IFSJ Exclusive: The digital-first approach to fire safety

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Robert Norton, UK Team Lead at PlanRadar, explains why digital platforms are the answer to new fire safety legislation

Fire safety in construction is facing increasing levels of scrutiny, influencing new laws and legislation. As of January 23rd 2023, updates to the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 came into play, forcing developers and asset owners to sit up and take the issue seriously. The changes are a result of widespread fire safety failings, particularly around fire door checks, which have consistently fallen short of required standards. The Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS), for example, recently found that three quarters of inspected doors failed to meet required standards.

It’s no surprise tighter legislation has come into effect. While the new laws are helping to create safer homes and buildings, particularly for those living in high-rise developments, the changes are also increasing the pressure on developers to update their approach to fire safety. Those that fail to do so face legal prosecution and segregation from the wider industry. Michael Gove MP’s six-week ultimatum for developers is a recent example – either sign contracts relating to fixing fire safety or face the consequences.

One of the major issues preventing the sector from improving its processes is knowledge of new laws and details around fire safety. Expert knowledge is few and far between – a lack of trained professionals and previous regulation has hindered standardised processes, creating a race against time to become fire safety compliant. However, many are yet to realise that the answer lies in technology that is improving fire safety record keeping and making assessments easier than ever. They just need the right tools for the job.

Digital evolution

This is where digital construction tools and platforms come in to their own. One of the biggest updates to the new regulations is the increased legal duties of the Responsible Person (RP). The RP must ensure that annual checks of flat entrance doors and quarterly checks of all fire doors in common parts are taking place in residential buildings over 11 metres in height. What’s more, the RP must submit critical building information on the layout of buildings and flag any faults of fire equipment to the local fire and rescue services. The latter of which needs to be delivered digitally.

Opting for a digital platform where proof of fire safety checks can be logged and recorded can be invaluable for RPs trying to ensure a watertight audit trail. Having information stored digitally makes delivering important information more secure and easier to manage.

Not only that, but by choosing easy-to-use digital systems, teams can adopt tech straight into their working day, improving both the accuracy and efficiency of day-to-day activities. A digital footprint of checks around key firefighting equipment can also help keep local fire services up-to-date, creating running logs to keep them well-informed on potential issues. Importantly, working in this way is helping to achieve the all-important digital ‘golden thread’ of information – one of the key recommendations of the new and improved Building Safety Act.

Compliance can also be improved through greater communication between teams. The latest on-the-go software allows ‘tickets’ or jobs to be assigned to specific individuals for clarity as to ‘who did what and when’. It’s also possible to send instant messages along with images and videos for further proof that work has been carried out to a high standard.

Collating this information digitally means that fire safety reports can be created in seconds, saving businesses the laborious task of manually writing up reports and unnecessarily duplicating work. We have found platforms can save users as much as seven hours a week on reporting, helping to claw back valuable time better spent elsewhere.

Combined with intuitive design, digital platforms allow teams to hit the ground running without the need for time-intensive training, they simply download the app or platform and start using the tech right away. Against the backdrop of a growing labour crisis, this ease of use couldn’t be more imperative.

Just the beginning

A digital-first approach is a sign of the times, and it’s likely that these new regulations are just the beginning. Being able to navigate data governance to meet new legal challenges with ease will be invaluable to companies, particularly as the ‘safety-first approach’ increases within the sector. Let’s not forget that the government has the construction sector in its sights, and is using its full weight to ensure RPs are held accountable.

For those in the industry feeling underprepared or overwhelmed by the idea of increased safety protocols and compliance, the time to act is now. Adopting a ‘digital-first’ approach is paramount, and it no longer needs to be complex or overly expensive. Tech represents a new age in fire safety – offering more accurate and time-efficient fire safety checks, quicker fire assessments, all through a tamperproof digital audit trail. It’s now in the hands of building owners to deliver the change the industry so desperately needs.

This exclusive article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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