Lawrence Webster Forrest
Tel: +44 (0)20 8668 8663 Fax: +44 (0)20 8668 8583
Lawrence Webster Forrest
Tel: +44 (0)20 8668 8663 Fax: +44 (0)20 8668 8583
|MS E-Bulletin 003a.PDF|
Managing fire safety
When developing specifications for new-build and refurbishment projects, building designers and the design team rarely consider fire precautions beyond the Building Control approvals stage. The architect’s sole task is to design a building to meet the client’s aesthetic and functional demands. All involved assume that if prescriptive fire safety standards are met, then the design duty is similarly met. But fire safety is a process that concerns the whole ‘life cycle’ of the building, from design through the various occupancies and uses to which the building is put for the whole of its working life. This bulletin looks at the building from its design and subsequent occupation onwards, to review what safety levels are needed at each stage. The bulletin also summarises the purpose and context of the new ‘Managing fire safety’ British Standard New buildings fall into two main groups: those designed and built for a specific end-user or occupier, and those built speculatively by a developer for sale to an unknown buyer. In the first case, the client-specified building, the property is likely to be used and occupied by the commissioning organisation for its own purposes for at least a proportion of its lifetime. During that period it can be assumed that the building’s design will have met prescriptive fire safety standards to gain Building Control approval. Fire safety management would then follow fire precautions guidance based on the building’s original layout and facilities. Fire certificates may have been issued under the requirements of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 as amended and fire risk assessments compiled (Statutory requirement of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1999 and proposed Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2004), reflecting compliance with the benchmark fire safety management guides.
What happens when or if the building is sold on to another occupier?
The new owner may operate a different business with different occupation characteristics and correspondingly different fire risks. How is this scenario to be controlled? The current requirement is for the occupier to carry out a fire risk assessment. This process is intended to identify any changes that may be required to the structure, layout and fire precaution facilities to make it suitable for the new occupancy. However, the legislation demands that the occupier manages the fire risk process and he would need a fair deal of knowledge both about the construction of the building and fire safety generally to complete a competent assessment. This is unlikely, and if professional advice is not sought, an increased fire risk will be the result. The second case, that of the speculative development, exposes the occupier to much the same risks. In other words, if the building is not specifically designed for purpose, then it is likely that fire safety management will pose problems requiring professional advice. If this is not sought,a high level of risk will occur to life safety, as well as property and business process.
The ‘fire engineered’ solution complicates thisequation further. This approach to the design of buildings sets aside pure prescriptive compliance in favour of an engineered equivalency. The design approach has allowed designers to develop open and exciting buildings. The trade-off in terms of replacing more traditional fire precautions such as compartmentation with active fire systems including for smoke control, management, venting and extract has placed an emphasis on the holistic interaction of fire systems. If the purchaser is unaware of this sensitive balance of requirements, the integrity of the fire safety system is likely at some stage to be severely compromised.
BS 5588 Part 12 2004
The new British Standard attempts to avoid the potential problems described above. It aims to raise awareness among designers for the need to design for the whole lifetime of the building and to provide occupiers with guidance on setting up and maintaining fire safety management systems. The advice given to designers is very generic. Reliance is placed on other more specific fire safety guidance documents for the detailed definition of fire precautions. What Part 12 achieves in setting guidelines for the continuous management of buildings by the occupier is to highlight key issues in good design so that, in the event of a change of use or occupancy, risk can be managed more simply without the need for major compromise.
For the most part, Part 12 is aimed at the building’s fire safety manager. This is at variance with the remaining Parts of the BS 5588 suite of documents.
The value to the designer (assuming that in his day to day role he has little or no responsibility for fire safety management in his own working environment) is to give a background to the requirements of the fire safety management process. This also builds awareness of building design features that would ease risk management requirements under a variety of circumstances.
The document discusses fire safety management responsibilities and how they may be delegated. The designer can refer to sections on:
· means of communication
· conflicts of security and escape provision
· occupancy densities (and potential)
· fire load control
· facilities to allow a building’s fire safety to be properly managed.
Emphasis is placed on the requirement to maintain fire safety systems and facilities. One significant tool recommended is the preparation of a Fire Safety Manual for the building in which all significant provisions, features and systems are specified along with maintenance regimes and responsibilities. To compile such a document, the impact of the design features of the building on fire safety have to be made explicit and in a form understandable by the persons assuming responsibility on behalf of the occupier.
Section 7 of the document attempts to summarise the key areas where the design team can assist the on-going fire safety management process. It discusses the need for liaison with all fire safety stakeholders during design, the need for sympathetic designs to enable access to and maintenance of facilities, flexibility in layout,consistency in specification to enable on-going maintenance and generally. The need for designers to understand the fire safety management implications of a live and occupied building is emphasised.
In summary, BS 5588 Part 12 2004 is not a specific design reference document for designersconcerning any one element of fire safety design. Instead it attempts to promote an awareness in designers to carefully consider all fire safety management issues during the design process. It sets out what the fire safety manager of a building is required to do. By inference, it can be seen that often such individuals are not building or fire safety professionals and therefore need all the support they can get in the form of sympathetic designs. Further, that the initial design concepts need to be kept on record so that requirements can be maintained in perpetuity.
The document is by nature generic. It is considered a necessary source of reference to the building designer. Poor fire safety design where issues of on-going fire safety management are ignored are now subject to this guide. It provides a usefulinsight into design aspects required for fire safety management and represents the ‘bridging’document between the design process and the occupation of a building. A competent design team at building handover could use it as a template for the issue of information, or at least as a guide to the information the new fire safety manager will need to prepare for his building’s Fire Safety Manual.
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