Federation publishes fire risk assessor code of practice

The Fire Sector Federation has published an approved code of practice that puts third party accreditation and professional body membership at the heart of a national framework for risk assessor competency

The code of practice, developed by industry, builds upon earlier work and then extends the expectations for fire risk assessors, including those who are undertaking work in higher fire risk buildings. The knowledge, skills, experience and behaviour to satisfy these requirements are detailed so that individuals perform at a standard to ensure fire safe buildings.

The code acknowledges that improving the competence of fire risk assessors can be better assured if there is oversight of the organisation offering, through a company or scheme, individual fire risk assessor certification or assessment. Providing accreditation or validation in the UK would be either through UKAS, the national accreditation body, or through a professional engineering institution that is licensed by the UK Engineering Council (EngC).

The code stipulates that in all cases fire risk assessors should be registered within a company scheme or professional body, which will share responsibility with the individual for maintaining accredited third party compliance.

The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) brought together a working group of fire risk assessors to address the implications of competence identified in the Building a Safer Future report on the Grenfell Tower fire. The fire risk assessors group was chaired by the Federation as one of several established by the Competency Steering Group (CSG), whose Setting the Bar report was published last month. The approved code of practice plays a major part in the implementation of the group’s work.

Dennis Davis, Executive Officer, Fire Sector Federation and Chair of the CSG Fire Risk Assessors Working Group, said: “The approved code of practice is the result of a significant volume of work undertaken by FSF members and the wider fire sector. It advances further the national competency framework for fire risk assessors and in so doing I hope reassures the public that the fire sector is dedicated to ensuring fire safety is maintained in fit for purpose new buildings and renovations.

“The framework gives transparency to the whole process and offers a clear blueprint of how to meet their obligations to achieve the necessary levels of competence in fire risk assessment. It sets out the learning points that trainers must incorporate into their learning programmes to ensure that individual assessors are competent, effective and understand their responsibilities. They must also be part of a professional body or organisation that meets its obligation to ensure continued professional standards.”

The code consolidates recommendations from across the fire industry on best practice in how to assess the competency of individuals who conduct fire risk assessments. It is founded and builds on the guidance criteria undertaken to introduce the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which requires the responsible person to ‘make suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying general fire precautions’.

The code of practice document is available to download at: https://bit.ly/39e8Cyd

www.firesectorfederation.co.uk

The Fire Sector Federation

The FSF seeks to give voice to and exert influence in shaping future policy and strategy related to the UK fire sector. The Federation is a not for profit non-government organisation established to act as a forum for the benefit of its membership and to evolve as a central source of information on all aspects relating to fire.


Government must provide more funds for the removal of unsafe cladding

The British Safety Council supports the call by the House of Commons Housing Committee that the government must protect leaseholders from having to pay towards removing flammable cladding from their homes

The Housing Committee said it was alarmed that a £1.6 billion government fund set up after the Grenfell fire was inadequate to cover the cost of repairs needed.

Mike Robinson, the British Safety Council’s Chief Executive, commented: “The government must provide sufficient protection against leaseholders paying the bill for the removal of unsafe cladding from tower blocks. Making sure those buildings are safe – and that people feel safer in them – should be the government’s responsibility at no cost to leaseholders.

“The government has failed to deliver its pledge, made after the Grenfell tragedy, to provide safe alternatives to dangerous cladding on all buildings in England taller than 18 metres by June this year. According to the government’s own figures, only a third (155 out of 455) of high-rise buildings with similar cladding to Grenfell had this replaced by September 2020.

“It has now been over three years since Grenfell, in which 72 people lost their lives, and action to deliver this commitment should be accelerated.”


Upwards extensions permitted, but what are the fire implications?

The new permitted development right allowing additional storeys on homes and residential buildings may well be one panacea to the housing shortage and make it easier to extend existing homes and buildings, but what does this mean in terms of fire? Iain Cox, Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, reports

Under the new PDR rules, which came into force in August, building owners are now allowed to add up to two storeys on top of existing detached and purpose-built blocks of flats through a fast-track process. The concept may be sound in terms of speeding up the development of new homes without having to find new land to build on, but the devil is in the detail.

