Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
November 19, 2014

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Architects Often Overlook Construction Workers’ Fire Safety: Fire-Safety Professional

Andrew furnessFire-safety professional Andrew Furness reflects on his Olympics involvement, how construction workers aren’t afforded the same protection as occupants of completed buildings and why the UK needs more sprinklers.

Former firefighter Furness founded Salvus Consulting Ltd 15 years ago in recognition of the need for more integration between fire safety and health and safety services.

Salvus Consulting provides consultancy services and tailored, IFSM- and NEBOSH-accredited training programmes to a wide range of clients.

IFSEC Global: Hi Andrew. Your services seem to reflect the strong overlap between fire safety and health and safety…

Andrew Furness:  Over the last 15 years we have found as a consultancy and training practice that fire safety and health and safety are integrated in such a way that on occasions it is almost impossible to separate them.

With the exception of fire engineering solutions, safety management requires an interaction on all elements of safety. For example, during our construction site safety services we have to consider both the fire safety and health and safety of individuals during the construction phase.

The same can be said for many sectors in which we work including education and defence and industrial and commercial sectors.

At London 2012 our role was to look at fire safety management but also had to consider the evacuation of venues and buildings associated with security and other potential safety evacuation requirements.

We could not have achieved the success and the results without having sufficient knowledge of both fire safety and health and safety, including event management and construction management, amongst others. Also we found that the requirements for integration with security management was included in our planning and arrangements.

IG: Please tell us a little more about your involvement at London 2012…

AF: Our initial involvement was to review fire safety and evacuation plans for a specific number of venues, particularly those that required licensing.

There is a tendency to consider crowd safety during events, but it’s also important that consideration is given to staff members, visitors and importantly competitor safety too.

These athletes were preparing for the game/competition of their lives so the last thing they needed was a spurious fire alarm going off or an unnecessary evacuation response that would impact upon their preparation, sleep, or eating habits, as well as the final preparation for their event and event itself.


Photo: BaldBoris under CC 2.0

We had to consider the initial stages of any emergency response, including how a fire may be contained or security alert managed to have the right team members in the right place, at the right time, to ensure that an appropriate evacuation response was planned and could be implemented.

Salvus was not engaged to complete fire risk assessments, our role was to consider fire safety and emergency evacuation response taking into account assessments completed by others, which due to the lack of information did cause a few problems for which we had to find solutions.

An integrated approach was needed and the plans needed to consider the key players involved at all levels as any form of evacuation would impact upon the games.

The plans needed to consider the communications and links across the Games from the main operations centre in London to all other venues, buildings and villages.

Following our initial success in preparing the fire-safety plans and evacuation strategies for a limited number of venues at LOCOG’s request our role was expanded and ultimately we covered every venue, the athletes’ villages and subsidiary buildings, the buildings including temporary facilities for press, media and outside broadcasting areas and medical centres. It was a huge role for us which required our team to expand very quickly to accommodate and manage our remit.

IG: Having London 2012 on your client list must help attract clients…

AF:  We have been contacted about other large-scale events and these are now in the pipeline, the services extend to competitions, festivals and other large scale events and I feel sure that this will continue.

I guess that this is a follow on and direct result of my previous role when working for a Local Authority Fire Service as an Inspector and being involved with the safety advisory groups (SAG) for large-scale events.

During my time in the local authority fire service I was also given the role of health & safety advisor as a result of the shockwaves felt from the deaths of two firefighters at an incident and following intervention from the HSE.

This health and safety role, together with my fire safety roles has enabled me, together with my colleagues at Salvus Consulting to draw from our experiences for large scale events and our success at London 2012 and provide effective solutions.

Salvus Consulting could not have managed successfully the London 2012 contract without the assistance of one of my recently retired colleagues Martin Muckett who assisted me to write and publish ‘ An Introduction to Fire Safety Management’, Martin came out of retirement to assist me with the Games  – a very important acquisition.

IG: To what extent is overcoming complacency about fire safety – both among the general public and businesses – a major challenge?

