Fire safety through the lifecycle of a building
30 May 2017
Paul Lane, associate director at Turner & Townsend, warns that many often perceive Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) to be the only piece of the fire compliance 'jigsaw', without fully appreciating other crucial factors intrinsic to the overall life cycle of a building.
The life cycle of a building can be broadly broken down in to three distinct phases: Design – either new build or refurbishment/extension; Construction; and Occupation – use and maintenance.
This article will look at a these key stages and suggest positive interventions clients can make to improve fire safety compliance whilst avoiding common pitfalls.
The design phase is fundamental as it determines how a building can be effectively utilised. Although post build alterations can be made, they are likely to incur significant cost and disruption, so it is important that the designers fully understand the project brief and develop a fire strategy based on a realistic understanding of how the building will be used, occupied and managed. This should include occupant mobility, staffing levels and any foreseeable variations in the long term occupancy.
In particular, the fire strategy should describe the fire safety approach to protect the occupiers, any limitations on the use of the building and any additional management controls that will be needed for its safe operation. The fire strategy should be reviewed by the client and end-users to confirm it meets the needs of the occupants and has a realistic approach to the ongoing management of the building.
The use of 3D design and Building Information Modelling (BIM), which can influence operational design, often reduces costs as it facilitates a “right first time” approach. 3D modelling is particularly beneficial for complex projects, such as the fit out of manufacturing facilities, where the layout of production lines can alter several times before a final design is agreed. These models allow the design team to visualise the impact of the decisions they make. For example the effect that moving the orientation of the conveyer system can have to the means of escape.The construction phase
Although clients often have much less input in the construction phase, positive interventions can be made such as overseeing that the building is constructed in accordance with the fire strategy.
There are number of steps clients can take to help protect against construction deficiencies such as:
- Appointing competent contractors based on the quality of their work and who are able to provide references and case studies of similar projects
- Requiring the contractor to keep a photographic record of various phases of the construction, in particular of completed compartments walls and voids which may not be visible once the building is constructed
- On larger scale projects, the client should consider appointing a clerk of works who will be able to regularly attend site to carry out inspections to check that the building is being constructed in accordance with the fire strategy.
Once construction is completed it is critical that there is a transfer of fire safety information so that the occupier can implement effective arrangements for the ongoing maintenance and operation of the building. This information handover is a requirement of Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations and should be part of the Building Control sign-off procedure. However the quality of fire safety information provided can range from patchy to non-existent. Indeed many clients are not familiar with this regulation, incorrectly believing that this information will be included within the Health & Safety files which are produced as part of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM).
On occupation, the client will need to ensure that a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) is completed. In simple buildings the occupier may be able to complete the FRA themselves, but for more complex premises they will need to appoint a fire risk assessor. It is crucial that clients ensure that those appointed are competent and fully understand the use of the building, its occupancy and any management control limitations. Fire risk assessment tenders are often weighted towards cost rather than quality, with FRAs being seen as a “commodity service”. This can lead to the occupier being provided with an FRA that does not really consider the occupants and building use, often with inappropriate/unrealistic recommendations. One simple measure that clients can take to have some level of assurance is to use an accredited risk assessor/organisation where the assessor’s competency is verified as part of a recognised accreditation process.
It is only by considering the actual use and occupancy of a building, along with the realistic manner in which a building is to be managed, can a building be truly described as fit for purpose with all the pieces of the fire safety 'jigsaw' in place.