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June 28, 2012

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Fire risk management system requirements – a preview of PAS 7

The value of a fire risk assessment is dependent on the duty holder’s ability to comprehend and act upon the findings. Organisational fire risk management systems can offer greater assurance and cost effective compliance. Ben Bradford introduces the concept.

British Standards Institution, BSI, is currently drafting PAS 7, a new strategic fire risk management standard with principal authors BB7- Fire Risk & Resilience. PAS 7 will offer new guidance on fire risk management system requirements and the implementation strategy.

Whilst the completion of the fire risk assessment may go some way to satisfying the legislation, in many cases organisations are beginning to realise that the assessment is a means to an end but not necessarily the end in itself. It is widely acknowledged that fire risk management (albeit a discipline in its infancy) is a discipline much broader than simply fire risk assessment and many organisations are starting to think strategically.

Since the introduction of the RRO and equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, fire service enforcement activity has progressively increased with a wide range of prosecutions across a wide range of occupancies and building types. A common factor in many prosecutions is the lack of fire safety management that in a number of cases may be seen as organisational failures. The Rosepark care home Fatal Accident Inquiry following the deaths of 14 residents concluded:

“The deficiencies in the management of fire safety at Rosepark contributed to the deaths in that a number of key circumstances would have been quite different if there had been an adequate system of fire safety management.”

It is increasingly understood that effective fire safety management of a building or workplace can make a significant contribution to risk mitigation. A building with first rate fire precautions yet poor management may pose a greater risk than a building with limited fire precautions and good management and, as stated in PAS 79 (Fire risk assessment. Guidance and a recommended methodology) “fire safety management must be regarded as of equal importance to fire protection measures”.

The evolution of PAS 7
PAS 7 has evolved against a backdrop of developments in the property and construction sector and consequential fire risk management issues impacting on new and existing buildings. These include:

  • An increase in the proliferation of fire engineered complexes and buildings, which may require a more robust management system
  • The emergence of methods of modern construction involving new and evolving materials
  • Building design freedoms based on assumed management principles (in accordance with BS9999: 2008 management levels)
  • Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations 2010 – Fire safety information (England & Wales only)
  • Lead Authority Partnership Schemes (LAPS)
  • Fire service audit and enforcement procedures.

The guidance contained in BS 9999: 2008 Code of Practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings refers to the standard or quality of management as the management level. There are three management levels with a level 1 management system giving the highest level of management.

In order to demonstrate that an improved level of fire safety management will reduce risk, we need a credible means of measuring fire risk management and whilst guidance in BS 9999 addresses management system levels, crucially there is no guidance on minimum system requirements, and thus it attempts to grade a management system without first defining it. If an organisation implements the minimum requirements of a PAS 7 fire risk management system, it is then possible to audit their fire risk management system and determine the standard or quality of the management system and ultimately its management level can then be benchmarked against sector averages.

The management system approach has already gained international acceptance and been adopted in other fields such as quality, health and safety, business continuity etc. PAS 7 establishes fire risk management system requirements, and a methodology for the implementation of strategy which can be integrated into organisations’ existing systems. Adoption of the management system prescribed in this PAS along with the guidance and methodology for the implementation of strategy may be used for certification/registration and/or voluntary self-declaration of an organisation’s fire risk management efforts. Four of the UK’s leading testing and certification bodies are currently working with BB7, and the Association of British Certification Bodies has a representative on the steering group. UKAS has been approached and it is likely that a certification scheme will follow.

BB7 are currently piloting the methodology on a range of organisations in different industry sectors and gaining new insights into the challenges these organisations face. Strategic fire risk management can achieve an integrated or holistic approach to understand and manage the risks posed by the threat of fire which enables an entity to optimise its underlying processes, achieve cost effective compliance and improved risk mitigation.

Any organisation interested in joining the PAS 7 pilot programme should contact BB7 directly as we are particularly keen to work with organisations that have complex fire risk management challenges.

Due for publication in early 2013, PAS 7 can be adopted by any organisation wishing to implement a formal procedure to reduce the risks to life, property and the environment that are posed by the threat of fire.

Ben Bradford BSc Hons MSc MBA MRICS MIFireE FBEng is managing director of fire risk and resilience consultancy BB7 Email: [email protected]

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