Reality Checks On Fire Safety

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower resulted in such a devastating loss of life.

This is to the extent the subsequent Hackitt Review called for a ‘universal shift in culture’ into work practices in the building industry when it comes to Fire Safety.

Here, Jamie Allam, Commercial Director at Amthal, shows what this means for commercial Facility Managers, who continue to be tasked with prioritising fire safety compliance on site.

It is becoming increasingly clear in the enquiries into the failures of Grenfell Tower fire safety, initially led by Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety commissioned by Government, that they were more numerous than just the use of cheap cladding.

The report highlighted compartmentation as a key reason for the failures. But it seems, just about every protection against such a fire, from fire doors through alarms and even mains and sprinklers either did not exist or failed to function as intended.

Dame Hackitt called for ‘greater transparency, accountability and collaborations,’ and a need to change work practices in the building industry when it came to fire safety.

What it also demonstrated, is that factors outside of our understanding can compromise even a solid fire plan, and ruthlessly punish any oversights made.

A harsh reality check, but those responsible for fire safety, whether in commercial, public or private sector capability, must hold themselves and facilities to the highest standards. And a fire prevention strategy, incorporating regular maintenance checks, must become a first priority.

Back To Basics
The significance of the tragedy will undoubtedly be felt by Facility and Security Managers, where fire safety and the duty of care to staff and guests will fall into their remit.

Many will now be charged to ensure their own fire safety and train their own staff, to ensure standards are achieved with regular maintenance programmes in place.

But knowing where to start to implement or update fire safety and security measures, and then how to involve staff, can be confusing.

And the fact the choice is so wide, with evolving Fire Safety legislation and FIA standards to ensure compliance, is, in itself, a problem for already time and resource constrained Facility Managers.

Best Practice Guide
In accordance to the Fire Industry Association (FIA) Best Practice Guide, alongside Fire Safety Legislation, the best way to approach fire safety is to take preventative measures. As it states:
“If you are an employer or have control over the premises or activities that take place on the premises, then you have responsibilities under fire safety legislation. It is your duty to ensure the safety of the people in the premises.”

At the core of this is the Fire Risk Assessment, defined as:
“An organised appraisal of your premises to enable you to identify potential fire hazards and those who might be in danger in the event of fire and their location.

“You should evaluate the risks arising from the hazards and decide whether the existing fire precautions are adequate and identify any measures that need to be taken to further remove or reduce the fire risk.”

Not only should a fire risk assessment look to identify any fire hazards within a building, but also highlight people at risk. From this, equipment and systems can be identified to reduce the risks as far as possible, including signage management to ensure fire safety and actions are clear. All the findings should be recorded and the assessment regularly reviewed.

If the assessment is carried out thoroughly, the protective measures will be quickly recognized. A works programme can be carefully planned to either update existing systems in place or install new measures, with minimum disruption to daily operations.

At the same time, a prearranged maintenance schedule can be created in accordance with the UK Fire Safety Legislation.

One Step Further
Amthal is certified to support Fire Risk Assessments and already works with all its customers in line with the guidance from the FIA, but also we believe there is one step further that can be taken, taking initiative from the world of security.

When a burglar alarm is installed by a Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB,) a Police Unique Reference Number (Police URN) can be applied. This enables Police to know an alarm has been installed professionally and is maintained to latest standards, therefore they can provide an effective response to instantly identifiable and genuine intruder alarms.

This is certified in accordance with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO.)

To date, there have only been discussions with industry bodies and fire authorities to adopt an approach modelled on the ACPO policy.

Amthal, itself British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) accredited in fire safety via SSAIB, not only believes it would enable better and more efficient use of fire service, but also could enhance maintenance agreements for the fire safety of work environments across the UK.

In summary, it is without question the fire industry needs clear guidance and support following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

It is difficult to believe it could take place with so many sophisticated fire alarm and notification fire systems available; even Dame Judith Hackitt exclaimed in her report, this “should not have happened in our country in the 21st century”.

But whilst the enquiries continue, we cannot wait. We must act now to ensure the buildings for which we are responsible, are fit for purpose and safe for all those who work in them.

If it has taught us anything, it is the need to constantly monitor and review fire safety systems in place and manage equipment effectively. With the addition of a similar practice to the established Police Unique Reference Number, we believe that more businesses, their staff and visitors, would be better protected.