Fire safety: a holistic approach
Safe for life
17 June 2019
Fire safety requires an holistic approach to managing risks, involving many specialists throughout an asset’s lifecycle
When not properly planned and implemented, fire risk management can be limited to a small number of actions carried out by a few key staff in an organisation. However, the process should establish procedures for identifying the requirements of individual buildings, sites or complexes. Undertaken effectively, it means facilities and assets comply with regulations and design standards.
Fire risk management should therefore apply to each of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Plan of Work stages, rather than being something that is only implemented once the building is occupied. Different platforms can be employed to assess whether assets comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and associated legislation, beginning at the design stage.
Local authority assessment starts with the application for planning permission, followed by building warrant stage when the fire authority and leading local authority verify the proposed designs, while building control staff or approved inspectors offer guidance to ensure the application complies with Building Regulations.
The Construction (Design and Management) or CDM, Regulations 2015 specify which duty-holders are responsible for coordinating design work and managing risks during the design and construction phases, for assessing residual risks and for passing information on these risks to clients, building occupiers and future asset owners. The importance of this information flow is highlighted through the requirement of CDM Regulation 12 to provide a health and safety file, and Building Regulation 38 regarding provision of information for the fire safety manual.
Building information modelling
As technology develops, so too do the opportunities for managing and modelling information, though the role of building information modelling (BIM) in fire risk management is still to be defined.
BIM offers potential for modelling scenarios such as smoke dynamics, structural fire engineering, radiation and evacuation. Its main drawback at present is the lack of speed with which it is being embraced by professionals.
Design standards determine the development of building fire strategies based on the requirements of Approved Document B and BS 9999 Fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings, or its counterpart for sleeping accommodation, BS 9991 Fire safety in the design, management and use of residential buildings.
Fire strategies meanwhile provide assets with appropriate active and passive fire protection to ensure that, no matter how complex or high-risk they are, they will function, comply with regulations, and safeguard lives and property alike.
While offering a basis for fire safety, standard building design guides can be overly restrictive, especially when it comes to innovative or unusual approaches. An alternative in such cases is fire engineering, which provides a route to compliance for complex buildings.
Such measures focus on ensuring the design is safe from fire rather than just complying with a particular standard, and consider the incorporation of fire engineering such as sprinklers, gaseous suppression, smoke extraction and fire curtains, which may permit deviation from the Building Regulations.
For example, a fire engineering approach could recommend introducing an extraction system to delay the rate of smoke build-up, which might in turn allow extended escape distances without compromising safety. Use of smoke modelling and evacuation analysis could confirm the potential for safe egress.
The compliance management process involves identifying what needs to be done then planning for action, implementing these plans and checking and reviewing them, as well as executing improvements recommended following the review process.
Management planning should start at the earliest opportunity, with building and facilities managers involved from the initial design stages. This process is key to:
- policy development;
- risk evaluation, prioritisation and allocating resources;
- identifying and procuring the professionals and specialists to help develop management strategies;
- identifying and implementing suitable maintenance strategies;
- implementing remedial actions from the various audits;
- ensuring continuous review and improvement.
Policy development helps managers to determine what measures need to be put in place for managing assets, identifying the required documentation, plus procedures and arrangements that must be followed. Risk evaluation then informs the prioritisation of action, focusing on high-risk assets or activities to allocate resources according to risk profile.
Due to the complexity of the legal environment for built assets, many specialists are required to help managers develop the strategies needed to operate them effectively. Procurement of these specialists must be carried out according to their competency for the type of work involved and the circumstances in which they will be employed.
Also key to asset management of workplaces is the process of maintaining, inspecting and testing installations such as fire alarms, electrical devices, sprinkler systems, boilers, lifts and all other mechanical, electrical and plumbing assets.
Effective management planning requires allocation of resources for the process, for implementing and reviewing plans, and planning and executing remedial actions. This should also ensure that suitably qualified, competent people who are experienced with appropriate support mechanisms are employed.
Managing compliance today can additionally involve a wide range of equipment for implementing the plans, from computers, laptops, tablets, cameras and surveying equipment to bespoke software that enables asset managers to work more effectively.
Auditing is the process of inspecting, correcting and certifying facilities, and begins the moment a client decides to develop a site or buy an asset, continuing for the duration of their ownership.
For most people, fire safety compliance is largely about this process of auditing, and few see the aspects that relate to design, management planning and resources preceding any audits. Examples of ongoing auditing include:
- clerk of works’ quality assurance
- building control inspections
- CDM assurance
- post-construction reviews
- fire strategy reviews following building works
- compartmentation surveys
- fire risk assessment
- policy review
- maintenance inspection and testing.
These are only a small sample of the many different types of fire risks audit.
To conclude, rather than determining fire risk management requirements solely through fire risk assessment, clients and asset managers need many specialists to be involved to support them and ensure that they have arrangements in place to manage these assets effectively.
The holistic approach to fire safety brings together all the information to devise a coherent plan covering all elements necessary to compliance, from project inception through the lifecycle of the building. This is likely to entail a bespoke approach for each asset. The process should continue through building adaptations, and will consider the effect each of these and all building works on the existing fire strategy. This requires continuous auditing, reviews and planning.
Such an approach to fire risk management ensures compliance at all times, addressing all statutory duties. This includes protecting asset owners and managers from enforcement action, protecting occupants, and providing premises that are fit for their intended use. It also entails ensuring there is suitable property protection, to reduce both the likelihood of a fire occurring in the first place, and the damage should one actually break out.
Stuart Broadhurst is a building surveyor at Spicer Surveys
- Related competencies include: Fire safety, Legal/regulatory compliance
- This feature is taken from the RICS Built Environment Journal (June/July 2019)
- Related categories: Fire and life safety, Health and safety responsibilities
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