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Fire Safety - Prioritisation of Works
When any Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) / safety assessment is made, it is inevitable that some actions will be required, unless of course perfection has been achieved. These actions can be extremely varied from a recommendation to place an adhesive sign on a fire door, to the installation of a new fire alarm system, for example.
Whilst a standard FRA will recommend works / actions to be undertaken, it is not necessarily the norm for the risk assessment process to prioritise those works, although it is noted that some ‘natural prioritisation’ will occur based on the residual risk level that is established.
Acting on the recommendations of a fire safety inspection is likely to be the key. All too often, people believe that undertaking an FRA is enough; however, it is acting on the findings of the assessment that reduces the residual risk to a tolerable level. Failing to act on these recommendations is effectively failing to meet the legislative requirements.
However, as with most actions / work items, external factors have a significant influence. Arguably, one of the most common factors is cost, although there are a number of others; lead times for contractors, ordering materials, ability to undertake works without severely compromising the ‘day to day’ running of the organisation, to name a few. With all these factors, it is evident that a clear, prioritised programme of works is developed and whilst it can take on board these factors, life safety will always take precedence.
The current economic climate has seen budget constraints placed on the majority of commercial and public sectors, therefore this ability to prioritise has become more important than ever. It is clear that a defined budget may be allocated to such works, and for that budget to be spent without due consideration may lead to the fire safety objectives not being met and additional expenditure required.
With this borne in mind, which works should be prioritised? This question is fundamental and can only be answered on a bespoke basis and each recommendation should be reviewed against its risk grading. Should the FRA find that the lack of a fire alarm system, for example, leads to a significant life safety concern, focus must be placed on this finding. However, it is likely that the decisions will not always be this obvious. Similarly, it is not as simple as the most expensive works will reap the greatest benefits.
On this basis, all actions must be considered and set against life safety objectives. However, with the term ‘reasonable’ within legislation, it is clear that cost can be taken into account to ensure that the right fire precautions are installed (and maintained) commensurate to the risks. If this were not the case, the latest guidance could have introduced facilities such as sprinklers within every building and a fire station on the corner of every street, however, this is not deemed necessary to mitigate the risk posed in most buildings.
A prioritisation programme will also look at the potential for interim measures. Should a recommendation not be feasible immediately or have a time delay due to various constraints, a detailed programme could be formulated with other fire safety measures considered as an immediate (but temporary) risk reduction measure.
In complex buildings such as hospitals for example, the formulation of such a programme can ensure life safety objectives are maintained whilst the building remains in operation.
Where FRA actions can not be implemented immediately, these may need to be discussed and agreed with the Enforcing Authorities. Our experience indicates that if minimum safe conditions are maintained, improvement / remedial works can be programmed in with interim measures adopted where necessary.
If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663