Adding two floors to an existing building may seem on paper to be an exciting new opportunity for developers, but it is not without its challenges. It is a material alteration to a building; therefore, stakeholders need to look at the building in its entirety. Additional storeys will create an entirely new building which needs to be looked at from the ground-up. At a fundamental level, will the structure take the additional load? Most rooftop extensions are built using prefabricated materials; therefore, it is important to consider the materials being used and their impact. In short, have I changed the risk by adding these two floors?

These changes link to fire safety; principal amongst them is the safety of all residents. You have to consider how people evacuate in the event of fire and also access for firefighters. When you look at the changes made to Grenfell, for example, you cannot simply look at the new changes to the building, you have to look at it in its entirety. How do we keep all people safe in a building that has been changed?

The other consideration is the new 11-metre-storey height sprinkler threshold that came into force on November 26 will mean that some of these rooftop extensions will fall into that bracket for this sprinkler requirement. Regardless of this change, from a fire safety perspective, sprinklers make a lot of sense and are a key component in the long-term strategy of any building. If considered early in the design process, they can be included and implemented whilst balancing costs. Developers need to have an open mind to other fire safety solutions, particularly sprinklers, and think holistically about the best solutions to employ for such a change.

Often stakeholders do not even consider sprinklers at all – not because of the cost – but simply because it is not mandatory. It is a barrier in people’s minds. With this new permitted development right, people need to think about fire safety and potential solutions. Do not dismiss an automatic sprinkler system early in the design process, as it enables the balancing of other fire protection measures, which in-turn opens up a number of significant design opportunities. Embrace these solutions, as it may well mean you have a solution for some of the challenges you might face, whether it is a means of escape or access for firefighters.

For more information visit: www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org


Fire sector welcomes revised Fire Safety Order

The Fire Sector Federation has been working with other professionals and the Home Office to support the implementation of a revised Fire Safety Order 2005; to clarify and introduce into a fire risk assessment the building’s fire doors and external walls

The Federation has highlighted this change is likely to increase demand and exceed capacity for fire risk assessors who are currently experiencing, after the Grenfell Tower fire, real problems in securing personal indemnity insurance whilst also being expected to help assess more complex structures.

Despite these issues the overriding aim has remained that of ensuring competent fire risk assessors are available to help improve fire safety.

The Federation is therefore fully supportive of the introduction of further new measures that will, using systematic risk-based guidance, lead a prioritisation approach to help identify the fire risk-status for a buildings so that those presenting the highest threat to life are given the highest priority for remedial action.

Amendment of the Fire Safety Order  to ensure this risk-based guidance has statutory power is therefore welcome as it provides encouragement and confidence to all those responsible for premises to undertake their implementation of the revised Fire Safety Order.

Fire Sector Federation Executive Officer Dennis Davis says: “It is pleasing to see the proposed changes to improve fire safety translate into practice.

“Over the summer months a group of operational experts, including fire risk assessors, have worked to provide advice to the Home Office on an appropriate and workable way to commence the Fire Safety Bill. One key aspect of their advice was to offer guidance to support the responsible person, the fire sector and fire and rescue services with fire risk prioritisation guidance; which will be continuously developed under the technical leadership of the National Fire Chiefs Council. If that guidance is followed this will now help demonstrate proof of compliance with the changes in law, which in future will include the cladding of buildings.”

For further information about the Fire Sector Federation visit: www.firesectorfederation.co.uk


FIA announces portal for EWS-1 forms goes live

The Fire Industry Association reports on developing a unique portal which now provides a central readily-accessible location for EWS-1 forms and, for the first time, the ability for signatories to complete the forms online

Valuation and home survey processes were previously insufficient to establish whether or not external cladding on high-rise buildings (over 18 m height) contains combustible material and therefore would facilitate the spread of fire. Following the Grenfell tragedy, RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) along with UKF (UK Finance) and BSA (Building Societies Association) developed so-called EWS-1 forms as a means of enabling competent fire experts to assess whether these buildings are fire safe and if not to identify that remedial work needs to be carried out.

