Building control: fire risk management
Measuring fire risk
4 July 2014
Fire risk management is evolving and this year's review of BS 9999 should take this into account, says Ben Bradford
The risk posed by the threat of fire to people, property, mission continuity and the environment is often governed more by the quality of management within individual premises than the level of fire protection. The two must, therefore, be considered of equal importance.
While the formal responsibilities of the designer, building control body and fire engineering consultant largely end when a building is completed and occupied, their design liability continues. Much of the fire strategy will rely on management assumptions and hence it is imperative that building control bodies take a much more proactive approach to enforcing Regulation 38 (Fire Safety Information), just as the Scottish Government has done.
Fire strategies can sometimes fail to afford the attention to management that they deserve and there is often a lack of appreciation among design teams of the fire safety manager's role and the implications of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRFSO) 2005, and equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland. This legislation is rigorously enforced and punishments can be severe.
Fire strategies can sometimes fail to afford the attention to management that they deserve...
It is a fundamental assumption that the measures set out within national guidance documents such as Approved Document B (AD B) or BS 9999:2008 will require management and maintenance throughout the life of the building. The key management issues relating to a new project should be identified at the earliest possible stage and where possible taken into account when drafting the building's fire strategy. There are numerous examples that support the view that most non-domestic multi-fatality fires have management failings as their root cause.
The fatal incident inquiry held after the deaths of 14 elderly residents at Rosepark care home in 2004, for example, concluded:
"The management of fire safety at Rosepark was systematically and seriously defective." It went on to say: "The deficiencies contributed to the deaths in that a number of key circumstances would have been quite different if there had been an adequate system of fire safety management."
So what is an adequate system of fire safety management? The 'general approach' to prescriptive fire safety solutions offered in AD B (and equivalent guidance in Scotland and Northern Ireland) assumes an adequate level of fire safety management; neither an unrealistic level of excellence nor a complete disregard for the minimum legislative requirements of the RRFSO or equivalent. The guidance assumes the level to be something of an 'acceptable norm'.
In order to demonstrate that an enhanced level of fire safety management will reduce risk, we need a credible means of measuring it
The 'advanced approach' to prescriptive fire safety solutions offered in BS 9999:2008 refers to the standard or quality of management system as the management system level. There are 3 levels, with level 1 giving the highest level of management, level 2 giving a normally accepted level, and level 3 a very basic level.
Despite the definition of 3 management levels, the adoption of a management level does not lead to design flexibility further in the document, despite the aspirations alluded to regarding variation of the guidance in section 4.2.
Furthermore, there is a widely held view within the fire safety profession that management level 1 is unachievable. The guidance goes on to say that irrespective of the approach, an enforcing body might be of the view that a level 3 management system will not meet the legislative requirements placed on occupiers, owners or other responsible persons.
Without guidance on minimum fire risk management system requirements, how can we determine the management system level? Acknowledging the difficulties, the British Standards Institution (BSI) has published PAS 7: 2013 Fire risk management system specification, which clearly establishes requirements in line with International Standards Organisation guidance. The standard works in harmony with other internationally accepted management system standards for business continuity and health and safety.
Health Technical Memorandum 05-01: Managing healthcare fire safety states in section 5.20:
"A specification for fire risk management systems is available in PAS 7 (2013 edition) and this can be considered as healthcare-specific guidance supporting such a specification to identify the basic requirements of a fire safety management system."
PAS 79 stated: "Fire safety management must be regarded as of equal importance to fire protection measures", but more than this, a building with first-rate fire protection measures yet poor management may pose a greater risk than a building with limited fire protection measures and good management.
So what is an enhanced management system? In order to demonstrate that an enhanced level of fire safety management will reduce risk, we need a credible means of measuring it. An organisation that has formalised its fire risk management policy, strategy, objectives, and procedures, and then implemented a programme of audit and management review is one that is proactively assessing its management on a regular basis and this will ensure that the standard or quality of management does not fall below the assumed 'acceptable norm'.
Moreover, an organisation that chooses to make a declaration of compliance with PAS 7 and be externally audited and certificated will ensure that an 'enhanced' standard of management can be sustained both practically and economically over time and this will offer a greater level of confidence when designing and approving solutions reliant on a management component.
Fire safety engineering
A great many projects now include some element of deviation from prescriptive, code-based solutions, and the 'fire safety engineering approach' offered within the BS 7974 series may on occasions be the only practical way to achieve a satisfactory standard of fire safety in some large and complex buildings.
Fire engineered solutions that rely on the maintenance of a fire risk management system in lieu of physical fire precautions are much more robust if that system is independently audited and subject to third party certification. PD 7974 acknowledges this when referring to a management system level M1, stating that:
"The system and procedures are subject to independent certification, including regular audit."
Health Technical Memorandum 05-01 states in section 5.21:
"Users are advised to consider the benefit of third-party certification of conformity with PAS 7 (2013). Appropriate conformity attestation arrangements are described in BS EN ISO/IEC 17021."
A fire engineered solution that uses enhanced management as a component of the solution in order to satisfy legislation may require a management solution tailored specifically to the design of a building.
Thus, if management is to be used as a means of mitigating risk then a credible means of measurement can be achieved by implementing a PAS 7:2013 fire risk management system and adopting the management risk mitigation component into the organisation's system procedures to be maintained, audited, and 'where possible' continually improved over time.
Certification is not in itself a panacea. However, it is a giant leap forward for the fire risk management of our built environment
It is important that those involved in either designing or approving a package of fire safety measures appreciate what constitutes an adequate or enhanced management system and the differences between them. The management system level can, of course, fluctuate from time to time dependent on the organisation's management system, and an enhanced management system cannot provide a 100% guarantee of compliance with legislation in perpetuity.
Certification is not in itself a panacea. However, it is a giant leap forward for the fire risk management of our built environment. An organisation may, during the risk assessment programme, identify a risk that requires treatment within a specific period of time or risk acceptance and subsequently risk communication. In this instance, an organisation with a robust fire risk management may choose to mitigate the identified risk on the grounds of an independently verified, enhanced management system.
Fire risk management system certification schemes will place no emphasis on management system levels, because their focus will be solely on satisfying the requirements of the standard. The organisation will need to adopt a system appropriate to its context and the hazards and risks it is managing, and therefore it is effectively a self-levelling process.
Formalising a fire risk management system and being regularly audited is in itself a fairly robust process beyond the acceptable norm. When considering a 'fire engineered' solution with a management component comprising enhanced management, an approving authority may consider a system accredited by a third party certification body to be the only true means of ensuring a robust solution compliant with legislation.
There exists a real opportunity to improve BS 9999 and realise the aspirations of those who drafted the first edition in 2008, by reviewing sections 4 and 9 in light of the past 2 years of work on PAS 7. I am optimistic that the BSI committee, FSH/14, will grasp this opportunity when the document comes under review.
Ben Bradford FRICS is Managing Director of BB7 and a member of the Building Control Professional Group Board
Related competencies include: Fire safety