Fire Risk Strategy – When do I need one? What IS a Fire Risk Strategy?

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Hackitt report has resulted in fear and confusion in the construction industry.

This not surprising!

Legislation is fragmented – complex and has to be interpreted carefully, cross referencing previous legislation.

New build developments, schools, flats, HMOs, residential and commercial and renovations are all affected by this legislation.

Housing associations, local authorities,’ main contractors, developers and designers and architects are all facing complex legislation and wading through rules and regulations.

The above problem is compounded by too many of us doing the bare minimum to achieve compliance.

This often leads to over engineering or under engineering or lack of attention to what the end client actually needs. This can have big financial cost implications and creates a poor start to a sustainable buildings life-cycle.

Generally, fire engineers are not involved early enough (RIBA 1, 2 and 3 stages) and 90% of the time are not really consulted at all during RIBA stage 5- construction phase.

This means the design changes are not communicated to them and the client ends up remedying costly mistakes.

At RIBA stage 6, the building is handed over to the end user.

Now the gaps in communication become evident as follows:

As built compliance – can it be signed off by all parties- including for insurance purposes?
Installation evidence- has this been done correctly?
How safety features work
Far too often, the above have been overlooked or not communicated properly to all parties.

This results in the end user having to sort these problems out.

He now has difficult negotiations with the main contractor about who sorts what out and critically who pays for it!

We are improving in knowledge throughout the industry, but we fail to set clear roles, responsibilities and outcomes for fire and safety compliance.

Read on, to see how we can mitigate these mistakes.

But first let’s address the obvious question!

Is A Fire Strategy Needed For My Building Or Development?

What people REALLY mean by asking this question is – does the law require me to have one?

Frequently compliance has to be driven by legislation as otherwise people treat it as an ‘option’.

Answer?

The short answer is, it is not currently a legal requirement to have a fire risk strategy PER SE – BUT you need to have design and build elements that must comply with all parts of the building regulations Part B fire requirements.

You must provide design and build information to meet Regulation 38 requirements, including specifications, plans, drawings, reviews etc.

In addition, when a building is being used, it must have sufficient fire risk assessments and systems to comply with the Fire safety order act 2005.

What alarm system do I need? Do I need sprinklers? How many fire doors do I need?

Will the building be compliant? Can adopting an early design concept save us money?

A fire risk strategy is the best way to accomplish the above!

The key point is this – a professional Fire Risk Strategy will ensure compliance with all legislation AND will help you raise your game from doing the bare minimum.

The main legislation:
Building Regulations Approved Document B
Fire Safe British standards such as BS9999 or BS9991
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
Most of us are familiar with the Building Regulations.

Outside of this, let’s look at legislation specific to fire.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to the following:
This legislation applies to nearly all buildings apart from private homes.
For private dwellings the requirement is to meet the Housing Act.
HMOs are covered as are blocks of flats and maisonettes.
Fire Risk Assessments are mandatory and should be carried out by a competent person.
In short the premises should meet the required standards.

If you are responsible for the building, fire risk assessments are mandatory under this legislation.

Also, you need to ensure your fire risk assessment is recorded if you have 5 or more employees or your business has a licence under enactment in force.

The responsible person also needs to fulfill the following requirements:

- A detailed assessment identifying the hazards and risks in a commercial premises.
 - Consider WHO may be at risk.
 - Eliminate or reduce the risk of fire as far as is possible.
 - Provide general precautions to deal with any risk.
 - Take additional measures to ensure  fire safety  where  there are flammable or explosive. materials or where they are stored or used.
 - Create a plan to deal with any emergency and where necessary record any findings.
 - Maintain general fire precautions, and facilities provided for use by firefighters.
 - Keep any findings of the risk assessment under review.
 - So the chances are, your project or building does need fire strategy.

 

What IS a Fire Strategy And What Should It Contain?

Short answer:

A fire strategy defines the fire safety objectives and performance requirement for a building and the methods for achieving these objectives. The primary aims are to protect people and property.

In order to achieve the objectives, there are usually 7 key elements that every fire risk strategy should contain.

These are:

1. Legislation requirements.
This usually means minimum requirements outlined in the building regulations. Compliant design for new build developments usually relies heavily on Approved Document B ( and the relevant BS standards BS9991 & BS9999). These are prescriptive codes.

2. Means of escape
This will look at escape routes- the occupancy of the building- consideration given to occupancy classification – i.e. children, the elderly, the infirm etc- evacuation routes and exists- muster points.

3. Fire Spread & Control
Included would be internal & external fire spread- location and access to fire fighting equipment. Consideration would be given to the building materials themselves such as the fire rating of doors walls and floors. Fire containment within an apartment. Linings- insulation-unprotected areas.

4. Construction
External & Internal wall coverings- Construction design & materials-fire stopping-cavity barriers- compartmentation.

5. Fire service access
Vehicular access- location of wet/dry risers-hydrants –any communication to the local fire service.

6. Fire safety management
Key issues addressed – communication to all staff & users- reviewed & updated.

7. Recommendations
This will be specific to your building and its inhabitants and operation. This may change over the course of time.

Beyond the above, a good fire risk strategy will take into account the impact of the build process, building materials & life cycle of the building.

 

A Fire Strategy Helps To Avoid The Following Costly Mistakes

Building & designing to the bare minimum to satisfy Building Regulations only.


Failure to engage with a fire engineer early enough. Communication, even before starting a design, will save problems further down the project build stream.


NOT involving a Fire engineer at RIBA stage 5. This is the dreaded RIBA ‘Gap’! This is where materials are changed – suppliers – cost ‘savings’ made and there is NO communication to the fire engineer. When he ‘re appears’ suddenly things do NOT meet Fire Regulations.
The list here is endless!

Here are some of the common ones we see frequently:
Fire doors fitted where there is no need ( cost). Fire doors not fitted where they ARE required ( cost)
Sprinkler systems – as above.
Timber treatments – finishes – load bearing capacity during a fire
Timber framed developments in close proximity to another building.
This results in RIBA Stage 7   enter the …………………………….

 The Disappointed client.
His building is now either over engineered (he has paid) or under engineered ( he will pay) instead of being correctly built using valued engineering (he get’s value for his money)

We began by looking at how Grenfell and how much confusion there exists in relation to construction (particularly new build) and fire safety.

We have looked at the huge cost implications to getting your fire strategy wrong. The costs and resources needed to correct course further downstream.

Finally, the disappointed client – the very thing we want to avoid.

The answer is early engagement with the right people who will interpret your building design to adapt to Fire Regulations and engineer value solutions for your client.

So he is not disappointed and neither are you.

Let’s raise the bar, do more than the minimum and provide value engineering?

Every development and building is different so feel free to chat about your specific circumstances.