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It is the legal duty of the responsible person in any building to make the evacuation of disabled people equal to that for able-bodied people, as Anthony Smith, Managing Director of Vox Ignis, explains. When the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was first introduced in 1995, it gave disabled people long overdue access to goods and services, education, employment, transport and accommodation. This was, subsequently, incorporated into the Equality Act in 2010. Evacuation of mobility impaired people Sadly, despite its many benefits in access to goods and services, one area the act failed to address was the evacuation of mobility impaired people, in the event of an incident, leading to the Government and Disability Rights Commission to publish a guide of supplementary information for the fire risk assessment for Disabled People in 2007. The guide highlighted that the Fire and Rescue Service’s role in fire evacuation is that of ensuring that the means of escape, in case of fire and associated fire safety measures provided for all people, who may be in a building, are both adequate and reasonable, taking into account the circumstances of each particular case. Fire risk assessment of buildings It is the responsibility of the person(s) having the responsibility for the building, to provide a fire safety risk assessment Under current fire safety legislation, it is the responsibility of the person(s) having the responsibility for the building, to provide a fire safety risk assessment that includes an emergency evacuation plan for all people likely to be in the premises, including disabled people and how that plan will be implemented. As a member of BSI FSH/12/5, which covers Voice Alarm and Emergency Voice Communication Systems, and as Managing Director of Vox Ignis, a manufacturer of disabled refuge and fire telephone systems, Anthony Smith has long lobbied for the amending of BS9991 and Building regulations approved document B1, to make it compulsory for dwellings above one floor to have disabled refuge areas, with an Emergency Voice Communications System (EVCS), as commercial buildings, ensuring residents can communicate with building management, in the event of an incident, such as fire. As a member of BSI FSH/12/5, Anthony Smith has long lobbied for the amending of BS9991 Clear and secure communications vital in emergencies In such emergencies, it is vital that communication is clear, secure, monitored and maintained. These systems can be the difference between life and death. In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, many in the industry, including Anthony Smith, believed it would only be a matter of time until such critical amends were made. However, four years on, it looks as though the industry, fire services and general public may finally be seeing their persistent rallying result in action, transforming this outdated mandate. Importance of refuge areas in buildings Lifts, escalators and platform lifts may have transformed the way that people with mobility issues access buildings While responsible building owners and there are some out there, are already establishing refuge areas in dwelling houses, the revision of BS9991 in the next year, could finally spell the end of such crucial health and safety measures being optional, and make it a requirement for residential buildings, but it will take a change to the Building Regulations Approved Document B1 to change the law. Lifts, escalators and platform lifts may have transformed the way that people with mobility issues access buildings. However, more often than not, they are completely redundant in an emergency, which is why refuge areas hold the key to ensuring the safe and orderly evacuation of people from buildings, in the event of a crisis. Key role in promoting disabled refuge areas Here at Vox Ignis, we’ve witnessed this first hand. Working with property developers across the globe, we’ve helped establish disabled refuge areas, in a wide range of developments, from skyscrapers to hotels and high-rise residential towers, and are starting to be involved in projects in this country with residential towers, notably in Croydon. Although, in both of those instances, the client wasn’t bound by law to include EVCS for the disabled refuge areas in their developments, it goes to show that many forward-thinking and responsible developers are already embracing the latest in evacuation and fire safety technology, however, as an industry and as a nation, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels. Of the 72 people who died in the tragic Grenfell fire disaster, more than half of the casualties were adults with limited mobility or children, according to evidence shared in the latest phase of the inquiry, and we can only hope that, if the proposed revisions to BS9991 are approved, and Approved Document B1 is amended, we can finally put the relevant measures in place, in order to make high-rise residential buildings safer for all, once and for all.