The provision of EWS-1 forms has proved successful in creating a clear and consistent means by which the market understands the documentation required to support the buying, selling or re-mortgaging of properties in high-rise buildings. While the EWS-1 form has been downloaded from the RICS website over 8,000 times, there remain some key issues to be resolved in order to create a fully reliable and accessible process for the upload and retrieval of these forms.

The FIA has stepped in to meet this requirement. In consultation with MHCLG and in collaboration with RICS and other stakeholders including lenders and insurers, it has developed a unique portal which now provides a central readily-accessible location for EWS-1 forms and, for the first time, the ability for signatories to complete the forms online.  

This meets an increasingly urgent need for property sellers and buyers, insurers and mortgage lenders to easily access for free and in one specific location the information they need in order for transactions involving properties in high-rise buildings to proceed as normal post-Grenfell. It also provides a means of identifying any remedial actions that must be taken on these buildings in respect of external cladding.

Of especial importance is the need to prevent fraudulent activity relating to EWS-1 forms, which regrettably have been identified in the market and which can place lives at risk. A rigorous approach has been applied to the portal to include manual checks at various stages of the process. Each signatory wishing to submit forms must present evidence that they are fully qualified and competent to do so and this is interrogated prior to enabling their forms to be submitted to the portal. In addition, all existing forms and on-line submissions are subject to further checks to determine their validity before they appear as publicly-available documents. In this way, we would expect to minimise the problem of fraudulent EWS-1 forms appearing in the market.

The FIA has fully-funded this portal and has employed software specialists to create an effective, efficient and user-friendly site that has been approved by the RICS Forum. The portal is now active and enables signatories to EWS-1 forms to register to submit these forms. Within a few days as initial registrations are checked and approved, signatories will be able to submit EWS-1 forms and these will shortly appear on the portal again once these are checked and approved. Forms that are uploaded will then be available for viewing and download free of charge.

The FIA is the largest fire protection trade association in Europe with over 900 members, a not-for-profit organisation that is a major provider of fire safety training. Its objective is to promote, improve and perfect fire protection methods, devices, services and apparatus and achieves this through the representation of its members and providing technical support, guidance and opportunities for professional advancement through education and appropriate regulation. It promotes and shapes legislation and the professional standards of the fire industry through close liaison with government and official bodies as well as other key stakeholders and also provides funding for research projects in line with its principal objectives.

For further details about the FIA, visit the web site at: www.fia.uk.com

For further information on the portal, contact: portal@fia.uk.com


A cautious welcome

BAFSA welcomes the changes to Approved Document B (ADB) but questions if the measures go far enough

The changes with regard to the mandatory installation of automatic fire sprinklers in England, affect new build, material alteration, material change of use and extensions. The main points being:

  • The height threshold for the provision of sprinklers is reduced from 30m down to 11m.
  • BS9251 or BS EN 12845 continue to be recommended for sprinkler system installations in flats.
  • There will be no recommendation for sprinklers to be provided in common areas when these are fire sterile (lacking in combustible materials).
  • The new provisions will apply to extensions so that sprinkler protection and wayfinding signage will be necessary in any newly formed accommodation in buildings with a floor 11m or more above ground level.

BAFSA questions whether the requirement should have been extended to all new built flats, no matter the height. Evidence has shown that automatic fire sprinklers protect residents of flats from fire, they limit fire spread protecting means of escape for residents, they also protect firefighters who attend such fires.

It is also a proven fact that automatic fire sprinklers reduce property and contents damage from fire by extinguishing or controlling the fire in its early stages.

This evidence applies equally to flats below 11 metres as well as those above that height; perhaps an opportunity missed?

However, this legislation will help to protect the lives of future occupants and also help to preserve much needed accommodation for our growing population.


Fires “risking livelihoods” warns FPA as large fire losses average £657,074

The Fire Protection Association reports on launching its Know Your Building campaign following significant financial impact on businesses and key services caused by fires

  • Launching its Know Your Building campaign, Fire Protection Association (FPA) data reveals the huge financial impact of fires on businesses and services in the UK over a ten-year period
  • Costs account for damage to buildings, interruption to business or services, loss of income, or damage to equipment
  • As part of the campaign the FPA is urging those responsible for business and service management to go “above and beyond” legal requirements with respect to fire protection

The analysis of 4,782 major UK fires between January 2009 and December 2019 where the financial loss was £100,000 or more, revealed a mean average loss of £657,074 per incident. The analysis focuses on fires in buildings used by private and public sector organisations, and residential and mixed multiple occupancy shared ownership buildings.

