Addressing more than 100 guests at the annual Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) President's Lunch at the Palace of Westminster, the Association's President, Brian Robinson, took the opportunity to comment on recent developments in the UK fire protection sector.
He advised that 'during 2010 the Fire Minister, Bob Neil, set up a review to determine the future of the wider fire sector and its inter-relationship with other key services and industry. Known as 'Fire Futures'. This Strategic Review is intended to develop a range of future strategy options for the fire sector and to make recommendations.
One of the key intents of the review is to consider the issue of fire 'in the round' and around thirty industry bodies and associations, either directly from within the fire safety industry or associated with it, were consulted for their views and guidance.'
Brian Robinson said that the ASFP's view was that fire safety provision in buildings needs to be based on a consistent and connected process. He said it requires continuity along the chain from design, through specification and construction, to occupation, including extension of the best practice principles to existing buildings and refurbishments.
The current regulatory framework is considered as substantially fit for purpose. The key issue is securing compliance with the regulations and guidance. Without doubt, he stressed, this is one of the biggest concerns. Furthermore, outside the core fire safety sector it is evident that there is a significant lack of respect for the regulations and this is substantially responsible for a failure to follow compliance. In addition, there is currently a perceived low level of competency in relation to fire safety and the built environment and no common qualification framework that covers building and fire safety competencies. Whilst the Fire and Rescue Service carries out building safety checks, no single organisation can take on responsibility for awareness of fire safety amongst building designers, constructors, owners and occupiers.
The association's president called for much wider dialogue, in particular with those outside the core specialist fire safety sector (for example designers, specifiers, contractors and building owners) who are not fire specialists, but who in practice are responsible for delivering fire safety.
The increasing development and application of risk-based design approaches, under the banner of fire safety engineering or expert judgment, continues to be of concern to the fire sector. Such situations occur where the building is too big, too complex, or too innovative to fit comfortably within the more rigid standard. There is a tendency for techniques to be applied, more and more beyond their limits of applicability, without adequate scrutiny and essentially outside the scope of approved practice.
Boundaries are being increasingly pushed into areas of uncertainty, where applicable supporting knowledge is at best weak and at worse, non-existent. The risk is, he commented, that fire safety margins are being increasingly squeezed; with much less room for error should the unexpected happen. The underlying message must be that fire safety provisions in buildings need to be based on a consistent and connected process. Unfortunately, the process as it currently operates is fragmented and disjointed. Brian Robinson's full speech can be found at: www.asfp.org.uk
Date posted: 15.02.11