Engineered Panels in Construction (EPIC) is a not-for-profit trade association established in 1991. It represents 100% of the UK manufacturers of metal-faced PIR-cored insulated panels. It is a major contributor to UK and European consultative groups and projects, particularly in the areas of regulatory requirements, design, energy conservation, sustainability, fire regulation, waste and end-of-life analysis. It is also the main dissemination service for all issues relating to insulated panel use in construction.
Whilst we whole heartedly support the aim of the Draft Building Safety Bill in ensuring a safer built environment, we have grave concerns about the scope and practicality of some aspects of Schedule 8 – Construction Products Regulations.
The first issue we perceive is with the designation of products as ‘safety critical’, and the creation of a list of such products. Our understanding from our involvement in discussions to date, and from the recent presentation given to the Construction Products Association by MHCLG, is that the contents of this list will be based on product families, rather than specific products. Clearly the intention is to make the list manageable, however what would be the criteria to establish whether or not a product or product family is safety critical? Almost any construction product, wrongly specified, installed or applied could potentially “risk causing death or serious injury to any person”, therefore qualifying to be on the safety critical list. Also, product families may cover a wide range of different products that have been developed to suit an equally wide range of applications – should they all end up on the safety critical list, even where safety would or should not be an issue?
Secondly, the stand-alone performance of individual products is just one aspect of building safety. Much depends on the design, configuration and interaction with other elements of the construction, including which other materials are being used. It is crucial to take a holistic view of the building envelope rather than an over-simplistic view of individual components. EPIC has always maintained that system testing is a much more reliable indication of the performance of a construction and the various products it is made up of. Even (or especially) where some of those products may be considered ‘safety critical’, they may be proven to perform safely as part of a tested system. Conversely, non ‘safety critical’ products may fail in a system where they are used inappropriately.
Whilst we recognise that the intention is also to capture products which may not currently have achieved relevant EU harmonised standards (or for which there is no relevant standard), or a UK technical assessment, what provision is there for a regular review as new products and standards appear on the market? Is a European technical assessment (ETA) acceptable?
We note also that in the section covering Financial implications of the Bill, there is no mention of the considerable cost faced by manufacturers if, for example, ETAs are no longer considered acceptable and products must have a UKTA. In turn, this will place additional pressure on testing and certification facilities which are already stretched, leading to delays and interruptions in the supply chain. Careful consideration needs to be given to available resources, timescales and transition periods. The proposed 2-month period for the Bill to come into force following its enactment would be insufficient if every aspect of the current draft comes into play.
Many manufacturers invest considerable sums of money into research, development, and testing. We recommend that it should be considered whether the scope of allowable standards could be broadened to include other established and recognised tests and standards that would provide appropriate measures of a products safety.
At a time when UK manufacturers are having to make significant adjustments to how they operate in light of the global pandemic and the pending impact of Brexit (with or without a deal), it is crucial that they are not burdened with unnecessary additional testing of products where there may already be established routes available to prove the safe performance of products. It is also important to recognise the need to maintain consistency with European Standards if we are to continue trading with European countries, and to minimise the impact on UK industry.
Safety is paramount, but the steps taken to achieve it must be realistic, sustainable and evidence-based.