The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) assembled together key experts from across the entire construction process to answer audience questions and concerns about fire protection at Firex International on 22 June 2016. ASFP CEO Wilf Butcher chaired the session
The interactive question time event allowed visitors to pose questions to a panel of specialists; each representing a different industry discipline. Panellists ranged from an architect through to the building owner including; a criminal regulatory lawyer, a fire engineer, a Tier 1 contractor and specialist subcontractor, as well as passive fire protection manufacturers, an insurer, and representatives from building control, the fire service and a test house/certification body.
The wide ranging discussions that ensued highlighted a number of key issues affecting the fire safety industry, including: fragmentation within the construction design and build process; the need to ensure adequate understanding and training for specifiers; improving standards of fire protection installation; ensuring competency in fire risk assessment; and improving building resilience.
Fragmentation within the construction industry
A common theme throughout the question time session related to fragmentation within the construction industry, which was seen as a barrier to the correct specification and installation of all fire protection materials and systems. A number of the gathered experts highlighted a need for better interaction between all construction industry disciplines with a call for earlier engagement of fire safety professionals in the construction process.
Disjointed management was also highlighted as an issue which can lead to a lack of communication, particularly in big organisations, from on the ground, operative staff and subcontractors all the way up the chain to Board level. In fact, this was cited as one of the reasons why prosecutions are on the increase.
One example given was that a lack of communication can enable contactors that know nothing about fire protection being required to install such systems, leading to a complete lack in confidence in in the work being delivered. It was also recognised that fire protection is often installed by every trade in the building process and not just fire protection specialists.
It was considered that there is a responsibility on contractors to include fire protection as part of their phasing process but it was acknowledged that this often happens too late. This led to a call for greater collaborative working and earlier involvement of fire professionals in the design and build process. A move that was also seen as advantageous, due to a perceived lack of training for specifiers leading to a poor understanding of fire protection issues.
Working with the designer/contractor at the beginning of the building phase of a contract will ensure that all the services are installed in such a way that products can be used correctly by the specialist contractor.
Such engagement at an earlier stage of the construction process would also be welcomed by other sectors of the industry, for example, insurers. Involvement of an insurer in the design phase of a building can assist with the business impact analysis and contribute to the specification of passive and active protection that would improve the business resilience of the occupant of that building.
Third party certification schemes were generally supported as a means of improving standards in the industry, enabling contractors to price jobs on a level playing field, thus reducing the level of rogue quotations. They were also recognised as a means of upskilling the supply chain.
However, the panel considered that anyone specifying products should understand that their liability does not end by appointing somebody that is third party approved. They must satisfy themselves that the contractor is actually doing the work they say they are doing in the way they are supposed to be doing it, by requesting test data and installation details and making sure they are installing the products that they say are essential. It was seen as vital that such schemes were supported throughout the construction phase and requested by building owners, since it is the client which drives the building specification.
The application of Building Information Modelling (BIM) was also expected to result in reduced fragmentation within the industry, since it can transfer knowledge throughout the construction process to the asset – which is what the client is interested in.
It was clear from all of the assembled experts that, collaborative working across the whole design and build process was vital if any improvements were to be made. Although there is significant fragmentation within the construction industry, there are existing regulations, guidance and tools in place which aim to encourage communication at every stage. Working together to promote these is key to improving the quality and safety of the modern built environment.
- Architect/designer: Paul Bussey, AHMM architectural practice
- Criminal regulatory lawyer: Kizzy Augustin, Pinsent Masons LLP
- Fire engineer: Glenn Horton, H+H Fire
- Main contractor: Gerald Laxton, Kier
- Passive fire protection installer: Dave Harper, Sharpfibre
- Passive fire protection manufacturer: Carl Atkinson, FSi (Chairman ASFP)
- Other passive fire protection body: Dr Eric Southern, Intumescent Fire Seals Association
- Fire Service: Mick Osborne, DCFO Buckinghamshire FR and Chief Fire Officers Assocaition lead on fire protection
- Building control: Martin Taylor, LABC
- Certification body/Testing laboratory: Ross Newman, Exova BM Trada
- Insurer: Allister Smith, Aviva
- Building owner : Bob Bantock, National Trust
The full report is featured in International Fire Protection Magazine Issue 67 September 2016