In August 2022, the Fire Protection Association published the 10th edition of its Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation (JCOP or the Code). In this article, Head of UK & International Construction, Steve Cox discusses the original objective of the Code, provides a summary of the key aspects and details the most recent changes.
The Code was first published in 1992 following a spate of fires in the late 1980s/early 1990s in buildings that were either under construction, nearing completion or refurbishments of existing properties. One of the most famous examples was the London Underwriting Centre at Minster Court, which on its own is reported to have cost insurers more than the total UK construction insurance premium paid into the London Market for the year of its loss.
The initial Code dealt with some fundamental risk management issues, including:
- a nominated person to be responsible for fire precautions and for these to be considered at an early stage in a project
- use of fire-retardant protective materials
- a plan around position of fire extinguishers and ensuring the correct type are available
- positioning of temporary buildings away from structures
- a ‘hot work’ permit system (including checking the vicinity after the works are completed)
- control and/or removal of flammable packaging and materials
- sites becoming non-smoking environments, with smoking only allowed in designated areas with their own additional fire safety precautions.
The Code applies to all projects of value greater than £2.5m and where the value exceeds £20m, additional considerations apply. It should also be noted that there may be exceptional circumstances, such as in the case of high-risk sites, where these thresholds are reduced.
The Code is now freely available to download here.
10th edition amends
Below is a summary of the main differences to the previous edition.
- Definitions of 4.7 Fire resistance now reference European classifications and associated standards; and 4.13 Large timber frame structure has been updated to clarify the scope.
- In the Design phase, amendments have been made to highlight the need for consideration of the impacts on the fire loading from insulation products and temporary materials.
- In the Construction phase, where a responsible person is appointed/identified, the code now requires them to demonstrate current training and competence relevant to the role. With regards to fire marshals on site, there is an additional obligation to assess that there are sufficient numbers to ensure adequate cover for periods of unforeseen absence, such as sickness or annual leave.
- A new point has been added at 9.10 to instigate impairment management arrangements where a section of the fire system has to be taken offline or temporarily disabled for any reason. This suggests that no more than one zone of the building fire system is disabled at any one time, and that a suitable risk assessment is undertaken prior to such action being taken.
- Clarification on temporary protective coverings in relation to classification of board used as temporary covering materials.
- Requirement for both main and subcontractor personnel to be competent with the use of portable fire extinguishers, and new section added stating that where a subcontractor brings its own portable fire extinguishers on to site, such equipment should be registered with the main contractor and be clearly labelled. It also states that the other requirements for extinguishers applies to those brought on to site by subcontractors.
- Site security requirements are enhanced to require the use of licenced personnel/approved companies and for their activities to be undertaken in accordance with BS7944 and with video surveillance systems usage, including remote monitoring now a factor for review.
- Temporary building/accommodation requirements are amended in relation to European classifications and associated standards, along with an addition to prohibit the use of deep fat fryers in such buildings.
- Amendment to the conditions around the use (if absolutely necessary) of acetylene to address a change in fire and rescue operational actions.
- Hot work:
- Reference added to available guidance, RC7 – Recommendations for hot work, the hot work training film and hot work site induction toolkit.
- New section 16.3 added and subsequent sections renumbered. Includes requirement for competent operatives using appropriate equipment in good condition.
- 16.5 (previously 16.4) - amended to clarify the period of validity of permits.
- 16.7 (previously 16.6) - updated to highlight need for provision of extinguishers appropriate to the risk.
- 16.8 - updated and a new section (16.9) added to address specific requirements in relation to screens and associated protection. Subsequent sections renumbered.
- 16.15 (previously 16.14) - fully re-written and new section (16.16) added to extend and supplement the fire watch requirements.
- The supply of electricity and gas, both permanent and temporary, must be installed in accordance with the latest edition of BS 7671 and the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.
- New section (18.3) introduced to address the risk and requirements in relation to waste associated with cladding removal work.
- New section (20) added to address the controls required in relation to the charging of electric vehicles.
- Advice around high rise construction sites where the height is above 18m and/or 50m is amended to confirm fire resistance of temporary firestopping material included for both integrity and insulation, the need for effective fire detection considerations and minimisation of false alarms as works progress, and to draw requirement for wet rising mains into line with Approved Document B (from Building Regulations 2010).
- Best practice advice for the construction of large timber frame buildings is a slightly reworded title and amended to clarify requirement in relation to temporary building construction.
Compliance never more important
Despite it not being compulsory to follow the Code exactly, if it forms part of an insurance contract, non-compliance could possibly result in insurance ceasing to be available or being withdrawn. This can also then result in a possible breach of a construction contract requiring the provision of such insurance. There have also been instances where non-compliance has resulted in claims for significant fire damage being declined by insurers.
Compliance with the Code has also become more important when securing competitive terms for insurance of project works. As previously reported, UK construction insurers are being much more selective in relation to timber frame projects and this increased underwriting scrutiny has impacted more traditional construction techniques as well.
For advice on how best to address fire risk management in your dealings with construction insurers, please do not hesitate to contact any of our experts below.