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The Future of Fire Safety?


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As a Fire Safety professional, I cannot tell you how relieved I am that I haven't been involved in residential flats for 7 years. There will be many of my peers having sleepless nights at present as their work comes under minute scrutiny.

I have reviewed my reports from a contract I had with a major housing provider 8 years ago-including blocks of 22+ floors. I am happy that they ok and in any case would have been reviewed/repeated by now

But checking cladding was not part of the scope of any FRA reports I have produced as the process just doesnt cover that requirement.

Current fire safety legislation  does not extend to within single private dwellings, so I would not have seen items such as the questionable gas installations in the Camden units.

The public admiration of fire service ops has now changed to the  intense scrutiny of the entire fire safety industry

Huge changes are on their way. Standards, legislation and competences must be on the shopping list.

What do you see happening in the fire safety world in the future?

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I saw a comment from the Tory government on sky news today, stating that the government "employ FRS authorities to ensure fire safety in tower blocks", so yeah the tide is, as predicted, changing, the blame shifting has started, and its gonna be very messy. 

I always thought we had very high standards of building regulation and fire safety in public buildings. i didn't think we would see fire kill this many people in the UK, this is what i expected to see happen in far off 3rd world countries. 

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If you look at the history of fire safety legislation it is largely reactive to major incidents. In recent times though the concerns of big business gained more influence and we got the Regulatory Reform Act which removed a lot of powers from the Fire Brigade to be replaced with a risk assessment based process. Sadly following recent events it wouldn't be a surprise if fire safety legislation reverts to give the Fire Brigade more powers.

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We had a round robin at work to check past projects aswell as be more aware of any issues contractors "value engineering" can have on the project and raise it with building control and be even more in depth in checking products are used correctly on site, though it is very difficult with design and build projects as we have less control.

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6 hours ago, StephenKP said:

 "value engineering" 

Thanks Dyson for the link. Interesting stuff that has added more guidance and standards to the huge list designers have to consider. It's clear to be that the sheer amount of guides and  standards are confusing and need rationalising 

Stephen: I despise the term. 'value engineering'. For those not aware of this phrase, this is no technical engineering principle or approach. This is the fancy name given to a process when a project's budget is tight (aren't they always?) where every nut and bolt is assessed and a decision is made whether it is needed, and if so, can it be done cheaper.

Or as a designer will tell you  "the modification of designs and systems according to value analysis".

I have had many battles with project managers as I have watched fire safety infrastructure cut to the bone or removed. To be fair, rarely has life safety infrastructure been compromised (or I would sing like a canary to enforcers), but business continuity resources/building protection systems are often a victim. For example, a huge IT data centre was constructed with its proposed fire suppression system cancelled at the 11th hour. Managers - with no fire or business continuity experience- said they would 'accept the risk' or having a multimillion pound IT centre without protection!!

I have considered whether value engineering has had a part to play in the cause of the Grenfell disaster, but with so many blocks with failed cladding this is now looking like a failure of the testing regime rather than any individual project decision.

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I hate the term as well messy but sadly is a fact of everyday construction projects especially on the schools where the PSPB infrastructure to build most needed schools to be replaced is one of the most hit batch of government work.  To give you an idea (and doing best not to be political) but the BSF projects (building schools for the future) the budgets were (as identified in a building magazine 3 months ago) around £2550/m2 on average today even with risen material costs, the tight budgets are now £1628/m2 on average to build the same facility. The expected result of the new PSBP (priority schools building program) launched when conservatives came into power is this significant cut in the budget based on a standard model. Sadly this standard model has been hell.  To give an insight of a project from start, we are given a base layout from the EFA's design advisors and I would be swearing if I gave my real thoughts on these, to give you an idea their "standard design" based on maximum area (we are not allowed to go other this area known as the GIFA)  had stairs at 1200mm clear (to give you an idea after going through the full fire risk assessment we required 1850mm clear for escape in line with BB100 and B regs.) we cannot add that extra area on so we end up having to squeeze everything down. Then there is the required energy performance, ventilation rates and day-lighting factors to factor in; to give you an idea half of that £1628/m2 is down to services (Mechanical and electrical) anything to do with public money for any type of project is tied up in red tape and hammered down in cost. budgets are extremely tight, the list of wants cannot be satisfactorily done 100% to top quality for the money that has been allocated and corners are being cut to make them happen. add to that the reliance of D&B (design and build) where the contractors have their own design managers that end up pushing us professionals down the ladder and removes our power to force change or to have control on what they use. There's no asking to have something left open before completion for us to inspect the correct items have been installed correctly, we can only hope they follow the drawings and specification to the letter, I'll let you make your own comments up about this. That is all I can say at the moment on the subject as I could dive much deeper but that would potentially put my continued work in the industry at risk.

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Given all the samples of cladding tested so far have failed, has the standard changed since the cladding was designed, manufactured and fitted to the hundreds of buildings throughout the country? Seems inconceivable that all these products would have been on the market if they hadn't passed some form of test.

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  • 2 weeks later...

With regards Fire Risk Assessors Messy, I think tighter control over who is actually carrying them out will be top of any agenda. I did hear that CFOA will be putting a report together for Government, which this is top of the list, which can only be a good thing. Thankfully, the ex fire-fighter who spent 30 years on the back of a fire engine, retiring and thinking they can do a Fire Risk Assessment with a NBOSH Certificate is finally going and has been for some years. The only way forward for this is that any Fire Risk Assessor carrying out Life Safety Risk Assessments are 3rd party accredited with the IFE or IFPO. 

I look back over the years in Fire Safety as an inspecting office (7 years total) and not once did we audit a high rise. The only common issue we'd get involved with were partnership working with the LHA or Council with entrance doors to flats etc..

i can see the Fire and Rescue Service Building Control Officer having more input at the consultstion phase, rather than just access and egress and means of escape, with any comments made being mandatory, rather than advisory. 

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