Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
July 29, 2021

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Building safety

SHP Podcast: Fire safety experts discuss how to make buildings safer

IFSEC Global features on episode 13 of the Safety & Health Podcast, as Ian Hart (Editor of SHP) drops in on the FIREX Connect Making Buildings Safer session in June. The panel discussion, hosted by IFSEC Global, explored the legislative and systemic changes required in fire safety, and the wider building sector, to ensure buildings are made safer for occupants.

Safety & Health PodcastAs moderators for the session, which includes an audience Q&A, we ask whether proposals such as the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Act are enough, and how does the building safety sector work to encourage a wide adoption of a new safety-conscious culture in construction and building safety – from planning through to occupation?

Joining the panel was:

  • Dennis Davis, Executive Officer, Fire Sector Federation
  • Niall Rowan, Technical & Regulatory Affairs Officer, Association of Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP)
  • Jonathan O’Neill OBE, Managing Director, Fire Protection Association (FPA)
  • Will Lloyd, Technical Manager, Fire Industry Association (FIA)

Listen to the episode in full below, or watch the webinar on Youtube here.


Fire safety challenges

The discussion begins with the panel talking through the key challenge in improving fire safety in buildings at the moment. Will Lloyd feels that it’s all about making sure that we’re actually doing things correctly. “Half of it is competence, but the other half is the quality check. I don’t think the quality of buildings is there, or has been there. If we build buildings safely and build them the right way, and the way that they’re supposed to be designed, then I think the buildings will be safe.”

Niall Rowan added: “One of the first things we feel, certainly from a passive perspective, is a lack of knowledge of products and systems and how they interact on buildings. There’s a widespread lack of understanding of fire tests and certification. That leads to poor design, because designers are not experts in passive fire protection.”

Dennis Davis also feels there is a lack of awareness. He said: “We need to increase awareness about what fire safety is all about. Awareness, which is knowledge based quite often, in all sorts of groups, and I include the construction sector and government in that. Plus, there has been a lack of investment in actually ensuring Building Standards, controls, mechanisms are robust enough, and up-to-date enough to manage the situation that is developing.”

“The second point is about minding the gap. There are tremendous gaps between actions and knowledge and investment in fire. If you look at what we’re doing now, it’s focused on high rise buildings. The danger is, that you miss a lot of what else is going on, like industrialised buildings, and all the processes that are going on there.

Jonathan O’Neill added: “We’re seeing, the greater use of combustible materials in the building process, we’re seeing inadequate fire stopping voids, and we’re seeing a lack of experience and competence on site.

“My real worry is that, as we see greater pressure on environmental concerns, we’re not thinking about the whole life of the building. We’re thinking about short term gains, and we’re going to see even greater use of combustible materials and still no understanding about how these materials perform in fire.

“Quite often, we’re importing these new modern building styles, but we’re not importing the protection methods that go along with them, whether that be fire stopping, or fire suppression, and we’ve got a fire and rescue service that are having to deal with real situations and quite often it’s the first time that they will ever come across this type of structure on fire, and it’s almost impossible for them.”

A recurring theme of the debate revolved around building safety too often being focused on high-rise residential buildings. At several points in the webinar, panellists pointed out that much of the current legislation and regulation is being focused on residential buildings over 18m, whereas there continues to be significant numbers of other structures and facilities left at risk, as those not in scope are left at risk of poorer standards.

Legislation, such as the Fire Safety Act which has just gone through the parliamentary process, and the Building Safety Bill, was also on the agenda. Advice was given on how to keep up with the latest (such as by signing up to IFSEC Global’s weekly fire briefing), alongside the impact training and competency programmes may have on improving construction standards.

Will raised the point that fire risk assessors, and other professionals involved in fire safety, need to ensure they ‘know their limits’ and ensure they’re not taking on projects that they don’t have the knowledge and experience to carry out effectively. Niall added to this that the lack of requirements involved in becoming a fire risk assessor has been warned about for years – while a competency steering group and registers are coming in to being, the quality of work remains a concern.

Modern methods of construction, the insurance sector and training were also all discussed.

Safety & Health Podcast

Subscribe and tune in the Safety & Health Podcast to discover the latest issues facing the health and safety profession, and stay on-top of the developments affecting your role, from working at height, lone working and common workplace hazards, to safety culture, behaviours, occupational health and mental health and wellbeing.

IFSEC Global also featured on a previous SHP Podcast, where we spoke to Gill Kernick about the requirements for systemic change in the attitudes towards risk in building safety – listen here: Gill Kernick on the lack of political intent for systemic change in building safety. 

Fire Safety in 2020 Annual Report - A year of challenges and change

Download the Fire Safety in 2020 eBook, as IFSEC Global and FIREX International keep you up to date with the biggest stories of the year, including new legislation, Grenfell Tower Inquiry revelations and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected professionals in the sector.

The eBook also features a nine-point guide to firestopping, an exclusive foreword from the Fire Industry Association's Ian Moore, and a round-up of the biggest news and prosecution stories of the year.

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