Contemplations and forecasts for 2024

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Conversations with fire industry experts on 2023 and anticipations for 2024

2023 marked a significant turning point for fire safety.

Long-awaited legislation came to fruition, namely, in the form of secondary changes to the Building Safety and Fire Safety Act.

Yet as the year comes to a close, it’s important to recognise some of construction’s fire-safety milestones, and consider other ways in which industry can ‘level-up’ its approach to fire safety.

Having contacted a range of industry experts, they offer their take on what’s to come in 2024 and where fire-safety professionals should focus their attention.

What’s clear is that certain trends are emerging, such as a need for further collaboration, research and development, and technological innovation.

A more rigorous approach to third-party testing also stood out as an area in need of improvement, and one which could benefit building and fire safety across the board.

Rob Norton, UK Director, PlanRadar

2023 was a year of much-needed legislation change – increasing the accountability of RPs and laying the foundations for watertight fire safety protocols.

It was the push the industry needed.

Moving in to 2024, I predict an increasing reliance on digital tools and platforms as the industry looks to improve the speed and accuracy of fire safety processes.

In particular, the stringent management of fire safety information and record-keeping.

Efficiency will also be key, as fire-safety procedures become engrained, companies will want to find ways of recording and sharing information more easily, be it between internal teams or those outside of their organisation.

The golden thread will also continue to dominate workflows, and many businesses will increase their investment in digital technologies and systems to ensure industry compliance.

Going further, I hope to see further collaboration in construction’s approach to fire-safety, bringing greater consistency and quality to fire-safety checks and strategies.

Peter Long, Divisional Fire & Certification Director at Optima Systems

The past year has highlighted some continuing issues around fire safety – mainly, that the design process and strategies towards fire safety are often not given enough time to allow proper coordination.

When faced with quick turnarounds, it’s difficult to ensure that specified products have appropriate fire test evidence and their performance credentials replicate real-life application.

Working in this way leaves space for mistakes and misspecification.

Going into the new year, I’d like to see increased collaboration between all parties involved in the supply chain.

It’s time for the industry to tackle fire safety projects in a holistic way, rather than the current siloed approach where construction products are specified and procured individually and without proper consideration for their direct interfaces.

As a manufacturer of fire-rated steel-framed glass partitions, Optima is spearheading this initiative, going above and beyond what’s required when it comes to publishing fire-test evidence.

It’s not possible to achieve assured fire safety if manufacturers, designers, specifiers and architects do not share information or recognise its importance.

We must also ensure that each party is cognisant of the latest regulations and guidance – making sure fire safety is considered every step of the way.

In the coming years we must explore ways to standardise levels of competency within the industry, starting with greater levels of training on products and systems as well as tools that improve communication.

Ben Hancock, Managing Director at Oscar Acoustics

Updates to fire safety regulations in 2023 have brought a renewed focus on the safety and compliance of working environments, particularly within office spaces.

As a result, companies want proof that products can perform and requests for third-party certifications are increasingly common.

We’ve also seen a sharp rise in fire safety awareness and knowledge.

Architects, in particular, want acoustic products that go above and beyond Approved Document B fire requirements, as the ideal is to produce little to no smoke and no droplets, assisting in the safe escape of occupants.

 As fire safety strategies continue to evolve and safeguarding measures become paramount, we expect more relevant testing to be requested, as product fire performance can differ wildly between light and dark colours or thin and thicker applications.

Ian King, COO, Zeroignition

2023 has seen major developments in terms of addressing the gaps within fire safety.

Added responsibilities for RPs (Responsible Person) has been a wake-up call and stricter requirements around the recording and sharing of fire safety information will go a long way to achieving the much-discussed, Golden Thread.

The introduction of planning gateway one is another positive stride towards elevating building safety standards and refining risk management practices.

But the recent much publicised fire on a construction site in Reading shows there’s a way to go.

Looking ahead to 2024, there’s promising emphasis on the use of wood in UK construction projects.

As staunch advocates for the use of timber in construction, we hope this trend continues and recognise that when followed diligently, fire protection protocols around timber structures can match the safety levels of other materials.

Timber also facilitates faster, lower-carbon builds and boosts off-site construction.

Modular construction, with its stringent quality control measures, stands out as a game-changer for future projects.

It is my hope that regulatory reforms persist next year, particularly around increased investment into third-party testing facilities and product certifications.

A focused effort on this area will help create a safer building product market and encourage a ‘safety first’ mindset.

Let’s set our sights on combining safety with sustainability, for a better future for all.

Maria Hudson, CMO, Zutec

The 1st of April 2024 will see the transition phases of the Building Safety Act (BSA) end, with its full legislative and legal weight coming into force.

Whilst it will go a long way to addressing many longstanding issues around fire safety and building quality, many contractors, developers, and asset owners remain unsure about how to comply with key aspects of the regulation.

To help provide more clarity, and prepare for the new regulatory landscape, best-in-class data management will be essential as the industry seeks to define a baseline building safety case, a key objective over the next 12 months as we continue to work towards de-risking the built environment.

That’s only the start, beyond BSA, other incoming regulations, particularly around sustainability, will act as a catalyst for everyone in the supply chain to further digitise processes and get their whole-life building information in order.

The good news is it’s never been easier to do so, and they can take advantage of an array of powerful technologies and solutions in the market to do this effectively and efficiently.

Not only will this ensure holistic compliance, but having a complete data set to analyse will help construction businesses make more informed decisions, leading to better outcomes all-round.

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