Project Engineer, UL

February 8, 2021

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Building safety

Building safety management – moving forward with big data management solutions

Chris Miles and Simon Ince discuss the issues that have led UL to develop Built InForm™, a new building safety software system to help track safety and manage the golden thread of information needed to keep residents safe.

The built environment in which we live, work and play can be exposed to fire and other safety risks. While most fire events are small and recoverable, some major disasters are so notable they result in changes to building control regulations.

Building codes and regulations around the globe aim to protect life and property. Appropriate fire precautions are incorporated into the fabric of the building during the design process and incorporated during construction before occupation. These passive and active fire precautions are intended to provide early warning of fire, suppress the fire, delay the spread of and contain the fire to allow occupants to escape safely, or to allow the fire service time to arrive and extinguish or control the fire. All while keeping first responders safe, and occupants away from direct contact with the fire. Any compromise to the effectiveness of those fire precautions may endanger the life of occupants and emergency service providers.

The 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire in London, where 72 people died, focused the attention of those involved in ensuring fire safe buildings across the world. As of early 2021, the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire is still in progress, with the full findings eagerly awaited by those who wish to prevent such tragic fires in the future. Numerous examples of safety risks exist, and post-Grenfell investigations continue to uncover built environment fire risks.

UL-BuildingSafetyFEATURED-TallBuildingFire-21

Numerous building materials, components, products and systems make up fire safety precautions. All of them are installed to protect against an event that may never happen, and therefore may never be needed. The high risk of an unmaintained building is that a significant fire event would jeopardize the safety of occupants.

Managing safety compliance

Safety information is essential for all buildings:

  • What safety systems are installed?
  • How have they been installed?
  • What is the proof they have passed the appropriate safety tests?
  • How are they maintained?
  • When do they need to be replaced?

The main building contractor is legally required to hand over this detailed information to the building operator at the time of occupation. The ‘Golden Thread’ of information that is so critical for ongoing safety management and therefore occupant safety.

In the UK it is a requirement of Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations and in the United States, a similar requirement exists under the National Fire Protection Association 101. After the information transfer, the legal duty resides with the owner/operator to ensure systems are maintained, serviced, and remain operable as intended to protect the occupants and keep the building safe.

Digital transformation within the construction sector continues to gather much-needed pace. Quality information about a building’s safety needs to be available at the touch of a button. Historically, handing over large physical folders containing operating and maintenance manuals was and still can be the norm. Building owners, if they received safety information at all, would file those physical folders in archives, sometimes never to be seen again.

The proposed new UK regulatory system will require all information relating to the fire safety precautions within a building in scope to be submitted as a key dataset to the regulator. Evidence of products and systems fitness will need to be included in the building’s digital dataset. The information submitted to the regulator will also ensure that the appropriate information is handed over to the building’s new occupant.

BuildingSafety-20Digital information will be required for all buildings in the scope of the new UK regulations; information that is quickly and easily accessible if and when stakeholders/regulators request a transparent view of the building and its safety status.

Quality management systems rely on accurate information that is easily accessible and can be interrogated, establishing which building systems are compliant and which systems are not. Without robust management systems, missing routine maintenance, testing, and inspections can be easy. With the many critical life and health safety systems in a building, ensuring compliance with internal policies/procedures and external regulations is crucial. A system that alerts the accountable person/s when safety is compromised helps reduce the risk to the owner(s), operator(s) and their stakeholders; especially those who occupy the building.

Fire safety systems, such as automatic detection and alarm systems, smoke ventilation systems, water suppression systems, lightning conductors and fire doors, all have specific requirements for maintenance and routine inspection. Cataloguing those alongside other safety systems and schedules with the required competencies of those who test, service and inspect those systems, is essential for keeping risks as low as reasonably practicable.

Data management solution

Identifying and addressing safety risks requires active governance of safety programmes and activities for the building or across a property portfolio, including information about building systems, assemblies, and accountable/competent persons. The accountable person needs to be able to quickly identify and understand which features of a building have risk exposures – from external building cladding systems to internal critical life safety systems.

How can those with responsibility manage and demonstrate building governance and safety throughout their building portfolio? They need to have at their fingertips quick access to a digital tool that provides them with a building profile, with catalogued features, associated service records, and the individuals responsible for ensuring compliance. A digital software solution to manage mass data. Building safety management needs to move forward, with digital solutions which provide robust management and governance.

Designed for building owners, UL’s Built InForm™ software is an example of how bespoke software can support management and brings building safety front and centre. Built InForm helps building owners and managers track and manage their building features and activities throughout their entire property portfolio. Whether managing a single building or a large portfolio of buildings, safety is crucial. A false sense of security or haphazard safety tracking and lax governance magnifies risks and dangers to life safety. Having confidence in management systems is critical to ensuring that properties are being managed safely for occupants, tenants, and residents.

Features and benefits of digital systems:

  • Easy-to-use record system for the ability to track and manage building safety features and workflows.
  • Identify and address risks across the property portfolio with data and insights at hand.
  • Empowers owners with quick access to records, information and a full assessment history to disclose to stakeholders/regulators.

As the world moves forward with the digital revolution, it stands to reason that the building process, and once occupied the building management, make use of technology and software to help keep occupants safe.

To request a demonstration of our safety software solution, please visit UL.com.

 

About the authors

Chris Miles holds over 30 years of experience in the testing, assessment and certification of fire resistive construction products industry. At UL, Miles leads research and development of new test standards and certification requirements and applies his technical knowledge and scientific expertise to collaborate with customers to enable faster access to local and global markets. He also plays a key role in the development and operation of the Notified Body for fire protection and detection materials in Europe.

Simon Ince has experience with compliance and quality assurance certification schemes in the safety sector, working closely with customers to implement safety management systems. He has an in-depth working knowledge of the commercial and retail and housing sector, having been a fire safety consultant and risk assessor working across the United Kingdom. He has notably helped develop a new independent third-party certification scheme for building safety management and understands the current need for robust and transparent digital systems of safety management being an advocate for accountability, competence and traceability in the fire sector.

Copyright 2021 UL LLC.  Reprinted with permission.

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