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How Is Digital Adoption Helping To Improve Fire Safety In Construction?
How Is Digital Adoption Helping To Improve Fire Safety In Construction?

As Grenfell remains a chilling reminder of the importance of fire safety in construction, new digital methods are now being adopted to guarantee the safety of end users. But how is digitization helping and how will this further advance fire safety during the wider construction process? There’s no doubt that the past five years have had a profound effect on the construction industry. Events such as the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire disaster have forced the industry to sit-up and rethink the processes it currently has in place. Campaign for a complete system overhaul The result has been a campaign for a complete system overhaul. Advocates for change, such as Dame Judith Hackitt, are now speaking at length of a ‘broken industry’ and how without major reform, the construction industry will never reach acceptable levels of safety. Yet hope is on the horizon and as is often the case with such events, they can and must serve as a catalyst for major change. Hackitt’s inquiry into building regulations and fire safety, following Grenfell, revealed a need for greater fail safes and a requirement for what Hackitt termed as ‘The Golden Thread’ of information. This is an accurate record of a building, providing a timeline of what has gone into the structure, from design to occupation and its ongoing maintenance. By having this in place, the industry can then deliver full transparency and accountability to help keep end users safe. Introduction of new building safety regulator Hackitt’s inquiry into building regulations and fire safety, following Grenfell, revealed a need for greater fail safesA further response has been the introduction of a new building safety regulator and new construction product regulator, both of which represent a landmark moment not just in fire safety, but improved levels of safety across the board. The first, which is under the Health and Safety Executive, will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings with a new, more stringent framework for higher-risk builds. The latter, (the construction product regulator), will be aimed at manufacturers to ensure that their products are safe, before being sold and that they abide by pre-determined levels of industry safety. If products aren’t deemed fit for purpose, these stricter measures will grant the regulator the power to remove products, revoke building safety certifications, as well as prosecute those who attempt to side-step rules. Building Safety Bill Speaking at the Construction Leaders’ Summit in February 2020, Hackitt explained that the Building Safety Bill and the creation of the new regulators will help the sector to change both technically and culturally, moving away from decisions that result in the ‘cheapest solution’, to one where safety and quality become paramount. Hackitt also warned that the regulators will have real bite. She said, “It will not look to see you have merely followed the rules, but check the building is safe from planning to occupation and you’ve done everything in your power to ensure this.” New laws post building regulations and fire safety review New laws have also been introduced since Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety New laws have also been introduced since Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety. In April of 2020, UK Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick announced a series of measures comprising of what he called ‘the biggest change in building safety for a generation.’ These were changes that applied to multi-occupancy buildings of 18 meters and above, or six stories, whichever is reached first. For buildings in-scope, a duty holder regime will apply, with a Client, Principal Designer and Principal Contractor. The contractor and designers will have to demonstrate that the building is safe and the ability of the duty-holder to choose which building control body to oversee the removal of the construction/refurbishment. To make sure the regulation is followed, there are gateway points at various stages, requiring regulator sign-off before the project can move forward. The sign-off procedure can then only take place once the right evidence is in place. Before residents are allowed to occupy the building, a full digital documentation will have to be provided which includes drawings and datasets and any design changes will need to be amended, signed-off and recorded. The need for digital adoption It’s clear that with so many changes coming into play that a new way of working is needed, with the needle pointing towards digital adoption as an answer to these issues. One of its main benefits is that it gives specifiers, contractors and residents the ability to access extensive datasets on specific fire related products. This feature plays a huge role in guaranteeing the safety of buildings and end users, by supplying them with the most up-to-date information and the latest in industry laws and regulations. If the industry is to iron-out the risk of products being ‘mis-specified’, then architects must be given a vehicle to access this information as easily as possible. Rise in use of digital tools, 3D and data Another example is the recent changes to the RIBA Plan of Work – the industry blueprint for the process management of a build. While this still remains as the ‘go-to’ map for how a construction process should take place, digital innovation continues to transform many aspects of its project workflow. This can be seen in the likes of ‘Part 3 – Changing Processes’ where the use of digital tools is helping to shift the balance away from 2D information towards 3D and data. Digital site surveys are also becoming the norm, using cloud surveys, photogrammetry, lidar sensors and the ability to mount cameras on drones, to help with the success of projects. BIM (Building Information Modeling) BIM can be used to improve the design, construction and operation of buildings, making them safer for end users Feeding into this is also the greater use of BIM (Building Information Modeling). This digital approach can be used to improve the design, construction and operation of buildings, making them safer for end users. Again, it’s a concept that has been around for some time, but the recent shift in perceptions has allowed this way of working to flourish, with three quarters of specifiers now using BIM, compared to just one in ten a decade ago. Digitization – The only way forward It’s obvious to see that shifting to digital has an immeasurable benefit to the future of the construction industry. Not only do digital tools improve standards, reduce mistakes and improve record keeping and auditing at every stage, but it also keeps costs down and drives up quality. From previous history, we’ve seen that the construction industry is notorious for dragging its heels when it comes to change, but as we’ve seen so far, the quicker it adopts this way of thinking, the quicker improvements in fire safety and compliance can be achieved. ‘Build Back Better’ We’ve heard the government talk of ‘Build Back Better’ and the digitization of the industry will hold all the keys to ensuring this is possible. If nothing else, the construction industry owes it to the victims and survivors of the Grenfell fire tragedy to make sure that all is being done to eradicate the chances of future mistakes from happening again.

