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Project Engineer, UL

November 26, 2014

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State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

Fire: A Look ahead to 2015 and beyond

Fire extinguisherThe number of recorded fires and fire deaths here in the UK has been on a steady decline in recent years – with the most recent 12-month drop in fire fatalities of 5% part of a long-term trend that has seen deaths fall by 40% since 2004.

Can we in the fire sector therefore congratulate ourselves and say job well done?

Partially, yes. The fire industry and fire authorities have done some good work that has contributed to a reduction in serious and fatal fires year on year.

However, it remains impossible to predict exactly when and where a fire may start and effective fire risk management remains the only way to minimise the chances of a fire starting and mitigate the effects if it does.

Building owners/operators may have a legal responsibility to comply with fire safety regulations and there is undoubtedly a duty of care to take reasonable precautions to protect those residing or working in premises.

However, there is a feeling within the sector that many buildings across the country could still prove dangerous, even fatal, should a fire start and test the physical fire protection and fire-risk management elements of buildings.

So our job as an industry is not complete just yet!

One aim of current UK fire-safety legislation was to reduce the burden on business. But there must be no mistake by building owners and operators; minimum compliance is a mandatory requirement, not a burden.

What can be done to reduce the number of potentially dangerous buildings?

Sorting out the built environment

New builds deficient on basic fire protection are often being delivered. There needs to be an examination of why and how that can be stopped.

Perhaps building control should be based on risk; not all buildings should be treated the same! The introduction of minimum inspection regimes for high risk buildings would lessen the likelihood of unsafe buildings being occupied in the first instance.

Accurate Regulation 38 information needs to be gathered and delivered to new building owners, which would help them maintain a safe building. Contractors who fall short on fire safety building standards should be taken to task by enforcing authorities.

Sacrificing safety for profit is never acceptable and if found, negligible contractors should face consequences.

Engaging with those who are hard to reach

There are many, many building owners and operators who are just not interested in fire safety and it is often left to fall to the very bottom of their long list of priorities.

Do they attend seminars and training days? Do they seek out best practice guidance and advice?

Do they employ competent fire safety advisors? Do they maintain and repair fire safety systems and installations? No!

Do they put life at risk? Yes they do!  If they won’t seek out fire safety we need to find a way of ensuring fire safety is seeking them out.

Signposting

Even those in the fire sector don’t always know where to find best practice guidance; those building owners and operators who do try and help themselves are often faced with disparate advice on a mixture of government, fire service, professional body and trade association sites. It needs to be made easier to find, gathering it together in one accessible place.

Coordinating the message

Not only is guidance hard to find, the fire safety message isn’t always consistent or indeed accurate. The industry needs to find a way of sending out a focused message which will add value to those who are trying to listen.

Too many different voices singing different tunes mean it’s too hard for building owners and operators to pick out what they actually need.

What is the fire industry mission statement? Who is going to coordinate that?

Who needs to support and promote that message? Can vested interests be put aside to deliver one tune?

Professional approach 

Having a very open and unregulated fire safety market place means standards are very varied. There are good, bad and ugly fire safety service providers operating in the UK; building owners and operators have a tough job identifying the professionals.

UKAS-accredited third-party certification schemes cover nearly every discipline within the fire sector, yet those are not always insisted upon when appointing service providers.

There has been talk of a fire safe register, which will give assurance to those who procure products and service providers from it. However, that remains just a proposal for the moment.

The current development of a competence criteria for fire safety managers should promote due diligence in all aspects of the discipline and trigger a rise in fire risk management standards.

Also at a strategic level, PAS 7 and Primary Authority schemes could facilitate some real structure in fire risk management at a corporate level.

Being proactive

Apart from valuable contributions from the fire and rescue service, other initiatives must be self-funded by the fire sector. Voluntary sector panels, joint working groups and the development of industry-led guidance documents all must be tagged on to full working commitments from those who participate.

This represents a significant time and financial commitment, which is normally spread over long periods and thus slows progress and delivery down. The fire industry is a significant part of the UK economy, yet there seems to be nothing offered by way of financial support and assistance.

Research grants and other money to help producing guidance or funding initiatives would go a long way towards achieving some of the aforementioned suggestions.

This time last year I suggested to the then fire minister Brandon Lewis that he may look at giving the sector a Christmas gift. This year I would just like to say to the current fire minister, Penny Mordaunt, that the cost of fire to the UK economy is around £8bn.

The fire sector can reduce that cost but to do more than just scratch the surface we could do with more than the pat on the back we had from her predecessor.

2023 Fire Safety eBook – Grab your free copy!

Download the Fire Safety in 2023 eBook, keeping you up to date with the biggest news and prosecution stories from around the industry. Chapters include important updates such as the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and an overview of the new British Standard for the digital management of fire safety information.

Plus, we explore the growing risks of lithium-ion battery fires and hear from experts in disability evacuation and social housing.

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Neil Ashdown
Neil Ashdown
November 27, 2014 3:43 pm

Absolutely right. Only last month a social landlord was jailed for eight months for non-compliance with the 2005 Fire Safety Order. Local authorities could do much more to advise landlords, businesses and occupiers about their legal responsibilities. And when it comes to engaging fire risk assessors and fire safety contractors the RP should always check credentials. As Simon says, there is a huge variation in the standard of work. Quality of service and workmanship will always trump everything else.

Antoni B
Antoni B
November 28, 2014 1:32 pm

Many establishments are covered by LAuth EHO’s for enforcement on certain items of equipment or premises structures, I would suggest that HSE gives up its enforcement elements to EHO’s and Fire Services where the premises and operational demands are already more in the EHO and Fire Service domains. A good example might be a garage offering car sales but with a workshop and paintshop on the site.  I question why the EHO is responsible for the majority of enforcement but the HSE might be involved in enforcing the paintshop air cleaning extraction system, etc. and the Fire Service is responsible… Read more »