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Since the tragic Grenfell Tower disaster, the construction industry has undergone a profound reevaluation of its approach to fire safety. The enactment of the Building Safety Act and Fire Safety Act of 2022 has ushered in significant legislative changes, setting higher standards and contributing to an overall safer industry.
As the year draws to a close, the Fire Industry Association recognises the critical need to assess the industry's progress and trajectory. This evaluation is particularly vital considering the potential impact on the safety of our built environment and the lives of its occupants.
Risk management practices
Ian King, COO of Zeroignition, reflects on the major developments in fire safety witnessed in 2023: “2023 has seen major developments in terms of addressing the gaps within fire safety. Added responsibilities for RPs (Responsible Person) has been a wake-up call and stricter requirements around the recording and sharing of fire safety information will go a long way to achieving the much-discussed, Golden Thread. The introduction of planning gateway one is another positive stride towards elevating building safety standards and refining risk management practices. But the recent much publicised fire on a construction site in Reading shows there’s a way to go.”
"Looking ahead to 2024, there's promising emphasis on the use of wood in UK construction projects. As staunch advocates of timber construction, we hope this trend continues and recognize that when followed diligently, fire protection protocols around such structures can match the safety levels of other materials.”
Quality control measures
“Timber also facilitates faster, lower-carbon builds and boosts off-site construction. Modular construction, with its stringent quality control measures, stands out as a game-changer for future projects.”
“It is my hope that regulatory reforms persist next year, particularly around increased investment into third-party testing facilities and product certifications. A focused effort on this area will help create a safer building product market and encourage a ‘safety first’ mindset. Let’s set our sights on combining safety with sustainability, for a better future for all.”
Fire safety awareness
Ben Hancock, Managing Director of Oscar Acoustics, states: “Updates to fire safety regulations in 2023 have brought a renewed focus on the safety and compliance of working environments, particularly within office spaces. As a result, companies want proof that products can perform and requests for third-party certifications are increasingly common.”
“We've also seen a sharp rise in fire safety awareness and knowledge. Specifiers want acoustic products that go above and beyond Approved Document B fire requirements, as the ideal is to produce little to no smoke and no droplets, supporting the safe escape of occupants. As fire safety strategies continue to evolve and safeguarding measures become paramount, we expect more relevant testing to be requested, as product fire performance can differ wildly between light and dark colours or thin and thicker applications.”
Fire saftey information
Rob Norton, UK Director of PlanRadar, emphasises: “2023 was a year of much-needed legislation change, increasing the accountability of RPs and laying the foundations for watertight fire safety protocols. It was the push the sector needed.”
“Moving into 2024, I predict an increasing reliance on digital tools and platforms as the industry looks to improve the speed and accuracy of fire safety processes. In particular, the stringent management of fire safety information and record-keeping. Efficiency will also be key, as fire-safety procedures become embedded companies will want to find ways of recording and sharing information more easily, be it between internal teams or those outside of their organisation.”
“The golden thread will also continue to dominate workflows, and many businesses will increase investment in digital technologies and systems to ensure industry compliance. Going further, I hope to see further collaboration in construction’s approach to fire-safety, bringing greater consistency and quality to fire-safety checks and strategies.”
Fire test evidence
Peter Long, Divisional Fire & Certification Director of Optima Systems: “The past year has highlighted some continuing issues around fire safety; mainly that the design process and strategies towards it are often not given enough time to allow proper coordination. When faced with quick turnarounds, it’s difficult to ensure specified products have appropriate fire test evidence and their performance credentials replicate real-life application. Working in this way leaves space for mistakes and misspecification.”
“Going into the new year, I’d like to see increased collaboration between all parties involved in the supply chain. It’s time for the industry to tackle fire safety projects in a holistic way, rather than the current siloed approach where construction products are specified and procured individually and without proper consideration for their direct interfaces.”
Assured fire safety
“As a manufacturer of fire-rated steel-framed glass partitions, Optima is spearheading this initiative, going above and beyond what’s required when it comes to publishing fire-test evidence. It’s not possible to achieve assured fire safety if manufacturers, designers, specifiers and architects do not share information or recognise its importance.”
“We must also ensure that each party understands the latest regulations and guidance, making sure fire safety is considered every step of the way. In the coming years we must explore ways to standardise levels of competency within the industry, starting with better training on products and systems as well as tools that improve communication.”
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21 February 2024
20 February 2024