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Designing Fire Risk Management into buildings

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Designing Fire Risk Management into buildings

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It is a fundamental assumption that the measures set out within national guidance documents such as Approved Document B or BS9999:2008 will require management and maintenance throughout the life of the building.  The key management issues relating to a new project should be identified at the earliest possible stage and ‘where possible’ taken into account when drafting the buildings fire strategy.

The fatal incident inquiry held after the deaths of fourteen elderly residents at Rose Park Care Home, concluded that “The management of fire safety at Rosepark was systematically and seriously defective” and went on to say that “The deficiencies in the management of fire safety at Rosepark contributed to the deaths in that a number of key circumstances would have been quite different if there had been an adequate system of fire safety management”. 

So what is an adequate system of fire safety management?

The ‘general approach’ to prescriptive fire safety solutions offered within Approved Document B (and equivalent guidance in Scotland and Northern Ireland) assumes an adequate level of fire safety management; neither an unrealistic level of excellence nor a complete disregard for the minimum legislative requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (and equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland).  The guidance assumes the level of fire safety management to be something of an ‘acceptable norm’.  

The ‘Advanced approach’ to prescriptive fire safety solutions offered within BS9999:2008 refers to the standard or quality of management system as the management system level.  There are three management levels, with level 1 giving the highest level of management, level 2 giving a normally accepted level of management, and level 3 giving a very basic level of management. Despite the definition of three management levels, readers of BS 9999:2008 may be surprised to find that the adoption of a management level does not lead to design flexibility further in the document, despite the aspirations alluded to regarding variation of the guidance in section 4.2.  Furthermore, there is a widely held view within the fire safety profession that management level 1 is unachievable.  The guidance goes on to say that irrespective of the guidance, an enforcing body might be of the view that a level 3 management system will not meet the legislative requirements placed on occupiers, owners or other responsible persons.

Without guidance on minimum fire risk management system requirements how can we determine the management system level? 

Acknowledging the difficulties of evaluating fire safety management without a formalised system, British Standards Institution has published PAS 7: 2013 – Fire Risk Management System Specification, which clearly establishes management system requirements in line with International Standards Organisation guidance.  The standard works in harmony with other internationally accepted management system standards for Business Continuity and Health and Safety.  

Health Technical Memorandum 05-01: Managing healthcare fire safety states in section

5.20 “A specification for fire risk management systems is available in PAS 7 – ‘Fire Risk

Management System Specification’ (2013 edition) and this Health Technical Memorandum can be considered as healthcare-specific guidance supporting such a specification to identify the basic requirements of a fire safety management system”.

PAS 79 stated “Fire Safety Management must be regarded as of equal importance to fire protection measures” but more than this, a building with first rate fire protection measures yet poor management, may pose a greater risk than a building with limited fire protection measures and good management.  In order to demonstrate that an enhanced level of Fire Safety Management will reduce risk, we need a credible means of measuring Fire Risk Management.

So what is an enhanced management system?   

An organisation that has formalised its fire risk management policy, strategy, objectives, and procedures, and then implemented a program of audit and management review is an organisation that is proactively assessing its management on a regular basis and this will ensure that the standard or quality of management does not fall below the assumed ‘acceptable norm’. Moreover an organisation that chooses to make a declaration of compliance with PAS 7 and be externally audited and certificated in accordance with PAS 7 will ensure that an ‘enhanced’ standard of management can be sustained both practically and economically over time and this will offer a greater level of confidence when designing and approving solutions reliant on a management component.  

A large number of projects now include some element of deviation from prescriptive, code-based solutions, and the ‘Fire Safety Engineering approach’ offered within the BS 7974 series may on occasions be the only practical way to achieve a satisfactory standard of fire safety in some large and complex buildings.

Fire Engineered solutions that rely on the maintenance of a fire risk management system in lieu of physical fire precautions are much more robust if that system is independently audited and subject to third party certification. PD 7974 acknowledges this when referring to a management system level M1 when stating that ‘the system and procedures are subject to independent certification, including regular audit’.  Health Technical Memorandum 05-01: Managing healthcare fire safety states in section 5.21 “Users of this Health Technical Memorandum are advised to consider the benefit of third-party certification of conformity with PAS 7 (2013). Appropriate conformity attestation arrangements are described in BS EN ISO/IEC 17021”.

A Fire engineered solution that utilises enhanced management as a component of the solution in order to satisfy legislation may require a management solution tailored specifically to the design of a building.

Thus if management is to be used as a means of mitigating risk then a credible means of measuring management can be achieved by implementing a PAS 7:2013 Fire Risk Management System and adopting the management risk mitigation component into the organisations system procedures to be maintained, audited, and ‘where possible’ continually improved over time. 

An organisation may during the risk assessment programme identify a risk that requires risk treatment within a specific period of time or risk acceptance and subsequently risk communication. In this instance an organisation with a robust fire risk management may chose to mitigate the identified risk on the grounds of an independently verified, enhanced management system.

It is important that those involved in either designing or approving a package of fire safety measures appreciate what constitutes an adequate or enhanced management system and the differences between them. The management system level can of course fluctuate from time to time dependent on the organisation’s management system and an enhanced management system cannot provide a 100% guarantee of compliance with legislation in perpetuity.  Certification is not in itself a panacea, however it is a giant leap forward for fire risk management.   

Fire Risk Management system certification schemes will place no emphasis on management system levels because their focus will be solely on satisfying the requirements of the standard. In satisfying the requirements of the standard, the organisation will need to adopt a system appropriate to the context of the organisation and the hazards and risks they are managing and therefore it is effectively a self-levelling process.

Formalising a fire risk management system and being regularly audited is in itself a fairly robust process beyond the acceptable norm.  When considering a ‘fire engineered’ solution with a management component comprising of enhanced management, an approving authority may consider a management system accredited by a third party certification body to be the only true means of ensuring a robust solution compliant with legislation.  

There exists a real opportunity to revisit sections 4 and 9 of BS 9999:2008 and I am optimistic that the BSI committee, FSH 14 will grasp this opportunity when the document comes under review.

Ben Bradford BSc Hon’s MSc MBA CEng FCIBSE FRICS FIFireE Director for and on behalf of BB7

[email protected]

www.bbseven.com

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