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The Right Equation to Improve Fire Safety for Commercial Buildings

Fire Safe Europe

30 Apr 2020

Business Sprinkler Alliance’s Webinar on “Fires, Quality, Compliance and Regulations”

Last week, the Business Sprinkler Alliance organised a webinar to reflect upon the dynamics between « Fires, Quality, Compliance and Regulations » and triggered a discussion on how to improve fire safety through this prism for commercial buildings. Starting from the observation that issues in understanding, compliance and execution of guidance and regulation have led to disastrous fires, the webinar considered solutions to make buildings fire safe without having recourse to legislation. The exchange was guided by the following questions :

  • Where does the industry need to go to ensure our buildings are resilient?

  • Is there enough clarity on functional requirements of Building Regulations?

  • Does regulatory guidance drive a focus on achieving compliance rather than fire safety?

  • Are we focussing on minimum compliance rather than creating buildings that achieve the desired outcomes for clients?

Opening the conversation, Tom Roche (FM Global), underlined that fire is the leading cause of loss in commercial and industrial property. He highlighted that clarifying the expectations in terms of results was essential; meaning what is deemed a success when it comes to the aftermaths of a fire: is that the absence of injured people? Is it that both casualties and material damages have been avoided? He also stressed that, when addressing fire safety, it is crucial to keep in mind the future use of a building, which could differ from its current use.

Russell Cole (Arup), emphasised the role of facade fire performance in improving buildings’ fire protection. He explained that the fire spread across facades could be limited either through controls on the surface or controls on the combustibility of insulation. The debate often revolves around the use of combustible vs non-combustible materials. Yet, he added that other factors such as correct design, installation of fire stops etc. were also important.

According to Iain Cox (Business Sprinkler Alliance), the key is to ensure the factors of a non-fire triangle are present, namely regulation, enforcement and compliance. To him, under these conditions, no serious fire would take place. From the experts’ presentations, it was clear that improving fire safety for commercial buildings requires :

  • Defining responsibility

  • Being clear on the outcome, namely deciding what we aim to achieve: the building’s resilience to fire or compliance with the regulation?

  • Clear regulations

  • Trust the competency of professionals and the measures’ effectiveness, but verify

On some of these points, Matt Clare (Trident Building Consultancy LTD), volunteered some potential solutions. He suggested adopting appointments’ matrix to distribute responsibilities clearly. He also recommended to used 3rd party certification and always verify the level of competence claimed.

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