Sprinklers: the buffers needed to make buildings resilient

Iain Cox, Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, reports on the need for businesses to introduce the buffer which sprinklers provide

A recent Financial Times article, written by the Governor of Denmark’s National Bank, Lars Rohde, highlighted the fact that a bank’s capital buffer should work much like a sprinkler system. In other words, it exists to ensure a bank can continue to provide credit in times of crisis, much like a sprinkler contains a fire prior to the arrival of the Fire and Rescue Service. Essentially, they both buy time, ensuring a bank or a building are back up and running within a short period with limited financial impact or damage. But how come the banking sector can appreciate the need for a buffer yet so many people and businesses fail to see sprinklers as the much-needed buffer to help save a building?

Set up in the wake of 2008’s financial crisis, capital buffers enable banks to use their liquid assets in order to meet unexpected changes in cash flows whether a financial crash or, as we have now, the Covid pandemic. The problem is that many banks are unable to use these buffers because they will fall foul of other regulatory requirements. The buffers, consequently, cannot fulfil their purpose. A regulatory system designed in response to the financial crash therefore does not have the outcome people expect for key assets. Reading this across to the change in fire safety regulation, we have to ask the same question as to whether they will deliver the outcomes we expect for key societal, economic and environmentally important buildings.

Today’s fire safety regulations can lead to outcomes where such key buildings are totally lost to a fire and it is deemed a “success” as long as no-one is hurt. The property is not a key consideration of the regulations. Therefore, people follow regulations, and following Rohde’s thinking, the buffer – sprinklers – are not installed. Building regulations will not protect property from being lost in the event of a fire. Key stakeholders are then surprised by the outcome with the loss of homes, workplaces and community assets.

Rohde is clear that it is better to have sprinklers than let your building burn, and it is better to have a Fire Service than let the fire spread to other buildings. In the article Rohde states: ‘when the fire alarm sounds, you want the sprinkler to start before the fire trucks arrive’, and goes on to say ‘the destruction caused by a great fire is simply too large; as history has shown.’ The thing to do is to make sure that you are getting the outcome you want and this means putting the incentives in the right place.

Rohde goes on to say that ‘a prudent society may still want an insurance policy against potentially disastrous rare events’. So in fact, what he is saying is you need sprinklers, you need a Fire Service, and you need insurance. They are not mutually exclusive and there is a hierarchy. Sprinklers are a buffer that make a fire in a building a non-event. We all hear about big fires; we hear about a company’s insurance not being enough to cover the costs, but what we do not hear about are companies who barely have a hiccup in their day because sprinklers have worked and contained a potentially disastrous fire.

Ultimately, we are looking for people to make informed decisions on the outcome they desire from the building over its life, including shock events like fires. However, frequently that view is focused on the cost of developing the building. This focus means that the long-term view is often not discussed. The incentives are bringing about the wrong outcome. In other words, you have to make sure the incentives are tuned to bring about the outcome you want rather than the outcome you get.

Rohde’s FT article is a timely reminder that as regulations change we need to ensure we keep our focus on the desired outcome. Otherwise the unintended consequence may see the delivery of outcomes that no one will view as a success when those regulations are tested by a fire or a banking collapse.

Association white paper considers Building Regulations grey areas

The Smoke Control Association report on publishing a white paper titled Guidance on the Specification of Products and Systems for Smoke Shafts

This new guidance document highlights some of the current grey areas within Approved Document B (ADB) of the Building Regulations, with the aim of enabling purchasers to fully understand submissions from specialists and spot potential irregularities or inconsistencies.

In addition, the Smoke Control Association (SCA) hopes the white paper will support specifiers to include relevant clauses in specifications whilst recommending the use of knowledgeable, qualified organisations.

Smoke shafts are the most commonly used solution for the protection of common escape routes in residential high-rise apartment buildings, but whilst some guidance for natural smoke shafts is included in ADB and British Standards, mechanical smoke shafts are not covered.

