Regulations – multi-occupancy and the new age of fire safety

safety

Multi-occupancy and the war on high rise buildings creates increased challenges in fire safety for global standards in the fire industry

The demand to assess and successfully manage fire safety within high-rise residential buildings has never been greater. And with 2021 introducing reformed regulations, how is this new age of fire safety shaping up?  

For multi-occupied residential buildings, fire safety responsibility is often wrongly shrouded in ambiguity. Only recently, the CEO of Grenfell Tower’s management body passed blame to staff for an outdated building safety plan, of which information on vulnerable residents was 15 years out of date.  

This baton-pass type approach simply isn’t effective, or even appropriate for a topic as vital as fire safety. After all, the standards associated with fire safety are by obligation, robust. Yet, for multi-storey and multi-occupied residential buildings in particular, history has uncovered a pitfall of wrong doings and poorly constructed fire safety practices.  

With that, the pressures to do better have been mounting, and amidst the whirlwind of reformed conventions this year – consider EU and COVID updates – fire safety has rightly remained high on the agenda. Meaningful strides have been made towards improving fire and building safety, with the government providing a revised £5.1 billion in funding for the removal of ACM cladding in high-rise blocks, and significantly, upon examination of the final report of the Hackitt Review, further amending legislations in a bid to make regulations as airtight as possible. Karen Trigg, Business Development Manager for South East region for Allegion describes the regulations necessary for multi-occupancy buildings. 

Updated regulations  

In April, the Fire Safety Act 2021 (FSA) was introduced, seeking to amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) by improving identification, assessment and enforcement in high-rise residential buildings. The newly reformed act further clarifies the duties that responsible persons must manage in order to reduce the risk of fire within their multi-storey structures, as well as the potential penalties, should those responsibilities be neglected. 

Focusing on all components of a building, the new policies cover everything from structure and external walls (including cladding and windows) to the entrance doors to individual flats and the fire doors for domestic, multi-occupancy premises. In addition, the FSA is set to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report, highlighting accountability for lifts, evacuations, fire safety instructions and ensuring flat entrance doors comply with present-day standards.  

Crucially, the introduction of the FSA will empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action where necessary, leaving building owners (responsible parties) liable should they fall non-compliant. Considering East London was hit with another major fire incident in a 19-storey residential block only a week after these legislations were introduced, the changes have come at an opportune time. 

More recently, the Building Safety Bill (BSB) was introduced to the house of commons on 5th July. As the name suggests, the BSB focuses heavily on enforcing higher safety standards for all residential buildings – also protecting occupants and providing them with a larger platform to voice their concerns. Once again, scrupulous responsibility is at the forefront of the new framework, with improved compliance and tougher penalties linked to the various stages of building design, construction, completion and finally occupation. FSA and BSB combined, there’s simply no room for shortcuts anymore.  

Fundamentals matter  

Separate to the procedural removal of ACM cladding, attention shifts to what building owners can accomplish internally to improve fire safety standards. Beyond comprehensive risk assessments and evacuation plans, referenced at multiple stages of the reformed FSA is the use of fully compliant, fully tested fire doors. Often found propped open, damaged or poorly maintained, fire doors are a regular sticking point when it comes to fire safety incidents – yet characteristically, ey thare fundamental in keeping people safe in fire situations.  

Available in ratings ranging from FD30 to FD120, fire doors and their equipment will provide between 30 to 120 minutes of protection against fire and smoke – but only when fitted, maintained and working correctly. The overhauled regulations have now put an increased pressure on building managers to comprehensively inspect the certification, gaps, seals, hinges and the closing elements of their fire doors – whether main or individual flat entrance doors – to ensure all is functioning suitably.   

All dedicated fire doors require a fitted fire door closer (a minimum size 3 is recommended), and when it comes to their maintenance, it’s good practice to perform weekly checks. To ensure the closer (and door) is working as intended, it’s key to release a fire door from a fully open position to ensure it closes into the frame at an appropriate speed. Furthermore, by opening and releasing the door from a 5 degree angle, checks can also confirm the closer is shutting the door onto the latch effectively. Should an internal inspection highlight an operational issue – perhaps from damage to the door and its furniture – building managers must ensure maintenance is carried out quickly and professionally in a conscious effort to keep their doors operating as intended.  

Additionally, with certified and compatible ironmongery playing a key role in the operation of fire doors, all hardware and furniture – including the door closer, hinges, intumescent seals, wall sealing, latches, locks and the door leaf – must meet their respective EN classification codes and health and safety standards. With safety inspectors, fire and rescue teams and residents all permitted to raise concerns, the approach to fire safety should always be done to code – from the planning and installation stage right through to maintenance periods. If not, building managers risk falling foul to what the BSB now references as the ‘golden thread of information’, a live digital documentation of a high-risk residential building’s lifecycle, designed to increase transparency and accountability.  

It’s clear then that we’re approaching a new age of fire safety for high-rise residential settings, with the newly reformed FSA and BSB – alongside accelerated government spending – paving the way to a brighter, safer future. With this renewed focus, building managers must take the next steps and strive to understand their responsibilities while revisiting the basics of fire safety before taking action of their own.   

The new worldwide fire safety standard 

At present, there are many contrasting approaches and requirements across the world in relation to fire safety, which have resulted in significant variations in the design, approval, construction methods, products and operation of buildings. The development of a common understanding of building design, construction and management and how the impact of fire affects these, will help to build trust and confidence among the many and varied actors, including the public and finance industry, ultimately underpinning an improved quality of life and increased investment in line with UN sustainable development goals. 

