A systematic approach to fire safety

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Fire Chiefs Call for Systematic Testing of Construction Products to Ensure Building Safety

In recent years, the construction industry has faced increased scrutiny over its approach to fire safety. Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, there has been a call for change in how construction products are tested and how buildings are designed and constructed, pushing the safety of occupants to the forefront.

One of the key issues recently highlighted by fire service leaders is the need for testing within complete systems rather than solely on individual components. This recommendation comes following a review of the construction product testing regime by former government advisor Paul Morrell and legal expert Anneliese Day.

The importance of a systems-led approach to fire protection is by no means a new concept, but it has gained renewed attention in recent years, and rightly so. The idea is that, to ensure effective fire safety in a building, the sector needs to step away from its current mentality of treating a project as a collection of individual assets and instead see structures as one complete system, working in unison.

Systematic testing needed

This shift in mindset is crucial to guarantee that the construction industry erects buildings that safeguard occupants. Ian King, COO of fire protection technology company, Zeroignition, is among those who are deeply committed to this topic. He strongly supports the need for a methodical and systematic testing building approach. In his view, this is a non-negotiable element during the construction process.

It is Ian’s view that to make this approach successful, the construction industry must adopt a checklist-style approach to fire safety, like that used in the automotive and aviation industries. Embracing the digital revolution will enable the sector to create ‘digital footprints’ that prove the right building criteria and safety checks have been adhered to – a critical step in creating the ‘golden thread’ of information. This will become essential in the handover process so occupants can feel assured rigid safety checks have been carried out.

System-led design

A systems-led fire protection design method must also be adopted. This involves checking the specified components work both individually and holistically. Without this joined-up approach, we can’t be sure individual elements will perform as they should in an emergency. System components will generally include active fire protection measures such as sprinkler systems and smoke alarms, as well as passive fire protection measures such as fire doors and fire-retardant materials.

A systems-led approach can combine compartmentation, including fire doors, sprinkler systems and FR-rated products. Each fire safety component used in a structure must be assessed for its individual performance and how it works in combination with other components.

For a systems-led approach to fire protection to really work, a shift in mindset, knowledge and awareness must be encouraged across all areas of the industry. Adopting this approach will feed into wider goals of safe and fit-for-purpose buildings and structures.

It is a systems-led approach to fire protection that will help ensure the safety of occupants. The time for the construction industry to adopt a methodical and systematic testing approach that considers complete systems rather than just individual components is now. Let’s embrace the digital revolution and adopt a firm checklist-style approach that will record the right building criteria and safety checks have been adhered to. This, in turn, will feed into wider goals of safe and fit-for-purpose buildings and structures, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of occupants.

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