Mechanical smoke shafts are often viewed as a ‘fire engineered solution’ but the current lack of guidance can lead to misunderstandings, with some installers using non-certified products – a scenario which is unacceptable when dealing with a life safety system in a high-rise building.

David Mowatt, Chairman of the SCA, comments: “The new white paper has been produced as an addendum to the SCA’s widely respected Rev 3 Guidance on Smoke Control to Common Escape Routes in Apartment Buildings and summarises the latest advice and guidance relating to smoke shaft products and systems. This supporting document is another example of the SCA’s commitment to promoting the highest industry standards and raising the bar when it comes to building safety.”

To download the document visit: www.smokecontrol.org.uk/resources

‘Game changing’ Bill for substandard online electricals

Electrical Safety First report on proposing a ‘game changing’ Bill to address the problem of dangerous electrical goods from online marketplaces

The government’s Online Harms Bill has failed to address the problem of dangerous electrical goods available from online marketplaces. So leading consumer protection charity, Electrical Safety First, has put forward its own ‘game changing’ Bill.

Electrical Safety First’s new Bill would make online marketplaces – such as Amazon and eBay – legally responsible for hosting listings of potentially lethal electrical products for sale. It would ensure they have the same responsibilities to protect consumers from unsafe products as High Street retailers.

The government’s Online Harms Bill was developed in response to increased concerns around online personal security – particularly for children. Its declared objective is to establish a system of accountability and oversight for tech companies. But while the government’s Bill covers various ‘harms’ arising from social media, fake news or other illegal content on the web, the charity argued it did not go far enough.

In multiple investigations, Electrical Safety First has found electrical products – presenting a serious fire risk – are easily available from third party sellers via online marketplaces. Currently, online marketplaces are not required to inform consumers if they have purchased a substandard electrical product from their site, which leaves thousands unaware of the potential fire and safety risk they have in their home.

Electrical Safety First’s proposed new Bill, if accepted by government, would tighten the law so that online marketplaces must ensure electricals sold from a fulfilment centre, or third party seller on their site, are safe. And they would be required to alert consumers who have bought a substandard electrical item from their marketplace.

“We campaigned strongly for the government’s Online Harms Bill to include dangerous electricals available online. We believe ‘harm’ goes beyond the government’s definition, because counterfeit or substandard electrical products can have a life-changing impact,” explains Lesley Rudd, Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First.

“Electricity is responsible for around half of all fires in UK homes, with most arising from electrical products. Our 2020 annual survey found almost one in four consumers bought what they thought was a genuine electrical item online from a third party seller and then discovered it was fake. We also found that one in ten adults have first-hand experience of an electrical shock, or fire, from an electrical item bought online.

“We believe our proposed Bill would not only improve consumer safety but also protect legitimate businesses selling online.”

New Bill Proposals

Key points in Electrical Safety First’s proposed Bill include:

  • Under current legislation (The Electric Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016), the definition and obligations of an ‘economic operator’, ie anyone who makes, imports, sells, or distributes electrical equipment are detailed. It does not include online marketplaces if they are ‘simply’ providing a sales platform. Electrical Safety First want online marketplaces to be included in the definition of economic operators. This would ensure they have the same responsibilities for protecting the consumer as a High Street retailer.
  • Sites such as Amazon and eBay must alert consumers who have bought a substandard electrical product from their site.
  • Online platforms must make clear if a product is being sold by a private seller.
  • Online platforms will inform buyers if a seller has sold a dangerous electrical item, or if they have removed a seller’s account from the platform.
  • To reduce re-sales of recalled products online marketplaces must contact private sellers if they are selling a recalled item.
  • Information on recalled, counterfeit or substandard products, should be removed from the online platform within 24 hours of a confirmed, substantiated report.
  • Electrical Safety First has established an online petition demanding action against dangerous electricals being sold online.