To manage fire risks, there needs to be a shift away from detecting and responding to emergencies and instead, a look towards connected technologies to provide a pre-emptive, proactive approach. Fires can be highly devastating, putting people at risk and threatening the lives of the public in surrounding areas – not to mention how destructive they can be in terms of damage to materials and property. A connected approach Fortunately, right now, our world is more connected than ever before. The internet has become such a vital component of the world’s infrastructure that it is unlikely many of us get through our day without linking up to the web at one point or another. This has created its own ecosystem called the Internet of Things (IoT), which spans nearly 100 billion physical objects and enables them to communicate with each other. As the IoT continues to expand, the world is only going to become more entwined. Adopting new technology We are seeing this steady increase specifically in connectivity for a multitude of reasons. But the main one is quite simple: the customer is happy. As a technology that is faster and able to store more data emerges, it becomes intuitively efficient and practical for the end-user – having a real impact on outcomes and preventing disasters. Customers are more likely to adopt the use of technology that is easy to learn and offers a solution to an existing problem. With so many relying on technology now for work, school, staying connected to friends and family, and entertainment, it makes sense to look towards incorporating it into daily safety needs within workplaces too. Using technology to improve fire safety Smart fire equipment with IoT software creates a safer community where workers are connected with their team Smart fire equipment integrated with an IoT software platform creates a safer community where workers are connected with their environment, safety managers, and their wider team. Take construction sites over the past year. Some were running with a skeleton crew – with contractors being isolated and distanced from emergency services – and others were closed entirely due to government-ordered lockdowns. However, cloud-based systems were able to be quickly implemented, providing a sophisticated and adaptable fire safety solution for all building sites, regardless of their operational status. This innovation has given property owners, project supervisors, and safety personnel the ability to receive alerts for a variety of events in real-time – helping to prevent disasters. The pandemic has really led to the wider adoption of technology, simply due to the number of individuals on sites. Technology has been able to fill some of the gaps in terms of monitoring safety systems and generating data remotely. Early detection technologies A fire can wreak havoc on the lives of people it affects and overcoming the huge losses can be a challenge. Early detection of the threat of a fire can make a massive difference to the outcome and this is happening right now with devices that monitor smoke or heat. However, very shortly, the emerging technology and the requirement from the industry is a lot less to do with detecting and responding to fires – it is more about monitoring sites, identifying risks, and preventing emergencies in the first place. Multiple industries are looking to technology to provide pre-emptive, proactive management of risks; responding to them once they have occurred is often already too late. Wireless fire alarm systems Wireless fire alarm systems have advanced greatly over the past few decades and contribute to solving these problems. Take our WES fire alarm system for example; it can connect to our REACT platform, which is a real game-changer for the industry as it has features that reduce risk and prevent incidents from occurring – avoiding potential loss of life entirely. Currently, innovative wireless technology is being used to alert all relevant personnel to emergencies as soon as they occur, enabling the situation to be stopped in its tracks before it becomes a full-blown disaster. However, looking ahead, cloud-based data and integrating systems such as REACT with wearable devices, smart PPE, and intelligent hard hats, for example, will take it one step further – raising the alarm to a potential risk so it does not even turn into a minor emergency. using customizable systems via IoT Machine-to-machine technology through IoT increases the safety of employees and prevents risk and hazards Any security system works best when its individual components work together cohesively. Machine-to-machine technology through the IoT now gives those components the ability to instantly and reliably stay connected and “speak” to one another and key personnel – greatly increasing the safety of employees and preventing risk and hazards. Furthermore, customizable systems that create bespoke solutions to suit a site’s needs offer accurate, specific, personalized notifications and alerts – making it possible to achieve the goal of comprehensive protection from both internal and external threats on sites of all sizes, no matter how unique the needs and no matter the operational status of the project. As we become more comfortable with the capabilities and security of the cloud and as unforeseen changes to our way of life become the new normal, the adoption of cloud-based technologies will continue to expand. Power of technology Firms that are embracing and adopting connected technologies are already reaping the rewards – being provided with peace of mind that they have an additional level of health and safety protection, putting workers’ minds at ease and their lives in safe hands. And as we look towards the future of fire safety, the real role and power of technology must be outcome-driven. Using technology to improve the way things are currently done while achieving the same outcomes is not enough – the results really need to change. Luckily, the technology needed to do this is already out there; it just needs adopting by those wanting to take a pre-emptive approach.
As the demand for UK housing continues to rise, developers and planning authorities are under increasing pressure to deliver the intended UK Government target of 300,000 new homes per year, by the mid-2020s. The need to build as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, unfortunately often leaves little time to invest in developing a thorough understanding of notoriously Byzantine fire safety standards, increasing the risk of serious, potentially fatal, mistakes. firm understanding of fire regulations Fire safety has pride of place on the construction agenda, having been taken more seriously, following the Grenfell Tower fire. However, a collective acknowledgment of the issue alone is not sufficient. It has to be backed with clear knowledge, and a firm understanding of fire regulations should be non-negotiable for all industry professionals. Approved Document B is commonly used by many industry professionals as guidance Broadly speaking, the industry’s understanding of British Standards is good. However, Euroclass standards are fast becoming more widely used. You only have to look to the most recent versions of Approved Document B, Volumes 1 and 2, where Euroclass standards are referred to throughout the main text, while the British standards can only be found in the Appendix. Approved Document B is commonly used by many industry professionals as guidance. I should stress, it’s not a fire testing document, rather it’s meant as an advisory document. As such, additional research and reading around the products specified for each project is essential. Deciphering the differences To help shed some light on the complex world of fire safety standards, our team of fire safety experts has compiled the table below, which concisely defines the Euroclass and UK standards, and explains how they differ. It’s worth noting, before we get started that UK classifications don’t equate with European reaction-to-fire classifications, and vice versa. The two sets of tests are conducted differently, each using its own methodologies and measurements. Moreover, it is important not to assume a product has met a certain standard unless it can be proven that it has been specifically tested to that standard and carries the associated certification. UK classifications don’t equate with European reaction-to-fire classifications, and vice versa The two sets of tests are conducted differently, each using its own methodologies We hope this outline of the key considerations around fire safety standards has started to put your mind at ease, giving you more headspace to navigate the winding path to a robust, fire-safe project. Read part two of this series here.
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