Improving levels of property protection

Fire safetyIn January 2008, all patients and staff were evacuated after a fire broke out at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea. The fire was fought using 25 fire engines and around 125 firefighters. As a result of the fire the entire roof of the Chelsea Wing of the hospital was burned through and the top floor was also affected. Five operating theatres and at least two wards were put out of action. Fortunately nobody was killed and there were no serious injuries. Later that same year six fire engines and about 30 firefighters fought a fire at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

Believe it or not hospitals are also victims of arson with 28 such instances in 2008. Thus one can see that fires in hospitals are not uncommon and the Fire Industry Association (FIA) believes that there is a strong case for requesting higher standards of fire protection in their buildings and generally in buildings that are critical to the community.

Insuring against fire
In recent years there has been an increase in the level of interest from insurers with regard to fire protection in buildings. Evidence of this is in the issuing of the fire guidance document Approved Document B: Fire Safety (Volume 2)  to the Building Regulations, 2000 Edition Incorporating ‘Insurers’ Requirements for Property Protection’ by the RISC Authority in 2008.

This document builds upon the invaluable information that is provided in an earlier RISC Authority document entitled ‘Design Guide for the Fire Protection of Buildings’. This document lists 12 essential principles which, if embraced, will certainly improve the levels of property and business protection.

This is all good advice, but isn’t it time that businesses were required to carry fire insurance on their buildings? Even very small companies are required to have Employers Liability Insurance; so why no minimum requirement for a basic level of fire insurance, especially when many businesses that experience a major fire cease to trade within a year of its occurrence? Indeed, many buildings that are critical to the community, for example local government buildings, carry no fire insurance at all!

Build & design
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” (Approved Document B to the Building Regulations, 2000 Edition). However, in many cases the designer of buildings/structures 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 the firefighters, who may have to enter a fire-ravaged building after the occupants have escaped.

Extra fire protection is not just beneficial to the building owner(s), insurers and to the firefighters, but also be of major benefit to the local community. In the case of a fire in a hospital, which wipes out most of the structure, the effect on the local people is immeasurable.

Deliberate fires
The Arson Prevention Bureau, a national organisation representing insurers, police and fire services, estimates that arson costs the economy £53.8 million pounds each week in England and Wales.
This equates to nearly 20,000 businesses and public buildings being damaged or destroyed by arson every year. In these recessionary times this amount of fire damage can be ill afforded, especially as many businesses that are ravaged by fire never reopen, leading to even more job losses than those caused by the current poor economic climate.

Maintaining systems
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’s written upon?

In the FIA’s view its worth is greatly enhanced if it is issued under the auspices of a third party accreditation scheme. Such schemes mean that competent operatives have correctly installed the specified products and that independent inspectors have randomly inspected the work.

Third party accreditation schemes were implemented to improve the quality of the UK’s fire protection. Approved Document B of the Building Regulations states: “Since the fire performance of a product, component or structure is dependent upon satisfactory site installation and maintenance, independent schemes of certification and registration of installers will provide confidence in the appropriate standard of workmanship being provided.”

ADB goes on to say “Building Control Bodies may accept the certification of products, components, materials or structures under such schemes as evidence of compliance. Nonetheless a Building Control Body will wish to establish, in advance of the work that any such scheme is adequate for the purposes of the Building Regulations.”

Valuable investment
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 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 building that is important to the community, such as a hospital, surviving in the event of a fire. In most cases the knock on effects for the community, should a hospital not survive, will be many fold the cost of replacing the building itself, and the only people that might imaginably benefit from this are those purveyors of snake oil remedies who will receive some extra monies into their coffers as the disadvantaged sick search for other forms of treatment.

FIA Fire Safety Seminar
The Fire Industry Association (FIA) will run a Fire Safety Seminar on Thursday 9 June, with support from Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The half-day event, which takes place at the Holiday Inn Reading West, will help educate the responsible person of all commercial properties about fire safety. Opened by the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, the seminar will provide clarity about their fire safety duties, in accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
The event is relevant to those responsible for fire safety in all commercial businesses including office and retail premises, care homes, sleeping accommodation, and warehouses.

The seminar will inform owners of commercial premises; facilities managers; health & safety managers; building designers and consultants about the importance and benefits of incorporating fire safety management protection measures. No matter what size the business, this event will help them provide a safe environment for occupants and staff alike.

Delegates will learn key fire safety points related to their working environment as well as having the chance to talk to the local Fire and Rescue Service, manufacturers, installers, suppliers and maintainers of fire protection equipment, and fire risk assessors at the table top exhibition.

Places for this event are limited so visit for more information and/or to confirm your place.

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