For more information visit: www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk

Association introduces new qualification requirements for members

The Association for Specialist Fire Protection reports on introducing new membership requirements that will make it mandatory for member companies to demonstrate that a proportion of their employees have been suitably trained and/or have achieved appropriate qualifications in passive fire protection

The new requirements are intended to further assist the association and its members to clearly demonstrate that Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) members are more professional than non-members and exceed the current competency expectations of the passive fire protection industry. By meeting the ASFP’s strict entry requirements, members will be able to clearly demonstrate their skills, competence and professionalism.

The requirements, which will be implemented over a period of three years, will require member companies to demonstrate that certain relevant staff in defined roles have obtained Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Level 2 or 3 qualifications; NVQ Level 2 qualifications in passive fire protection via manufacturer training and relevant CSCS cards; or have undertaken the ASFP Online Introduction to Passive Fire Protection.

Commenting on the new requirements, ASFP CEO Niall Rowan declared: “The ASFP has long been the standard bearer for technical excellence in passive fire protection, for instance with our requirement that installer members hold third party certification for products that they install.

“The Grenfell tragedy has further triggered significant change in the way fire safety is perceived. Improving the quality of installation and demonstrating the competency of those involved in manufacturing, testing, installing and maintaining fire protection products is now seen as vital.

“The ASFP’s new requirements will enable members to clearly demonstrate their skills, competence and professionalism. This will offer architects, specifiers, fire engineers and Tier One contractors’ further peace of mind that by specifying ASFP members for all passive fire protection products, services and installations quality and professionalism is assured.”

The ASFP Foundation Course in Passive Fire Protection courses offer a foundation in fire safety and fire science, as well as units on different forms of passive fire protection. The courses and the IFE Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications were developed in partnership by the ASFP and the IFE to provide recognition of individuals who have attained the essential knowledge and understanding to work efficiently and safely in passive fire protection roles.

The Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications are the only passive fire protection qualifications in the UK and Ireland recognised by regulator Ofqual. Furthermore, those who obtain the IFE Level 3 Certificate are eligible to apply to join the IFE at Technician grade enabling them to gain professional recognition in the global fire sector and use the post nominal TIFireE.

The ASFP Online Introduction to Passive Fire Protection provides a basic overview of passive fire protection covering key elements of design, installation and inspection. Delivered in 13 video modules, it is intended to provide a first step for those considering a career in the passive fire protection industry. On successful completion of an online test, candidates are awarded three hours CPD.

Continued support for the Children’s Burns Trust

The Association for Specialist Fire Protection reports on continuing its support for the Children’s Burns Trust (CBT) with a £2,000 donation on behalf of its members

Each year the ASFP donates £10 of every ticket sale for its Annual Awards Lunch to CBT, as well as making a collection on each table from those who attend. With continued Covid-19 restrictions, the event could not take place this year. Recognising that the work of the charity would be under significant pressure, the ASFP Council decided to make a similar contribution to the charity as it made 2019.

ASFP CEO Niall Rowan stated: “The ASFP and its members have long supported the Children’s Burns Trust and recognised the vital work it does in providing rehabilitation support for burned and scald injured children and their families, as well as prevention and awareness campaigns.

“Despite the challenges of the year, we were keen to continue our support and were pleased to make a £2,000 contribution to help the charity to continue its important work.”

Writing in response to the donation, CBT Operations Manager Alison Tweddle declared: “I know that you are aware of the work we do but would like to say how extremely grateful we are for your continued support. With the necessary limitations in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have suffered a severe reduction of the usual income needed to operate our services. However, the need for these services has not declined. We are doing all we can to mitigate the impact of this fundraising shortfall, and your support is indeed very much appreciated.

“As a small charity we have been able to ‘turn on a sixpence’ and are addressing the same needs in a different way – namely how to provide online rehabilitation support to the children and their families. We continue to provide emergency financial support to families immediately post-burn and have maintained our prevention programme.”

