Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2021, an urgency for reform has been a driving force behind major developments in building safety. Among these was the publication of PAS9980, which came into effect in January 2022 and replaces the Government’s 2020 Consolidated Advice Note (CAN).
Developed for fire engineers and other competent building professionals What is PAS9980 to help them conduct a fire risk assessment of the external wall construction and cladding of existing multistorey and multi-occupied blocks of flats, it introduces a five-step process to aid with identifying the various risks that affect the overall risk rating of a building, as well as guidance on providing steps that might improve the risk rating.
PAS9980 is meant to be used mostly by those who carry out FRAEWs, but the key outputs will also be useful for those making decisions based on a FRAEW’s outcome – including building control bodies, valuers, mortgage lenders, insurers, project managers and facilities management companies. They may also be of interest to freeholders, leaseholders and managing agents, right to manage companies, residents’ associations and facade engineers.
The standard outlines various recommendations to check the competency of the professionals conducting the FRAEWs and is designed to promote consistency across the industry. This includes checking that the professionals are sufficiently qualified to carry out such assessments, ensuring that they have experience in this field and in the building types in question. It is also recommended that the FRAEW should be conducted by a person who has completed appropriate training, such as an apprenticeship or a qualification in building surveying.
This is intended to help make sure that the FRAEW report will be carried out in a consistent manner and is clear, accurate and impartial. It also aims to reduce the scope of buildings that require a FRAEW, by only requiring one for those that are considered high risk in terms of their external walls. It is hoped that this will help to prevent a situation where, for example, an EWS1 form is requested by a mortgage lender for low-rise buildings that are not required to have remediation.
In addition, it is also hoped that PAS9980 will help to drive a more proportionate approach to building safety, where a disproportionate response to fire risks has been the norm. This will include a new definition of risk which considers the likelihood of external fire spread, consequential secondary fires and occupants’ ability to escape, as well as a range of other factors.
The new FRAEW guidelines have been welcomed by some in the property sector, but there are concerns that it will allow the risk-based approach to become increasingly subjective and open to commercial pressures. This is particularly the case for professional indemnity insurance providers who have been reluctant to cover FRAEWs because of their subjective nature. It is therefore hoped that a third-party accreditation scheme will be introduced to certify professionals who are qualified to carry out a FRAEW. This is reminiscent of the RICS’s certification for those who use the EWS1 form and is designed to give confidence that the valuation process is being undertaken in line with industry best practice.