A Look At Emerging Technologies In The Fire Protection Industry
A Look At Emerging Technologies In The Fire Protection Industry

Innovation in the fire protection industry can oftentimes be slow to move forward, particularly when compared to other similar industries. This is because legislation, regulation, and enforcement, while all necessary proponents within the sector, can often slow the tide of revolutionary ideas. However, the ability to innovate in this industry can quite literally be a matter of life and death. The developing intricacies of modern infrastructure and the demand for more sustainable solutions must also fuel the need for innovation. Fortunately, there are many companies at the forefront of technical and digital transformation within the industry. At the NFPA Conference in June 2019, much of the chatter revolved around Smart Connected Things (SCoT) within fire protection systems.  Smart Technology Smart Tech can offer more accurate, efficient inspections and testing, which on its own is capable of saving lives These systems are now being used by both building owners and service providers to determine fire protection system conditions as well as helping to perform some critical testing functions remotely - which of course has been invaluable in 2020. Smart Tech can offer more accurate, efficient inspections and testing, which on its own is capable of saving lives and protecting valuable property. For example, if a warehouse has been equipped with smart tech solutions to observe water pressure and flow rates within a building sprinkler system, users can have a real-time view of how much water has been flowing per minute. This means that should a fire break out in a particular part of the building the flow rate within the sprinkler can be routed to that specific area to put the blaze out as efficiently and as quickly as possible. Advanced Smoke Detection Fire protection brands have made huge leaps forward in their quest to develop smoke detectors which meet with the UL 268 Safety Standards for 2020. The new standard requires that all smoke alarms and detectors must meet two critical benchmarks: Increased responsiveness to the new polyurethane foam tests. Ability to distinguish the difference between smoke aerosols from accidental fire sources and smoke aerosols from cooking sources. Basically, domestic smoke detectors must be able to understand the difference between materials, based on the kinds of smoke they emit when they catch fire. Detectors must also distinguish between the smoke produced as a by-product of cooking, or a “nuisance” fire, and a real fire, which could pose a threat to human life. Smoke & Flame Video Detection The new alarms feature “TruSense Technology”, which is designed to be able to differentiate between fast and smoldering flames and common false alarms. These technologies were developed in the hope that homeowners wouldn’t just simply remove smoke alarms or batteries due to frequent false alarms. Video Image Smoke Detection technology has been around the industry for a few years now, but full video detection is now being used to supplement it, in order to further the applications of this technology. A video image will then be processed by the software that then concludes whether the clip contains smoke or flames This tech uses video-based analytical algorithms that integrate cameras into advanced flame and smoke detection solutions. A video image will then be processed by the software that then concludes whether the clip contains smoke or flames. The algorithms used to distinguish smoke and flames can utilize several different metrics, such as a change in brightness, contrast and movement. Water Mist Suppression Systems Depending on the kind of system in place, these recognition tools can even offer security and other surveillance features too. This technology is ideal in locations with large surface areas, such as power plants, stadiums, shopping centers and warehouses and distribution centers, where a fire may be particularly challenging to locate using traditional methods. Flame Video systems trace fire to its origin to make for quicker, more effective extinguishment and evacuation. A major concern for most businesses in any industry is sustainability. Water mist suppression systems are able to fight fires using significantly less water than a traditional system. The water is stored under extreme pressure and is released using specialized sprinklers and spray heads. This enables the water is able to reach a far larger surface area since the droplets are much smaller. Exit Point Technology A water mist suppression system is also designed to cool down an area where fire and smoke are present, by blocking radiant heat and eliminating oxygen from the origin point. These systems are often used in areas that see a lot of foot traffic or buildings where the possibility of water damage would be detrimental. All Fire Alarm Systems must include notification appliances, such as bells, horns and strobe lights. Technological advances use directional sound to help evacuees determine the pathway to the fire exits But