Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
October 29, 2015

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Fire and Construction Industries Urged to Clarify Guidance on Fire Engineering in Complex, Modern Structures

Bob Glendenning Sherwin Williams

Bob Glendenning of Sherwin-Williams addresses the audience at the Institute of Civil Engineering

With 263 buildings with 20 or more storeys set to further crowd London’s skyline, prominent figures from across the supply chain have expressed concerns that current fire-engineering guidance is not fit for purpose.

Presenting a series of seminars on fire protection leading speakers from Arup, Sherwin-Williams – the global coatings leader which organised the event – and the Institute of Civil Engineers – where the event were held – gave their prescriptions for improving fire engineering in complex, modern structures.

There were also speakers from the ASFP, the fire service and building control, which warned the industry that cut-price operators in its field were undermining standards.

From Arup, Neal Butterworth raised concerns about the potential for “fragmentation” between design and construction.

“As the complexity of buildings increases so too should the minimum competency of all of those involved, said the engineering consultancy’s associate for fire engineering. “When buildings become very tall or the structure is particularly complex, the pool of structural engineers competent to design these structures shrinks.

“Those structural engineers may still need specialist input in terms of structural dynamics.”

Collaboration

More legislation wasn’t necessarily the answer, continued the day’s keynote speaker; rather, greater collaboration across the supply chain was essential to clarify where responsibility lies for instituting effective fire protection at each stage of the construction process.

“Legislation is sufficient but we need a consistent thread of responsibility from design, through to manufacture, construction and operation. People often don’t even know they’re responsible, or what they are responsible for. It’s up to us as an industry to look at this issue and improve guidance.”

Bob Glendenning, manager of fire engineering for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Coatings, said the lack of transparency left the ‘responsible person’ under the Fire Safety Order (RRO) vulnerable to prosecution.

“Why would we, as professionals, take the kind of risks we are seeing on major projects? Ultimately, we are talking about people’s lives at risk as they move about in these buildings,” he said.

“There is also the issue of the properties themselves. Insurers may be wholly unaware of some of these issues. We want to have solutions and a design process that everyone can trust with total peace of mind.”

Event chairman Roger Williams, the global director for fire engineering at Sherwin-Williams, mooted the idea of forming a small industry group to examine how existing legislation and guidance could be more effectively applied. A Code of Practice for Steel Structures might even emerge, he added.

Steel seminar speakers

Left to right: Neal Butterworth of Arup, Wilf Butcher of the ASFP and Peter Buckley of Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service

Danny Hopkin of the Institute of Fire Engineers charted the evolution of modern building design. Adding urgency to the search for a solution to the problem he revealed that no fewer than 263 tall buildings of more than 20 storeys are planned for construction in London, many with idiosyncratic features that need innovative fire engineering solutions.

CEO at the Association of Specialist Fire Protection Wilf Butcher raised a few laughs with some slides showcasing some appalling examples of passive fire protection, including a fire compartment wall with the sign ‘do not penetrate’, which – yes, you guessed it, had been penetrated, leaving a massive hole.

He also outlined relevant statutory guidance for the constituent parts of the British Isles.

Third-party certification

Butcher championed third-party certification as the gold standard of quality assurance, and explained what second-party equivalent meant (an association to which the individual or organisation belongs provides the assurance) and first-party (individual or organisation providing the goods or services offers assurance that it meets certain claims).

Similarly, standard testing of products – characterised as comprehensive, with full details of construction of the test specimen and testing process – is far superior to indicative (not tested against classification requirements) and ad hoc testing (performed to a non-standard procedure).

Representing the fire service Peter Buckley said he wanted to see more use of Building Information Modelling (BIM). The fire engineering manager at Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service said a professional handover of relevant information between different parts of the supply chain was imperative.

“Jack of all trades”

Richard Twine, head of guidance for Local Authority Building Control, called for greater collaboration between building control, which was unavoidably hamstrung by being a “jack of all trades”, and the rest of the supply chain.

Recognising the disillusionment that many feel towards his discipline Twine posed the question: “Is building control broken?”

Though there was certainly room for improvement, he said, privatisation had boosted competition and therefore efficiency.

The sector was also undermined by a race to the bottom, he argued. All too often people were paying well below a fair price and sustaining substandard, unprofessional operators. Agreeing with Wilf Butcher’s earlier point he added that championing third-party certification was key to starving rogue companies of business.

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trv8mike

No point going on about poor work & poor specifications – sadly we need a bad fire in high rise with lots of casualties -clearly a low rise event like Lakanal was not enough of a pointer on what will happen in a badly refurbished block.

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