Are we in need of more fire protection?

At a fire seminar that I attended, a risk manager from an insurer commented that fire losses, including those from healthcare, continue to increase, with those from large fires leading the way. Currently these losses from fire stand at approximately £4 million per day. He went on to say that insurers are now dealing more with buildings on fire rather than fires in buildings.

The rationale of the Building Regulations in the UK is that, ‘in an emergency the occupants of any part of a building should be able to escape safely without any external assistance’.

However, in many cases the designer of the buildings or the owner of an existing building may want to go further and increase the level of fire protection installed in the building so as to give the fire services more time to extinguish any fire that might occur. This could lead to a reduction in the amount of damage caused and thus, in the consequent insurance claim. This addition will provide extra comfort to insurers and also to the fire‑fighters, who may have to enter a fire-ravaged building after the occupants have escaped. Surely in buildings that are critical to the community, such increases in the amount of fire protection are to be applauded as nobody wants to see a walk-in centre destroyed or a hospital badly damaged, do they?

About the Aesthetics
Increased levels of fire protection in buildings don’t all have to be red, unwieldy and ugly to look at. For example, many building users are concerned about excessive use of wiring for alarm systems and unseemly trunking and conduit. Well those days are gone as wireless systems with stylish multi detectors that are easily hidden can be quickly and economically installed. Indeed, it’s not just fire detection systems that can be sympathetically incorporated into any design but in general most modern fire protection products are designed to blend in with the background. For example, recessed sprinkler heads, flush control panels, bendable fire resistant partitions, concealed door closers, and the list goes on and on.
Whilst it’s all very well specifying an increased level of fire protection for a building, it is equally necessary to ensure that the systems are properly installed and maintained. At the end of the relevant phase of construction, the fire protection installer will issue a Certificate of Conformity, which will claim that the product has been installed in accordance with the terms of the contract. But what does the Certificate of Conformity mean? Is it worth the paper it is written upon? The Fire Industry Association’s view is that its worth is greatly enhanced if it is issued under the auspices of a third party certification scheme. Such schemes mean that competent operatives have correctly installed the specified products and that independent inspectors have randomly inspected the work.

Don’t be liable
Another good reason to make sure that the fire protection systems in buildings are properly installed and maintained is ‘The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007’.

This states that an organisation will be guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death and amounts to a ‘gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased’. An organisation that is found guilty of corporate manslaughter will be liable for an unlimited fine.

The act also allows the court to call for a publicity order that requires the organisation to publicise details of its conviction.
In summary, the FIA believes that designers and building owners should consider the use of more fire protection in buildings that are critical to the community, such as public buildings including schools, hospitals and community centres. The value to the country of keeping these buildings operational far outweighs the small additional cost of an extra level of fire protection.
Extra fire protection is not just a ‘nice to have’ exercise; it could mean the difference between a community critical building surviving or not in the event of a fire.
Third party certification breeds good practice and means worthwhile Certificates of Conformity are issued. This will give confidence to the specifier, client and the enforcer that the job has been carried out to the highest standard.
Additionally in the event of a disaster, lawyers will come looking for the person with the biggest pockets. It is highly likely that the use of a third party certificated company would be seen as a basis for a sound defence in the event of a lawsuit concerning the performance of the fire protection systems.
In the worst case where somebody is killed in a fire, the possibility of a breach of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act becomes a distinct possibility and again the use of a third party certificated company could be highly beneficial to the accused organisation defending such an action.

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