Time for a clear path to fire safety
Five years on from Grenfell Tower we are now seeing the commencement of far-reaching legislation on building and fire safety. While this is welcomed, the built environment still presents continued threats to life and safety, property preservation and business resilience. Dennis Davis, Executive Officer, Fire Sector Federation, reports
Inherent in the new measures encompassed by the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Act 2022 is the perception that all these new measures will go beyond answering all the fire safety problems and challenges that were cast into sharp relief in the wake of Grenfell. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The reforms underway answer only a part of the whole fire safety situation. Far more troublesome is that fire safety regulation in the UK remains largely reactive to tragedy and has been for decades.
If we do not learn from history then, as Churchill said, “we are doomed to repeat it”. But it can improve if we think again and bring the construction and fire sectors together to join all the dots in what is a complex system and create a future pathway that genuinely places fire safety at its heart. No one wants the alternative, which is to wait until the next tragedy unfolds, and then work to try and plug any new gaps that have evolved from the changes in practices and materials which emerged after the last round of legislation.
By any measure this is not an easy task, but no one would surely argue against planning a better more cohesive pathway to bring together all the expertise and knowledge that exists across industry and government. Most of the barriers to improved fire safety and protection are known, but tackling them, for many, looks too daunting or too remote to influence.
We can do this by moving faster to pick up the mantel to change existing cultures and work practices, stimulate awareness to create the safe, sustainable and resilient built environment we seek. We can look at fire in the round, upscale the issue and find more effective ways of bringing to bear the deep pool of our collective resources and expertise.
Developing integrated actions will always be challenging because fire is omnipresent, it transcends many government policy portfolios, is present in virtually all occupations and penetrates in multiple diverse ways science, commerce and leisure – it affects everything. And the list is ever expanding as our technologies, society and climate evolve. If not connected properly this can and will continue to diminish effective fire safety outcomes.
Knowing the downside of our fire safety history is helpful in that it makes apparent that we have to create a clearer more integrated pathway. Although that will take time there are some ‘quick wins’, not in the current raft of legislation, that a collective sector effort could advance.
Independent third-party certification and accreditation, common in all industrial sectors, assure approved standards. They offer a dependable way of demonstrating quality. Mandating third-party schemes has a track record of providing quality assured independent evidence that the provider can do what they say and a product is fit for purpose.
An underlying principle of safety everywhere is competence. Every individual must be competent in their personal role and task if fire safety is to work properly. This is a founding principle that requires investment by every individual and their employer.
Understanding how fire impacts on materials, components, elements of structure is another crucial principle. Greater investment, openness and lessons learnt of failure and success, where the Fire and Rescue Service are often the ultimate witnesses of performance, are vital if we are to close what is a disrupted cycle of understanding.
These principles illustrate there are many aspects which have yet to be addressed across the built environment. The combined sectors must recognise that they alone have the expertise to do the job, to present a clearer pathway for fire safety, which will aid policymakers and stakeholders, by being resourceful and committed to break free from the current failure response model to active assertion of good practice.
Write a Comment