the latest devices now provide verbal instruction on what to do in the event of a blaze and tell people where to go to the nearest exit. It’s highly likely that evacuation may be hampered by black smoke and smog in a real-life emergency. This obviously makes visibility limited, thereby possibly making exit signs challenging to see. The latest technological advances use directional sound to help evacuees to determine the location and the pathway to the fire exits. New Sealing Sprinkler Guidance The audible sound is specially adapted to the human ear, meaning that someone could easily determine the direction and sound. While the previous entries in this list have been about products, it’s also absolutely vital that fire safety regulations are also developed alongside these products. Not only does this ensure the protection of occupants within the building, but also the structure of the building itself. For example, The Ministry of Housing, Government & Local Government announced tweaks to the Approved Document B (Fire Safety) which went into effect last November and applied to building works that started this January. These updates apply to blocks of flats and mixed-use buildings with top floors that are more than eleven meters above ground level. The legislation change means that C-PVC sprinkler pipes now need to be sealed with only specialist and approved products. The height threshold for a sprinkler system in residential flat blocks has been reduced from 30 to 11 meters.

Reducing Fire Safety Costs in UK Residential High Rise Buildings
Reducing Fire Safety Costs in UK Residential High Rise Buildings

Since the Grenfell tower tragedy in 2017, residential high-rise fire safety has become a top priority for tower block building managers. If a high-rise building is found to contain combustible cladding, then the standard ‘stay put’ policy is no longer considered safe, and instead a temporary ‘simultaneous evacuation’ strategy must be put in place until the cladding issue is resolved. Currently a Waking Watch protocol is the preferred option for ensuring resident’s safety, in order to coordinate a simultaneous evacuation in the event of a fire. But, due to the extremely high cost of Waking Watch, Fire Detection & Alarm systems are being used to help reduce and, in some cases, remove these costs, which can amount to upwards of £100,000 per year. After the Grenfell fire, official figures showed that there are 300 towers with ‘Grenfell-style’ Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) cladding. However, there are many different types of high-risk flammable cladding used on purpose-built blocks of flats, such as timber, high-pressure laminate (HPL) and polystyrene cladding. With more and more unsafe buildings being assessed, the scale of this issue continues to grow. Currently a Waking Watch protocol is the preferred option for ensuring resident’s safety The UK Government announced in 2018 that it would pay for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding in councils and housing associations. However, there is no legal position stating that private landlords should not pass the cost of this work onto tenants, and with the high costs of replacement, along with mounting Waking Watch costs, private landlords are known to pass this cost to tenants in service charges. Along with the cost of cladding replacement, landlords are also charging tenants for the cost of expensive Waking Watch services. Approved fire alarm systems are fast becoming the preferred safety system, due to the reduced overall costs, as well as the NFCC (National Fire Chiefs Council) recommending these over Waking Watch services. Fire safety regulations in high-rise buildings Following the Grenfell tragedy, the Government issued notice that all buildings over 18m had to be assessed for combustible material in their external walls. Following this, in January 2020, the government also issued Advice for Building Owners of Multi-story, Multi-occupied residential buildings stating that “building owners are to consider the risks of any external wall system and fire doors in their fire risk assessments, irrespective of the height of the building” immediately, until a Fire Safety Bill is put in place. Approved fire alarm systems are fast becoming the preferred safety system In order to assess the fire risk of external wall systems of residential apartment buildings an EWS1 assessment (External Wall Fire Review) must be completed. This risk assessment form provides a ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ certificate for the building, and must be completed by a competent fire expert. Not only does an ‘unsafe’ certificate affect the owner of the building, with the need for new fire safety solutions, it also directly affects tenants, with mortgage lenders refusing to lend on a apartment until they are satisfied that the facade is safe. Until the building has completed the assessment and been deemed safe, all dwellings within the building are valued at £0, and cannot be sold. 