Fire safety in the built environment

Embedding fire safety in seven stages – through design, construction and management

Ben Bradford

Managing Director, BB7 Fire Limited

Author Bio ▼

Holding duel professional status as both a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Surveyor, Ben Bradford is the founder and Managing Director of the renowned, BB7 Fire Risk & Resilience consultants. He has chaired the FIA Fire Risk Assessment Council's Professional Standards Working Group for almost six years and was a founding member of the Fire Engineering Council. As the Principle author of PAS 7: Fire Risk Management Systems Specification from the British Standards Institution, Ben is particularly interested in organizational fire risk management strategy and operational challenges.
February 12, 2018

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The independent review of building regulations and fire safety: Interim Report acknowledges a number of issues we have been banging on about for years.

One of these issues is that what is initially designed and approved is not always what gets built. As suggested in our article entitled ‘The mystery of missing Fire Strategies’ it is indeed rare that a full record of what has been built is handed over to those responsible for the occupied building.

However it is entirely possible for fire safety information to evolve from fire design brief to as-built fire strategy by following this seven-stage process.

Stage 1 – Preparation and brief

The fire design brief will confirm the relevant fire safety design objectives for the project, and identify relevant fire legislation which will affect the design. It is important to consider any additional design requirements such as insurance or additional client requirements. Highlight any significant constraints arising from the site such as fire service access, boundary conditions, water supplies and crowd dispersal.

Stage 2 – Concept design

A Fire Engineer will develop a concept fire strategy by carrying out compliance check and identifying any aspects of the design where changes would be required or fire engineering analyses are needed. This is traditionally where fire engineering enters the arena and is often the more intense of the stages where the basic rules are established, the architectural desires outlined and options and opportunities identified.

The Fire Engineer will seek to reduce approval risk by agreeing first principles with the Building Control Body. Some Fire Authorities like to consult early too.
Envisage a safer future – where fire safety is embedded at seven stages, through design, construction and management.

Stage 3 – Developed design

Following a review the design documentation produced by others the concept fire strategy will evolve into a developed design fire strategy. The Fire Engineer will identify any aspects of the design where changes would be required, or fire engineering analyses are needed. At stage 3 the Fire Engineer will formally consult with all relevant approving authorities. Address any concerns they may have and co-ordinate with the design team to ensure that the design is modified as appropriate.

Stage 4 – Technical design

The fire engineer can review the design and tender documentation which has been produced by others and progress the developed design fire strategy into a technical design fire strategy.

Identify any aspects of the design where changes would be required, or fire engineering analyses are needed. If any further fire engineering analyses are required, or any which were not carried out earlier, these should be completed in this stage.

The fire engineer and building control body undertake formal consultation with the Fire Authority.

Stage 5 – Construction

This stage is the key to ensuring that fire safety runs like a golden thread through the process.

The importance of suitable construction site fire strategies, construction site fire risk assessments and a programme of inspections is often over looked.

Often, little consideration is given to the effective provision of fire precautions during the construction stages. This is particularly important where premises are partially completed or occupied during the construction phase.

Effective planning can alleviate major issues that may arise during the construction phase, ensuring the safety of both construction workers and any other persons who may be affected by the construction works, without interruption to the programme.

A construction site fire strategy should be produced and construction site fire risk assessments undertaken. The Interim Report suggests developers need to ensure that there is a formal review and handover process ahead of occupation.

We recommend a programme of fire safety inspections throughout the construction process to ensure correct installation of active and passive measures and the production of a phased occupation strategy.

Stage 6 – Handover and close out

A preoccupation fire safety assessment is a useful opportunity to ensure compliance of the works with the design and comment on whether the works comply with the approved fire strategy.

Those undertaking this assessment may attend commissioning tests of fire safety systems as appropriate to ensure that they are installed and operating in accordance with the fire strategy.

In particular, this would include checks that the cause and effect of the fire alarm and related systems are correct. This assessment can help ensure a smooth transition from the design and construction phase to the operational phase of new premises.

It is the perfect opportunity to develop the fire strategy into an as-built fire strategy and for the Building Control Body to issue their final/completion certificate.

Stage 7 – In use

A fire risk assessment is the process of identifying fire hazards and evaluating the risk to people, property, assets and environment arising from them, taking into account the adequacy of existing fire precautions, and deciding whether or not the fire risk is acceptable without additional fire precautions and/or control measures.

This can only be undertaken once the building is in use. In addition to this the formalisation of a fire risk management system is an effective way of reducing fire risk within an organization and providing a structured pathway to ensure that fire safety objectives are achieved.

We recently published a set of three articles covering fire policy, strategy and audit.

We envision a safer future where fire safety is embedded throughout these seven stages. The direction of travel following the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety should also consider:

  • Ensure that the fire design brief evolves through the design and construction process into a comprehensive as-built fire strategy so that a statutory authority can keep the public record
  • Ensure all fire strategies are peer reviewed and signed off by a Chartered Engineer (Specialising in fire)
  • Ensure a single UKAS accredited scheme and a single register of competent fire risk assessors is formed, and that the competency bar is raised over time
  • Ensure a single register for all UKAS accredited installer schemes, and raising the competency bar over time
  • Ensuring a single register for organisations that achieve UKAS accredited third party certification of their fire risk management system

This bullet point list of considerations is not exhaustive. There is a lot to say on the interim report and we have a lot more to say on the direction of travel.

The bullet points above simply offer a few ideas for those interested in establishing a robust and coherent system of fire safety in order to realise a safer future.

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