The LWF Blog
Assessing External Wall Construction – EWS FormsAugust 5, 2020 2:24 pm
Assessing External Wall Construction
Following the reviews that have occurred as a result of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire it has been found that the fire industry and the building industry in general, lacked the competence to ascertain how safe external wall coverings were. This lack of competence struck at the very core of the industry.
This has meant that, in relation to the external wall coverings, completion certificates from Building Control Bodies offer little guarantee of a building actually meeting the full functional requirements of the Building Regulations. Additionally, the Fire Services that have passed plans offered little insight into the external wall make up as their training has traditionally focussed on the internal aspects of a building. Moreover it is recognised by most that the process of fire risk assessment that has been in place for some years now, often offers little consideration of the external wall coverings. Again, many industry professionals are poorly trained and have little competence in this area. This issue has plagued the fire and construction industry for many years.
Since Grenfell Tower fire a significant number of reviews of external wall construction and internal elements have revealed what many in the industry have known for some time. Simply put, the agreed materials and design that is originally proposed for a building often does not reflect that which is constructed. This may be for many reasons but often can be attributed to cutting costs on projects. Decisions on sourcing materials are too often being taken by those without the necessary competence to recognise the impact of their choices.
The above issues mean that there is a need in our industry to ensure that the external walls of existing buildings do not pose an excessive risk. In response to this, a number of industry bodies have collaborated. The result has been to create an inspection process that offers a thorough investigation of external wall construction.
In December 2019 The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), launched this process in collaboration with other key stakeholders. These included representative bodies from the insurance and finance industries. The process has received support from the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) and the Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA). These are key stakeholders in the residential property management sector.
This inspection process ensures a suitably qualified person can provide assurance of the level of risk posed by certain types of external wall construction or alternatively, identify high risk conditions and offer a baseline for remedial works. This process commonly applies to buildings above 18 meters in height (about 6 storeys) and is applied to the fascade of the whole building. As it applies to the whole building, this the process is usually commissioned by those with responsibility for the building. This may be the owners, the freeholders, the managing agents or the principal contractors on a project.
Whilst this process of assessing the external wall construction is important it is considered unlikely to become a legal requirement. Notably, it does not form part of the most recent amendment to the legislation. It will however, be likely to form an insurance requirement for such buildings. Additionally, the use of the process may also be extended to include other high-risk buildings such as hospitals and care homes in the future if insurers or financiers deem it appropriate.
The outcome of such an inspection should be a full report into the design of the external wall, its compliance at the time of construction or refurbishment and its ability to meet with current guidance. This is important as standards for such buildings have recently changed. The report may also contain some remedial measures to reduce the risk on a short-term basis and on a longer-term basis if required. Another outcome is the EWS 1 form. This is the form that has been produced by RICS and the other bodies to offer confirmation that a building does not pose an excessive risk.
The EWS 1 form is the focus of much attention as this offers the final sign off that financiers are looking for. This ensures that the risks associated with the purchase of a building, or individual units in a building, are not excessive. Such reliance is only in agreement between all parties. As the inspection is normally commissioned by those with responsibility for the whole building, there is usually only a single inspection report and EWS 1 Form for the building.
The process of inspection requires an in-depth assessment of the make up of the external wall system. Specifically, this will look at the methods of construction and the materials used. This will then compare the external structure against the latest guidance, the available test detail and the available British Standards or other published guidance. Those undertaking the inspection should be competent professionals with appropriate qualifications and accreditation. Depending on the type of construction the final sign off, that includes higher risk materials and uses part B of the EWS 1 Form, will need to come from a Chartered Engineer who is suitably qualified in a relevant field. This may be a Chartered Structural Engineer or a Chartered Fire Engineer. Either way the experience of the company undertaking the assessments should be assured. Once completed, the EWS 1 Form is valid for up to 5 years or until other works have been undertaken affecting the external structure. At this point it is recommended that the external wall structure inspection be reviewed.
The Lowest Common Denominator
Those commissioning such inspections should be aware that this is not just a desk top exercise or a matter of signing the form. These inspections require intrusive and often destructive assessments of the external wall. In some cases the materials are not readily identifiable and the professional judgement and expertise of the person assessing the make up of the external wall is key to a successful professional assessment.
Unfortunately, in our industry there will always be the lowest common denominator. LWF has knowledge of property managers offering money to companies to simply sign the EWS 1 Form. Anyone who will do this is unlikely to recognise the legal ramifications of doing so. Nor will they be likely to have the expertise to make a suitable assessment of the external wall build up. It has also become apparent that such assessments are being undertaken by those with little experience or knowledge of cladding or external wall systems or by those without suitable expertise in surveying external wall systems on site and recognising poor workmanship or inappropriate materials.
As such significant issues in the external wall systems being assessed may be missed or alternatively expensive remedial works may be recommended unnecessarily. Both situations offer significant and undesirable consequences. Perhaps just as importantly such individuals will not have suitable levels of insurance to carry out such work so in the event of the worst happening property managers and their clients may be found to be without recompense.
Your Assurance, Our Insurance.
LWF is one of the few professional companies with a suitably qualified and experienced team of fire safety professionals capable of undertaking such reviews. Our team is headed up by a Chartered Structural Engineer with significant experience in the field. Importantly LWF has the appropriate professional indemnity insurance to undertake such reviews and has acted for a number of professional property management companies, contractors and owners who needed professional judgements made on their external wall construction.
Lawrence Webster Forrest Ltd
Fire Engineering & Fire Risk Management Consultants
Tel – 020 8668 8663
Fax – 020 8668 8583
Email – www.lwf.co.uk