The adoption of the International Fire Safety Standards Common Principles (IFSS-CP) will provide a connected and more consistent approach that will yield considerable benefits and improve our ability to: 

  • Respond to events 
  • Monitor ongoing developments
  • Anticipate future threats and opportunities
  • Learn from past failures and successes 

IFSS-CP establishes overarching, performance-based common principles for fire safety engineering design, construction, occupation and ongoing management. IFSS-CP is intended to be flexible and non-prescriptive so that it can be adopted incrementally and advance good practice. The common principles have been developed so that they are universally applicable throughout the world, regardless of the existing codes, standards and guidance already in place. The adoption of IFSS-CP will help protect people, buildings and contents, and the environment from the destructive effects of fire. 

The IFSS-CP provides a performance-based framework that applies in all stages of a building’s life cycle (design, construction, in use, change and demolition). 

The five IFSS-CP can be defined as follows: 

  • Prevention – Safeguarding against the outbreak of fire and/or limiting its effects 
  • Detection and Communication – Investigating and discovering of fire followed by informing occupants and the fire service 
  • Occupant Protection – Facilitating occupant avoidance of and escape from the effects of fire 
  • Containment – Limiting of fire and all of its consequences to as small an area as possible 
  • Extinguishment – Suppressing of fire and protecting of the surrounding environment 

The IFSS-CP framework articulates the functions, life span characteristics and attributes of fire safety in buildings. It can be used to determine general and specific functions (building and management), hierarchies, competencies, knowledge and skills. IFSS-CP has been designed for policy makers, professionals and others to ensure that they have considered the full breadth, depth and range of fire safety strategies and measures at each stage of the Building Life Cycle. 

Despite rapid globalisation, with investment flowing across borders, money pouring into built assets and increasing numbers of different professionals operating across the world, the industry currently lacks a consistent set of high-level principles for design, construction and management of buildings for fire safety. 

Public risk 

Differences in materials testing and certification, national building regulations or codes and guidance on managing buildings in use, particularly higher-risk premises, mean that there is confusion, uncertainty and risk to the public. 

Multiple differing standards mean there is no single authoritative way to work. But for the first time at a global collaborative level, International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) will bring greater consistency by setting minimum levels of fire safety and professionalism across the world. On 9th July 2018, the International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) Coalition was launched at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland. 

In the context of the IFSS Coalition’s work, an international standard is something that is established and agreed at a global level and implemented locally. The IFSS themselves will be owned by the coalition and not by any single organisation. Member bodies subscribe to the shared international standards and commit to their use and implementation. 

Universal rules 

The coalition will provide universal rules that classify and define fire safety standards at project, state, national, regional and international levels.  

Professional institutions will incorporate these high-level standards and rules into their guidance or local standards, and we expect governments to support or adopt these principles, or both. All organisations in the coalition will participate in implementing the shared international standards through their respective memberships and staff. 

IFSS will be used throughout the world in both developed and developing nations. Each organisation in the IFSS Coalition has committed to the adoption of the standards throughout its own professional membership. The aim is that all higher-risk buildings to which occupiers and the public have access will publicly display a certificate of compliance with the IFSS. 

Karen Trigg, Business Develpoment Manager for South East region for Allegion  

The demand to assess and successfully manage fire safety within high-rise residential buildings has never been greater. And with 2021 introducing reformed regulations, how is this new age of fire safety shaping up?  

For multi-occupied residential buildings, fire safety responsibility is often wrongly shrouded in ambiguity. Only recently, the CEO of Grenfell Tower’s management body passed blame to staff for an outdated building safety plan, of which information on vulnerable residents was 15 years out of date.  

This baton-pass type approach simply isn’t effective, or even appropriate for a topic as vital as fire safety. After all, the standards associated with fire safety are by obligation, robust. Yet, for multi-storey and multi-occupied residential buildings in particular, history has uncovered a pitfall of wrong doings and poorly constructed fire safety practices.  

With that, the pressures to do better have been mounting, and amidst the whirlwind of reformed conventions this year – consider EU and COVID updates – fire safety has rightly remained high on the agenda. Meaningful strides have been made towards improving fire and building safety, with the government providing a revised £5.1 billion in funding for the removal of ACM cladding in high-rise blocks, and significantly, upon examination of the final report of the Hackitt Review, further amending legislations in a bid to make regulations as airtight as possible.  

Gary Strong FRICS, Global Building Standards Director, London, UK, RICS 

At present, there are many contrasting approaches and requirements across the world in relation to fire safety, which have resulted in significant variations in the design, approval, construction methods, products and operation of buildings. The development of a common understanding of building design, construction and management and how the impact of fire affects these, will help to build trust and confidence among the many and varied actors, including the public and finance industry, ultimately underpinning an improved quality of life and increased investment in line with UN sustainable development goals. 

The adoption of the International Fire Safety Standards Common Principles (IFSS-CP) will provide a connected and more consistent approach that will yield considerable benefits and improve global standards. 

The IFSS coalition is a group of professional and not-for-profit organisations responsible for researching, developing, publicising and implementing IFSS globally for the construction and real-estate sectors, and was established late 2017 after the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in London in June 2017. The coalition supports the creation, maintenance and use of high-quality international standards, developing these using a transparent and inclusive standard-setting process. 

Each of the coalition organisations has signed a declaration of support and commitment to promote and implement IFSS, and to encourage world markets to accept and adopt them. It is establishing a standard-setting committee dedicated to realising shared and international fire safety standards. 

 

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Media contact

Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, International Fire Buyer

Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922
Email: editor@firebuyer.com

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