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A plan of action

In the September issue of IFP, the ASFP outlined the lessons learned from its interactive question time event, held during Firex International in London earlier this year. This well-attended event, entitled ‘A Question of Safety’, consisted of a panel of specialists; each representing a different industry discipline, from the architect through to the building owner including; a criminal regulatory lawyer, a fire engineer, a Tier 1 contractor and specialist subcontractor, as well as passive fire protection manufacturers, an insurer, and representatives from building control, the fire service and a test house/certification body.

The breadth of debate identified several key issues influencing the quality and suitability of fire safety within the built environment, namely:

  • Fragmentation within the construction design and build process
  • The need to ensure adequate understanding and training for specifiers
  • Improving standards of fire protection installation
  • Ensuring competency in fire risk assessment
  • Improving building resilience

The question time event clearly demonstrated a recognition from across the construction industry that fire protection is frequently specified and installed incorrectly leading to buildings that are not fit for purpose in relation to their intended fire performance.

In the early part of the last decade, the ASFP completed a detailed three-year ‘Partners in Innovation’ (PiI) project, partly funded by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department of Trade & Industry, where independent research on fire safety provisions in a wide variety of nominated types of buildings was collected.

The research repeatedly showed that a high percentage of compartment walls were either defective, through poorly installed fire stopping of penetrating service systems, or invalidated by incompetent maintenance.

In some complex buildings, detailed drawings were missing and occupants had no knowledge of the location of essential defences such as compartment walls. The findings of this project identified that some 80% of buildings in the study (which considered buildings of 2 years old and upwards) were not fit for purpose.

The ASFP question time event in June laid bare the reality that over a decade after this PiI project was produced, fragmentation within the construction industry remains a key concern, and continues to result in the frequent incorrect specification and installation of fire protection materials and systems. An issue also brought to light in no small way by the recent failings identified in several high profile PFI projects.

All the assembled experts at the question time event agreed that collaborative working across the whole design and build process is now of vital importance, and to this end agreed to regroup in early September for a ‘Roundtable’ event to look in further detail at ways in which such a collective industry approach could be considered.

The agreed objectives were clear, i.e. to develop structures, processes and best practice guidance to enable earlier engagement of fire safety professionals in the construction, design and build process, and aid better communication across the industry, in particular in relation to the inspection and management of buildings throughout their working life.

The wide-ranging discussions emanating from this ASFP ‘Roundtable’ event concluded that an overarching Construction Strategy was required and that agreement and support from all the professional organisations involved in the design and build process should be secured. In particular, the group identified that there is an urgent need to:

  • Develop a ‘Plan of Works’ process which incorporates fire at the design stage, to ensure that there is a detailed specification for fire protection in the initial design, and a schedule for fire throughout the construction process
  • Ensure all professional bodies involved in design and build ‘buy in’ to this process
  • Develop a supporting guidance document which will provide consistent and simple information to highlight what needs to be done at each stage of the process
  • Investigate the possibilities for introducing a sign off process as construction progresses, with all information reaching the end-user to support adequate risk assessment
  • Integrate the process with Business Information Modelling (BIM)
  • Educate all in the built environment including the end user, inspectors, insurers, contractors and designers

Having now identified the objectives, work is now in hand to develop ‘Plan of Works’ metrics that can encompass the entire design, build, inspection and management process in relation to the fire performance of a building.

At its heart, there lies a fundamental need to educate all those within the Built Environment of the importance of fire protection within any building design. The ASFP is now in process of developing an appropriate training and education strategy to meet this objective.

The panel will come together again in the New Year to review progress, with the goal of offering the construction sector clear guidance, tailored to suit each stage of the process, from strategic definition through design concept and development, into the construction phase, handover and inspection and finally the on-going ‘in use’ of the building. It is anticipated that the development of such an overarching Construction Strategy can be achieved by the mid-2017, with work to raise awareness and implement the strategy continuing throughout the year.

For more information, go to www.asfp.org.uk

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<p>Wilf Butcher is CEO of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection.</p>

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