IFSJ Influencer: Stephen Mackenzie, Fire Safety Consultant

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Fire Safety Consultant Stephen Mackenzie shares his views and predictions for the fire and safety industry for the year ahead

If there is one message I have to the sector it is: listen loudly. Whether you are an expert, a practitioner or a new entrant, do not thrust your expertise on people. We have a very switched on and informed public. We have a desensitised public following Grenfell and the building safety crisis globally. Expect to be challenged.

We need to prepare for the worst case scenario: assume your contingency plan will fail on first engagement; what can go wrong will go wrong. We often see the root cause failures that caused fires such as Grenfell, Notre Dame, Glasgow School of Art – we have a root cause and then a series of compounded failures. You need to prepare, train staff, have a contingency plan, and stress test it. These are the key components to minimise the incident, whether that is property loss, life loss, or business disruption.

We are coming into a very dangerous time of global uncertainty and instability. The cost of living and energy costs are rippling through the construction industry. We are now seeing nearly 10,000 tower blocks impacted by the Grenfell crisis alone in the UK. We do not know how big the building safety crisis is around the world.

There are tens of thousand fire professionals out there, but few have spoken out since Grenfell or rallied to help impacted communities and residences. How many of our fire professionals out there are responsible for some of these tower blocks? We have got to own it and take responsibility. Defective testing: we missed it. Dangerous products: we missed it. How do we fix it?

I do not see it being fixed, even with the Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Act. I see more turmoil over the next 3-5 years as we try to implement it. We have to learn the lessons. We have to listen loudly. We have to see beyond the statistics – fire deaths are falling until the next major incident. 

We are all angry. We are all fatigued. Rather than setting new standards we need to look at what we can do within the existing legislation to bolster building and safety, refine it and make next steps. We cannot forget the disasters of the past. We have to learn. We must pass the baton of increasing levels of safety from one generation to the next.

Do not be blinded by the latest technology, the latest consultation and the latest buzzword. Take ownership of the crisis as a professional and as a profession. Let us do what we are here to do: look sensibly at what the hazards are, what the risk is, what we can do to remove, reduce and replace those. Our history informs what has happened, but it does not define the future. All too frequently we repeat the same root causes and compounded failures. We need to stop that cycle.

About the influencer

Stephen McKenzie is a consultant with demonstrated multi-disciplinary skills in complex property portfolios and has extensive, long standing academic work as an international subject expert in fire risk assessment and fire safety management. With established global networks and sector leadership accrued during a career spanning over 35 years, he is a progressive practitioner with extensive knowledge across a spectrum of built environment and engineering disciplines. He has spent the past five years, providing contribution to post-Grenfell understanding, giving advice to residents and a spectrum of stakeholders and serving as a frequent news commentator on a wide range of fire and explosion incidents.

This article was originally published in the November edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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