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Management of Fire Safety
As with most elements of Health & Safety, management of fire safety is fundamental to its success. Whilst fire precautions will play their role in any given situation, it is often the success, or failure of management that has the most significant impact on the outcome. It is often said that buildings would be safe if we didn't let people in them and whilst stated with joviality, the statement holds some truth. It is often the actions, or lack of action by people that cause fire safety issues within buildings.
If we are to properly manage fire safety, we must first understand our responsibilities. The starting point for this must be the appointment of a 'Responsible Person' which is a requirement of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, commonly known as the RRO. In most organisations, it is not possible, or effective for the responsible person to undertake the full fire safety management duties, therefore, as with other such scenarios, it will be delegated to appropriately trained staff.
Within a number of occupancy types, it will be necessary to control the occupancy, the most common requirement will be to regulate the number of persons permitted into a building / area and this is likely to be based on the escape capacity. Other controls may include disabled evacuation limitations or a staff / guest ratio. Building management must not only understand the limitations of their building, but also implement appropriate measures to ensure compliance can be achieved.
Fire Safety Training:
Many aspects of fire safety can utilise a common sense approach, however a number of concerns will require specific training, if only to confirm understanding / ensure all relevant persons understand their role. The responsible person should have identified any specific fire safety roles that are necessary and any subsequent training required. Evacuation is a key area requiring management, if only to nominate persons to undertake specific tasks, for example, does anyone have the specific duty of calling the emergency services? Are staff trained to assist persons with mobility impairments? Managing staff and ensuring they can adopt and perform given roles is paramount.
Maintenance and Testing of Fire Safety Systems:
This element should be a relatively easy part of fire safety management, however, empirical data suggests that this is often poorly managed. Often systems are tested, but not always in accordance with manufacturers or legislative requirements, thus making the testing regime non compliant and possibly ineffective.
Management must ensure a clear regime is in place for the testing and maintenance of systems, this should be documented and scheduled, enabling persons responsible to confirm such items have been undertaken. It must be remembered, that most fire safety systems are installed to achieve life safety criteria, i.e. they are there to protect life. With this borne in mind, ensuring they work as designed is fundamental.
Fire Load Management:
This item is very rarely seen within management plans, however, is frequently seen as an item for action within the vast majority of fire risk assessments undertaken. We must consider the fire loads that we are creating in our buildings, it may be the case that fire safety installations, particularly in the case of sprinklers, are only designed to cope with a designated fire size, or more common, if mismanaged, allowing excessive fire loading, presents a greater ignition risk and should a fire occur, will allow the fire to develop quickly and reach accelerated temperatures.
Whilst in most buildings, it is unlikely that rooms / areas will be provided with a fire load design value, it is true to say that the smaller the fire load the smaller the risk. There is no suggestion to empty your building, to mitigate the risk, however, simple management techniques, questioning if combustible materials are required etc will assist in risk reduction, in fact some simple housekeeping will often be enough. Beyond this, consideration could be given to off site storage etc, if excessive storage, such as archive storage presents an increased risk, a risk reduction tool could be to consider storing material away from site in a purpose built storage facility.
The Responsible Person must take a dynamic approach to fire safety. In some buildings, the risk will remain fairly static, however in others, the risk will change. This may be a change in occupancy (usually numbers), or even the fire risk presented, for example, putting on a fire-work display. Whilst this example would seem obvious, managers do not always consider one-off risks and leave the outcome to chance.
Less obvious changes will be legislative requirements. Whilst the primary fire safety legislation has been reformed recently and is unlikely to undergo major changes in the near future, 'secondary' legislation affecting fire safety is changing all the time. Ignorance is not a defence, so persons with a fire safety management role, must keep abreast of changes and implement them as necessary.
Fire safety is a complex area and whilst significant reliance is placed on physical precautions, failure to appropriately manage fire safety could be detrimental.