As the UK government finally promises to adopt the Hackitt Review, we look at how we arrived at the need for such stringent measures when it comes to Fire Safety.
As any good facility manager or maintenance worker knows; fire safety is one of the most crucial aspects of health and safety in general. Your fire prevention and security systems are your building’s life support. These keep your employees, business and assets safe from potential disasters, theft or high-risk scenarios.
In June of 2017, disaster struck the Grenfell Tower in West London when a fire broke out; killing more than 70 people and injuring hundreds more. The fallout which followed this tragedy highlighted some glaring holes in UK legislation relating to fire safety and pushed a number of groups into openly calling for revisions and better implementation of fire safety.
But let us start at the beginning.
What are the basics of Fire Safety in the UK?
Who has the responsibility?
You are responsible for fire safety in the workplace or other non-domestic premises if you are an employer, the owner, the landlord, the occupant or in any other way in control or in charge of the premises. Examples include facility managers, building managers, managing agents or risk assessors. In the interest of higher safety, it is safe to argue that all people should be aware of their roles in fire safety and remain aware of potential risks and hazards around them.
What does that responsibility entail?
If you are acknowledged as one of the above people, then your responsibilities include the following:
- Carrying out regular fire risk assessments and regular reviews of assessments
- Informing all relevant parties of the risks that you have identified
- Institute and maintain all the appropriate fire safety measures
- Have a fully-fledged emergency plan
- Provide regular training and information sessions to all staff, at reasonably regular intervals
What was the fallout after Grenfell?
Interestingly enough, it was just before the Grenfell tragedy that business standards company BSI revised the fire safety standard for commercial buildings. In February of 2017 BSI amended BS 9999:2017 ‘Fire Safety in the design, management and use of buildings code of practice’. This revision was intended to provide good practice to safeguard the lives of building occupants and fire-fighters. The code provides recommendations and guidance on the provision of measures for the control or mitigation of the effects of fire. This includes business continuity and the environment. The main objective of the standard is to achieve a reasonable standard of life safety in the event of a fire. There were also updated recommendations for smoke and heat control; mechanical ventilation and air-conditioning systems; fire curtain barrier assemblies and more.
‘Not good enough!’ – a statistical analysis
Unfortunately, these updates were not enough to assist in the incident which occurred a few months later. However, one month after Grenfell, the real gaps in fire safety in the UK were highlighted.
In August of 2017, the law firm Hugh James polled approximately 2 000 full-time and part-time employees working the UK about fire safety procedures in their workplace. The results showed that 46% of those polled had never received training in their workplace on what to do in the event of a fire breakout. 42% had no idea where their fire doors were, and 28% couldn’t explain when their fire extinguishers were last inspected.
Even more shocking was that 5% of the 970 managers polled actually admitted that they did not follow health and safety protocol after every workplace accident or employee injury.
BIFM steps up to the plate
In May of 2018, ten months after Grenfell, the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) announced their plans to develop a new certified accreditation and training regimes for facilities managers in charge of life safety in all buildings.
It was at the same time that Dame Judith Hackitt published ‘Building a Safer Future’; her final report on improving building safety across the United Kingdom. As a result, BIFM committed themselves to giving facility managers the highest-quality training and professional development so that they can uphold a peak standard of life safety in the buildings they manage.
Within the BIFM is the Life Safety Working Group, who played a pioneering role in developing the competency programme for facility managers.
CEO Linda Hausmanis, at the time, said: “We are fully behind Dame Judith’s proposals to strengthen competencies in building management and across the wider construction and built environment professions. As the leading professional body for facilities management, I am keen to ensure that BIFM leads the way in setting and upholding fire and system related professional competencies for facilities managers; and that the Institute contributes fully in ensuring coherence across the piece.”
Jumping on the bandwagon
By July of 2018, there were more than 30 organisations around the world who had joined together to improve fire safety regulations under the name the International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS). The coalition consists of local and international professional bodies whose aim was a shared set of standards for fire safety in buildings.
One of the organisations is RICS, whose Global Building Standards Director Gary Strong said the following in July 2018;
“The Grenfell Tower fire focused the world’s attention on how many buildings are threatened with the prospect of failing fire safety standards. All over the world, we see the need for more high-rise structures, some residential, some commercial and some mixed-use buildings, particularly in cities. Our concern is not with the height of these buildings but with the risks they pose in the absence of a coherent and harmonised approach to setting global standards in fire safety. The effort by the IFSS Coalition aims to address this concern and bring together the design, construction and management aspects of ensuring fire safety of building assets.”
Still no succour
As late as October of 2018, Hackitt’s recommendations were still being slowly mulled over. This resulted in the launch of ‘100% Hackitt’ by the Local Authority Building Control and the British Board of Agrément. Dame Judith attended the launch of this initiative and in her address, highlighted the “massive need” for a culture change throughout the entire industry.
“Much remains to be done to bring the construction industry up to the standards of other industries in terms of accountability, transparency and record keeping,” she added.
Where do we stand now?
In February of this year, 2019, James Brokenshire confirmed that the government is implementing all recommendations from the Hackitt report. Brokenshire is the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
“The government will create a stronger regulatory framework that will provide national leadership to drive improvements in building safety… The government wants the new regulatory structure to draw on the expertise of key existing regulators: the HSE, fire and rescue authorities and local authority building control,” he said.
Some ways to go
Although the Grenfell Tragedy is finally creating some really momentous change in government, nearly two years later, it is still unfathomable to many as to why the tragedy occurred in the first place. One needs no further proof that the fire safety standard in all facilities is of critical importance. One failure, one oversight or one mistake could result in lives lost.
Don’t let that happen to you.
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