Designing in cost effective Fire Safety in construction
Following the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, fire safety in construction has been high on the agenda for Authorities and building managers all over the country. In May 2019, BBC News Website reported that industry experts warn many of the 1,700 buildings identified as “at risk” in England are likely to fail new tests into cladding and building materials. In Wales, The Welsh Government has produced a consultation paper considering a move to ban cladding on high rise buildings.
Recently, in November 2019, following investigation into the Bolton student accommodation fire, The Fire Protection Association have called for a total ban on the use of combustible materials on buildings, irrespective of their height.
The way buildings are designed, constructed, fitted out and maintained all have an impact on how fires start, how fires spread, how fires are detected or contained and confusion on how and where to safely escape.
Ideally, experienced Fire Engineers and Fire Risk Assessors would like to support at an early RIBA stage through all the stages although, usually an Engineer may be called in at stage 4 only, with no identification of the requirements for the later stages and no continuity considering use, management and changes in occupancy or activities within the building.
Early stage engagement with a competent fire engineer prior to construction not only ensures compliance for the building at design stage but can also look at integrated and sustainable options for fire safety management for the life cycle of the building. Client expectations on budget can be forecast correctly and avoid the dreaded slashing of (often critical) items when costs come in last minute that smash the planned budget.
If the design stage is linked to the construction stage, then a holistic approach to mitigate the potential cost of temporary safety solutions during this high-risk period (particularly for timber frame construction for example), can be enabled by working with site management or the works programme or even location of particular activities, again potentially reducing the cost burden for managing risk during construction.
Handover & Close Out
Completion and commissioning of works is also another area where a fire engineer can make a difference. Quite often, services and junctions aren’t properly sealed or not using appropriate seals or sealant etc. This is often missed by site management who may not be understanding of the ‘devil in the detail’ and accept contractors verbal or written confirmation that appropriate areas are indeed correctly fire sealed.
The pressure on everyone concerned to complete tasks and projects to time, often see a mad rush at the end of a job which can often lead to critical items being missed. Unfortunately, root cause analysis of some recent fires in the UK can directly point to this as a factor in fire spread throughout the buildings affected.
Too often, Operation & Maintenance Manuals are in volumes of datasheets, confusing to read and don’t provide any suitable guidance in plain terms for the persons tasked with running the building once its built. The opportunity here to provide a fire management plan followed through by a suitable handover training day to end users is fundamental at this point.
It is my firm belief that the Principal Contractor, handing over to the Client or end user must stipulate that an in-use fire risk assessment is undertaken by the same fire safety team used at the earlier RIBA stages. Here is a major opportunity for a fire safety engineer to conduct a Risk Assessment with belt and braces knowledge of the building, helping the transition to in use. This continuity providing suitable clarity, guidance and training to end users and advising on fit out safety implications should that also be required, whilst reviewing any use activities and management items that may require safety tweaks etc.
Using a fire safety engineer in this way should save you cost of hire and, more importantly, can save you a value engineered cost at every stage of the RIBA process.
We live in a world where action to plan and prevent incidents in advance is deemed a cost too high for many, yet after a serious incident causing loss of life, the reactive fallout deems it as priceless.
The Real Cost
The cost of a non-fatal fire does not only impact your building and insurance, it can affect business continuity, corporate image, staff morale, damage to documents and equipment and potential prohibitive costs if lack of due diligence or negligence is found as a factor.
Potentially, your business could be at risk due to drop in service provision or production capability. Potentially the Responsible Person in the organisation could be fined or imprisoned.
If you would like to discuss this blog further or need advice on sustainable compliance and risk management, please contact me, Dean Partridge, email@example.com.
Greenhat Consulting are a multi-disciplined service provider that can offer integrated solutions to suit your needs. Making a difference does not have to cost the earth.
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