AF:  Reaching the most vulnerable people has always been the big test for us, because those people won’t necessarily respond to TV adverts an other press releases, we have the odd ‘Fire Kills’ campaign, but I think we could do more to raise the profile of fire safety.

In our industrial and commercial training programmes for some of our key clients – with a drive from us –  include home fire safety matters. During our commercial training programmes, for example, our fire safety coordinator, fire safety manager, fire wardens or even something as simple as training people to use a fire extinguishers, we include a five-minute minimum session on keeping yourself safe from fire at home, which I believe is part of our responsibility to raise fire safety awareness.

I appreciate that this government doesn’t want us to be a nanny state in relation to safety, but in my opinion there isn’t enough publicity on fire safety matters. For example, in the UK we focus upon fire protection and until recently we have not followed the US, who tend to focus on fire prevention both in the home and in commercial premises.

IG: What is your biggest gripe about the industry right now?

AF: The lack of life safety sprinklers and the lack of mandate to ensure that sprinklers are installed as life safety devices in new-build projects.

As part of our work in the construction industry we do see that large housing schemes are now installing sprinklers in ‘high end’ properties.

Recently Salvus Consulting has been working on social housing developments with no sprinklers installed. They also had lower level domestic detection systems installed and it appears that life protection is only available if you are in the position to pay £1m plus for your property. For this you’ll get a state-of-the art LD1 fire warning system and sprinklers.

Society’s most vulnerable people can rarely afford to pay £1m for a new home and it is more likely that their lives are at risk.

The United States has it right in that respect. Many of the states’ ‘codes’ make it a requirement for sprinklers to be installed in domestic, commercial, residential care and a wide variety of other buildings.

Standards across the world exist for domestic sprinklers and other installations and it is time that the UK adopted the practice of installing life safety sprinkler and other systems in more buildings.

IG: So how does the UK compare to other countries in terms of fire safety?

AF: Most countries have some form of fire safety ‘code’ or legislation or ‘standards’ now. The US have had the NFPA standards for some time, which many countries across the world adopt. These are uniform standards which allow compliance across the US and beyond.

Disappointingly we have, across the UK, a whole range of standards due to parts of the UK having differing legal requirements and building regulations.

The NFPA standards are quite prescriptive which does not allow flexibility, whereas in the main, the UK’s risk-assessed approach gives us flexibility, which is good, but it would appear that plenty of people would prefer to be told exactly what they should do to comply.

With regard to the worldwide standards, I believe that the UK compares very favourably. In particular our fire engineering strategies are very strong, allowing us to move away from prescriptive codified standards, enhancing our reputation for the design of innovative buildings – for example the Shard in London.

Unfortunately this is not always the case across the UK, as in some regions, such as Scotland, legislation and guidance is very prescriptive. For example, in England and Wales, we could use a fire engineered solution under BS7974 or a solution included within British standards 9999, but these solutions may prove difficult for a fire engineer to use in Scotland.

IG: Thanks Andrew. Anything else you’d like to add?

AF: Over recent years I have been involved with fire safety that also includes the ‘construction phase’ of a development, which is often overlooked by designers who tend to concentrate on the finished building’s use, without perhaps considering the safety of construction contractors.

For example, when designing a finished building, to ensure that space is maximised for the client the installation of sprinklers, as a fire engineered solution, will allow fewer staircases to be constructed.

When the building has been commissioned and handed over, all facilities such as sprinklers, smoke extract systems etc are fully operational. This is not the case during the construction phase leaving construction contractors at risk, often without an adequate means of escape.

Salvus Consulting has developed a series of fire safety training programmes, approved by IFSM, for the construction industry, to deliver the message that designers – those tendering for construction projects and those managing construction projects – must take the safety of those working on the projects, including fire safety, seriously, before it’s too late.

I am pleased to continue to offer my services for the HSE’s Working Well Together campaigns free of charge to provide information and guidance on the management of fire safety in construction, so do look out for the presentations on the WWT website.

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