Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants
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Facilities Management & Fire Safety - Insurers & Property Protection - Part 13

Posted by LWF: 18/03/2019 14:56

In LWF’s blog series for those who work in Facilities Management, or who have an interest in or responsibility for fire safety, we have been looking at the role of insurers in property protection. In part 12, we looked at the increase of liability insurance which coincided with the introduction of the Employers’ Liability Act – designed to put into place a system whereby a person injured at work could claim against his employer for damages. In part 13, LWF will explore how the protection of property and the protection of life, while having some cross-over, will have differing requirements and measures. 

While it is true that some measures adopted in order to protect property may help to protect life, and vice versa, it can be the case that there are different requirements in terms of fire protection measures depending upon their intended purpose. 

Fire-resistant construction which is designed to protect escape routes from a building would commonly have a fire-resistance of 30 minutes, which is adequate for the protection of those escape routes and to ensure the safe egress of people inside the building. It would also commonly be enough time for the Fire Service to arrive and begin work inside the building. However, 30 minutes fire resistance would be considered insufficient by a property insurer, who would consider 60 minutes fire-resistance to be the minimum acceptable protection and in some cases, the insurer may insist on a substantially longer period of time.

The property insurer would be likely to prefer the use of two-hour fire-resisting shutters and while such measures are ideal in an unmanned warehouse, for instance, they would not be suitable to protect escape routes if they adopt fusible link operation which can be slow to operate. The shutters are not always able to prevent the passage of smoke and while this is a consideration in property protection, it is a significantly greater one in life protection.

Portable fire extinguishers and hose reels are a fire protection measure which property insurers are very much in favour of. It is true that prompt action with an appropriate extinguisher can avoid a great deal of property damage. However, the Fire Service are often not in favour of such actions being taken, as this delays the safe evacuation of the person operating the device. 

While a manual fire alarm system will satisfy the legislative requirements in the UK, it relies on a person on site noticing the fire and triggering the call point. This is often sufficient in a manned environment to notify building occupants of the existence of fire and for a safe evacuation to be carried out. However, an automatic fire detection and alarm system would trigger more quickly than a manual system and – importantly to a property insurer – will also work when the building is empty of occupants. A manual fire alarm system in an empty building could simply burn along with the rest of the building and contents.

In part 14 of this series, LWF will continue looking at those areas of fire protection which illustrate the differences between the priorities of fire protection and those of life protection. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.

Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years' experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings. 

While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF's publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.

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