Overall, loss values account for several areas including damage to buildings (43 per cent of the average value), interruption to business or services (18 per cent), damage to contents (seven per cent), damage to machinery or plant equipment (five per cent), loss of stock (five per cent) and loss of income or rent (two per cent).

Retail buildings were those most affected by large losses (15 per cent of cases), with 14 per cent of all cases in industrial processing and manufacturing, 13 per cent in accommodation buildings, 11 per cent of all cases in pubs, bars and restaurants, six per cent in the professional services sector, and three per cent relating to education buildings.

Industrial processing and manufacturing buildings witnessed the largest overall financial impact through fires over the ten-year period, with losses totalling £808m.

The findings were collated and analysed by RISCAuthority, which is administered by the FPA, and mark the launch of the FPA’s Know Your Building campaign – aimed at improving levels of knowledge among building owners and managers to enable them to improve their organisational resilience to fire.

Jonathan O’Neill, Managing Director of the FPA, said: “These findings reveal the significant risk that fires pose not only to lives but also to livelihoods.

“It is not just the direct financial impact that organisations need to consider – the loss of critical assets and data, ability to supply critical services including housing, reduced working hours, sourcing replacement premises and materials, brand damage, loss of customers to competitors as well as the general stress and knock to staff morale is equally costly. These factors can jeopardise the survival of businesses and essential services, and the people that rely on them.”

Commenting on fire protection and prevention, Mr O’Neill said: “Many organisations wrongly assume that the law is there to protect their assets in the event of fire, but this is not the case – once fire services have evacuated building occupants they are not obliged to prevent loss of a building and its contents. We are urging organisations to go above and beyond their legal requirements in order to ensure they are more resilient to fire. This involves having a sound knowledge and understanding of a building including how it is constructed, the fire protection systems that are required and the competency of individuals responsible for installing and maintaining them.”

Causes

Over half of all fires analysed (55 per cent) were caused accidentally, but nearly a third were a result of arson (31 per cent) – highlighting the vulnerability of buildings to factors beyond the control of those who manage them.

In 12 per cent of cases, fire and rescue services were impeded in their ability to put out fires – including poor vehicle access to the front of a building, and absence of on-site water supply. In almost half of cases (47 per cent) where there was an impedance, it was judged that improving Fire and Rescue Service access to the building could have reduced the severity, and therefore the financial impact, of the fire.

Commenting on the causes of fire and fire damage, Mr O’Neill said: “While fires are generally caused accidently, organisations don’t anticipate arson being such a large factor. We also know that in times of recession arson rates tend to increase markedly – highlighting the importance of having proper systems in place to mitigate fire risk.

“The number of cases where fire and rescue services were prevented from carrying out their role properly is a major cause for concern. Aside from requiring good access to the front of a building and a reliable on-site water supply, firefighters need to judge the ability of a building to withstand collapse – allowing them to enter it to tackle fire from the inside. Buildings that have been designed to contain and withstand fire, and that have fire suppression systems such as sprinklers in place, help the fire services significantly and this can mean the difference between a building being saved or not.

“We urge all organisations to ensure they have a robust fire strategy, with measures in place so that in the event of a fire the risk of entire building loss, and the financial and business impact that has, is reduced as far as possible. We have seen the lengths organisations have gone to make themselves Covid-19 secure, and fire protection requires the same level of attention as the risks are just as severe.”

The Know Your Building campaign was launched to coincide with the Fire 2020 event, held virtually on November 4 (see pg 53). Several assets have been created to help organisations understand their fire risks and take steps to mitigate them, including:

  • A Fire Blind Spots Calculator – designed to highlight building knowledge and fire process gaps to enable building owners and managers to address key areas
  • A mini-paper: ‘Is your organisation resilient to fire?’ highlighting the fire risks to organisations and where common issues can be addressed
  • Further resources can be accessed at: www.fpa.co.uk/know-your-building.