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Fire chiefs sound alarm over MMC

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Fire chiefs sound alarm over MMC

Volumetric modular construction is a particular cause for concern for the fire chiefsThe National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has published a position paper on modern methods of construction (MMC) setting out its concerns.

It said that it holds “particular concerns” about volumetric modular buildings and about the use of engineered mass timber product, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue-laminate timber (Glulam).

Its list of concerns include:

concerns about a lack of understanding about the performance of MMC
concerns around competency and consistency when it comes to building regulations and MMC
concern that MMC buildings are being designed, approved and built under a regulatory system that has been described and accepted by Government as ‘not fit for purpose’ even for traditional construction techniques.
concern about the lack of research and test data available to provide reassurance on the fire performance of buildings constructed using types of MMC
concern about the structural stability in fire of tall modular and mass timber construction where the consequence of structural failure is significant
concern that components are still being tested individually rather than as part of a whole system.

The NFCC is calling on the government for tightened rules for the testing of MMC.

Gavin Tomlinson, chair of the NFCC protection and business safety scrutiny committee, said: “NFCC is concerned that MMC buildings are being designed, approved and built despite a lack of understanding about their performance. Given the current regulatory system has already been described and accepted by government as ‘not fit for purpose’ even for traditional construction techniques, this adds additional uncertainty in the built environment.”

NFCC said that, while it welcomed the current reform of building safety, “significant cultural change in the system” must take place to improve competency levels across the sector and ensure that MMC is promoted and used in a manner that provides safe buildings for all.

NFCC chair Mark Hardingham said: “It is vitally important to make sure that products and technologies are safe for use, including their likely performance in a fire, before they are used in the built environment. Not only is this important for safety but it also helps to protect leaseholders from unnecessary costs that can arise when buildings need remediation, or interim measures, including things like waking watches.”

NFCC said that it recognised the role that MMC can play in reducing the environmental impact of construction, but said that “this must not be at the expense of safety”.

Ben Brook, NFCC lead on climate change, said: “We are understandably seeing a focus on sustainable building approaches and materials, including the use of timber and living walls. While these may present useful solutions to help reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, they should also be supported by evidence and testing to demonstrate their long-term suitability and safety to provide reassurance for the lifetime of the building.”

NFCC’s position statement on modern methods of construction can be viewed here.

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