Institution appoints new technical director

The Institution of Fire Engineers reports on the appointment of Dr Peter Wilkinson as its new Technical Director

Dr Wilkinson will assume responsibility for developing the IFE’s position on wider issues within the sector, as well as informing members of the Institution’s involvement in the various working groups and industry forums, and the subsequent knowledge and guidance that will result from these. His remit will involve working closely with similar organisations and institutions worldwide, whilst also acting as liaison for global professional registration.

Dr Wilkinson will support the existing IFE Technical Strategic Advisory Group and special interest groups to develop the Institution’s involvement and views on contemporary issues in the sector, as well as work closely with IFE headquarters staff to ensure the improvement of technical resources for members.

A member of the IFE, Dr Wilkinson has been heavily involved with the Institution over a number of years, and currently sits on the Board of Directors. He is a Chartered Engineer, a Chartered Scientist and a Registered Fire Risk Assessor, bringing with him a wealth of experience to the role of Technical Director. Dr Wilkinson holds an Engineering Doctorate where he investigated resilient fire engineering building design. He chairs the British Standards Technical Committee FSH/24, developing and codifying fire safety engineering practices.

Roy Bishop, IFE Chief Executive, comments: “We are delighted to welcome Peter to the team. The role of Technical Director is a new way of working for the Institution, which will provide structured international thought leadership as we become more heavily involved in sector-wide projects and move the Institution forward.

“This appointment comes after listening to our members and volunteers who have taken part in the reviews within our strategic plan, entitled the Programme for Change. Peter’s appointment will allow us to more fully represent the members’ views and work towards being able to assist them in understanding the Institution’s policy positions in a range of technical areas.”

Commenting on his new role, Peter added: “I’m looking forward to representing the IFE membership globally and developing the Institution’s position. It is a role that is focused very much on external factors within the sector, from which knowledge and guidance can then be shared with our members.

“I will be working closely with individuals who represent the IFE around the world on forums and industry groups, and I look forward to understanding their work in greater detail.”

For further information about the IFE visit: www.ife.org.uk

Electrotechnical Certification Scheme issues reminder to FESS occupation requirements

The Electrotechnical Certification Scheme reports on the new requirements for fire, emergency and security systems occupations, which will become compulsory for all new (initial) card applications

The new requirements mean that all new applicants will be required to hold a pathway-specific fire, emergency and security systems (FESS) assessment for the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) occupation being applied for.

The new Occupational Qualification Structure introduced by the FESS industry and leading to ECS Card recognition is aimed at promoting higher standards and skills and advancing the standards of professionalism and competence in the sector.

The new structure has been developed by an industry-wide working group formed by leading trade associations and employer representatives, including British Security Industry Association, FESS Employer Group, Fire Industry Association, Fire and Security Association, SELECT, Security Systems and Alarm Inspection Board and the Joint Industry Board (JIB). Uniquely recognising the introduction of the FESS Trailblazer, the new structure sets the standard for new entrants to the market at Level 3 whilst also addressing the need to recognise the training, experience and qualifications of the current workforce.

Jay Parmar, Chief Executive of the JIB, said: “The changes being brought in at the start of 2021 will take competency standards in the FESS industry to a new level of professionalism. The new pathway also recognises the differences in training, experience and qualifications for those already in the industry, which critically identifies a minimum standard for those who install and maintain fire, emergency and security systems. I am in no doubt that this will be of huge benefit to the future of the FESS workforce.”

There are now four sector disciplines recognised by the ECS in the FESS industry, which include fire, fire and emergency lighting, security (including access control, intruder and CCTV systems), and fire and security. Each sector recognises three disciplines that include systems operative, systems technician and technical manager. In addition, the occupations of labourer, trainee and apprentice are recognised by ECS.

Information about the full suite of cards, together with information on the pathway specific FESS assessments and details on how to apply for the ECS FESS cards from the JIB in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is available at: www.ecscard.org.uk/fess