The rise in significant fires across the UK demonstrated an urgent need for expertise in providing fire protection arrangements. In this Fire Safety Guide, we address the challenges faced by Facility Managers and Building and Estate management companies when it comes to implementing and maintaining workplace fire safety programmes, equipment and procedures and why it is crucial to rely on third-party certification for fire safety products and contractors to reduce risk.
According to the Home Office's official Fire and Rescue incident statistics, 153,278 fires were reported in the UK in 2020, and 221 fatalities were recorded in the UK over the same period. In addition, data highlights that fires result in a significant loss of property, averaging hundreds of thousands of pounds. According to the insurance company ABI, £1.3 billion was paid out on insurance claims in 2018.
Therefore, apart from the substantial risk to life, fire is also likely to have a catastrophic effect on the building itself. It can, among other costly challenges, lead to reductions in sales, harm to equipment and supplies, and extended downtime. Although some organisations will recover in time, many will not have the requisite organisational strength to thrive, whether from a financial, reputational, or marketing standpoint.
A crucial step in minimising the risk of significant fire damage is using accredited contractors and materials. Ensuring that these requirements are met also forms part of the role of a facility manager. Here, we discuss the critical considerations for facilities managers to identify better and analyse fire hazards to avoid or reduce their effects.Understanding Competency
The controversy about competence has gained considerable traction following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. Although a lack of expertise, awareness and experience in the design and construction industry concerning fire was found in the subsequent Hackitt study, its recommendations centred primarily on high-rise residential buildings. However, the lack of fire protection expertise affects all facilities, including commercial premises, where the risk of continuity of operation is in addition to the severe threat to life.
Although there is currently no clear legal interpretation of what competency looks like, other than maybe for fire risk assessors where competency requirements have been outlined for many years, installation managers and others responsible for fire protection face increasing pressure not just to behave competently but also to provide proof of their own or the competency of others. The only way to ensure that best practice is followed and that the building or its tenants are not at unnecessary risk is to obtain third-party accreditation.
Third-party certification, such as fire doors, may be given to a person, corporation, or product. It should be essential for facility managers, many of whom have responsibility for fire protection within their building(s), to become professional fire risk assessors or, more technically, to hire one. Training for Knowledge
Regarding fire protection, Building and Facility Managers have some essential duties, which means that they have a part to play in ensuring that the fire procedures of the building are thoroughly assessed and maintained, and security measures are carried out. As such, it is crucial that they fully understand the extent of their position, what they are responsible for, and the effect their choices may have on ensuring the safety of the premises and residents in the event of a fire. This is especially important for facility managers, who are likely to juggle various activities regularly.
The responsible individual (usually the owner or occupant of the premises in simple terms) must, by statute, carry out an 'effective and adequate risk assessment' in a building and enforce safety measures appropriate to the circumstances. However, they can still request assistance from a qualified third party. Facility managers should pursue further education and training to help them understand the risks and the risk evaluation itself since they can be held accountable in the event of an incident. They will also be supported by adequate preparation to incorporate the recommendations made in the risk evaluation.
Fire evacuation plans, which will typically be developed as a response to the fire risk assessment of the building and will form part of the ongoing fire plan of the building, should also be a key point for progress. This should consider the individuals at risk, where they are in the house and the risks that cannot be further avoided or reduced. However, the successful evacuation process may be complicated, as the scale of the building can mean that it has to switch from a single evacuation to a staged or staggered evacuation, where facility managers may have to evacuate several floors or areas inside the facility according to a pre-set schedule.
Therefore, it is essential that facility managers and all those in charge of fire protection have the proper training to ensure that the initial decisions they make are correct and that staff risks are reduced. Few buildings have significant fires each year, but due to false alarms and poor management of contractor work, many have disruptive numbers of needless evacuations. By rapidly detecting false alarms or tackling any small fire early, a well-trained team of firefighters will mitigate damage, providing they have undergone sufficient training.Comprehensive Fire Strategy
Fire Strategy is a vital piece of a risk impact evaluation and operates in the event of a fire to protect life and essential property. Although, in our experience, a robust plan dictating a comprehensive approach to fire protection is only sometimes in place. The document PAS 911 of the British Standards Institution refers to a fire strategy as offering a precise range of measures involving fire precautions, fire safety management and fire security.' It involves developing and implementing programmes, policies and procedures that resolve relevant risks in line with specific business priorities to minimise life risks while protecting them.
Facility managers must see fire plans as something other than a one-size-fits-all arrangement; they should be produced and matched with the company's requirements and specifications. Considerations may involve but are not restricted to the following:
- Definition of building, including layout and materials,
- Fire compartmentation, including escape route safety
- Strategy for evacuation
- Fire detection and warning measures, emergency lighting and signage for fire protection
- Smoke ventilation and suppression of fires
- Arrangements for fire safety management, including personnel preparation, inspection, and evaluation criteria
Building Managers must ensure that they take the necessary steps to reduce workplace fire risk. A large part of this would be focused on their ability to conduct a detailed evaluation of the fire risk, implement a thorough fire plan unique to the premises, and execute it. However, it is essential to note that, with guidance, they should have all the answers and obtain the necessary advice from a professional, trained third party to help them understand and obey legal requirements and formal training.