soon take effect and aims at strengthening control of the Greek construction market

Denmark: New building regulation in effect since January 2018

A new building regulation took effect January 2018, with a transition period until the end of the year for new rules for fire and design. For fire safety, some of the key changes are:

  • The functional requirements have been rewritten so that they are clearer. They have been improved regarding the risk of fire spreading in connection with outer walls, and now state that exterior walls must be designed and built so that fire spread via exterior walls is limited. For example, horizontal fire stops in outer wall structures can be established to limit vertical fire spread.
  • New risk classes have been introduced that take into account the size and application of the building. New fire classes will be aligned to the new risk classes.
  • Introduction of control plans and inspection reports that must be carried out for design, project planning and fire protection.

Finland: New regulations for new buildings

New regulations came into force in January 2018 that cover fire safety for new building construction, their repair, maintenance and renovations as well as a change in intended use.