'Unsafe' certificates Buildings that have been awarded an ‘unsafe’ certificate through the EWS1 assessment will need to implement temporary fire safety measures while the cladding is being removed. The key purposes of this guidance, outlined by National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) in May 2018 and then reviewed in October 2020, are: early detection of a fire, warning of building occupants, and management of the evacuation. The measures state: In order to prevent tenants from being removed from their homes, ‘Stay Put’ must be temporarily replaced by a ‘Simultaneous Evacuation’ strategy until the building has been remediated. Temporary protection measures must be introduced to ensure the safety of residents; either a 24/7 Waking Watch or a common Fire Detection & Alarm system designed to BS5839 Part 1 category L5 specification. Fire safety solutions Waking Watch is the quickest and easiest way to fulfill the requirements from the NFCC guidance. This solution requires a trained fire marshal or warden to patrol the building 24/7 and alert residents in the case of a fire. They will also be responsible for carrying out the Simultaneous Evacuation strategy and assisting residents’ evacuation. While the Waking Watch solution works well as an immediate solution to fire safety, the mounting costs of this fix means that it is unsustainable in most situations, with tenants facing unaffordable increases to their monthly rent in order to cover the costs. For example, reports into Raphael House, near Essex, show how a five-person 24-hour patrol costs £50,000 per month. This cost is split between the 154 flats, resulting in average costs of more than £300 a month for each resident. Issues with Waking Watch In addition to the cost, there are other issues associated with Waking Watch, including: Patrols cannot cover all areas of the building at all times No fire detection system within the flats themselves Not a long term solution The alternative solution to fire safety in high-rise buildings, as per the NFCC guidance, is to install a Fire Detection & Alarm system designed to BS5839 Part 1 category L5 specification. Although the upfront cost of these systems tend to be higher than a Waking Watch initiative, the overall expenditure, given the cost and time it takes to replace the cladding, far exceeds the cost of a fire alarm system. NFCC compliant fire alarm systems An NFCC compliant fire alarm system ensures early detection of fire and alert to residents. The BS5839 Part 1 category L5 systems do not replace the mains wired smoke alarms required in each apartment, but instead are installed in the common areas of the building in order to provide additional cover for these communal areas. These fire systems should be: Designed in accordance with BS5839, Part 1, category L5 Heat detectors should be installed throughout the building next to the windows that overlook an area of the external wall, including within the dwellings. An immediate evacuation signal should be triggered by the operation of any single heat detector. Installation of a new common area fire alarm system should not cause any further damage to the compartmentation or have an adverse effect on other provisions in the building. Comparison (Waking Watch vs Fire Alarm Systems) Cost: The government has outlined the average cost of Waking Watch in England as £17,897 per building per month, with the hourly rate per person undertaking Waking Watch duties ranging from £12.00 to £30.00 per hour. A total of £644,292 over 3 years. Additional charges for equipment, facilities, accommodation and services can also be applied. A suitable fire alarm system is likely to cost around £65,000 over the course of 3 years, for installation and yearly recurring costs. This means, over this period, installing a fire alarm system will save a total of £579,292. Long term solution: While both Waking Watch and a Fire Alarm System are considered short term solutions, many fire alarm systems can be adapted for future use once the cladding issue has been resolved, providing suitable infrastructure is created at the design and installation stage. Alerting the whole building at once: A Fire Alarm System is a more time efficient solution to detecting a fire than Waking Watch. The system is able to alert the whole building at the same time, allowing for the simultaneous evacuation protocol to be followed in a more time efficient manner. The NFCC states in their Simultaneous Evacuation Guidance... “NFCC strongly recommends that where a change to a simultaneous evacuation is deemed appropriate and will be required for medium to long periods of time that a temporary common fire alarm system is installed. This is because a temporary common fire alarm, when designed, installed and maintained appropriately is a more reliable and cost-effective way to maintain a sufficient level of early detection. An appropriate communal fire alarm and detection system will generally provide more certainty that a fire will be detected and warned at the earliest opportunity rather than rely on using trained staff.” With many residential high-rise buildings needing additional protection due to flammable cladding, and the excessive cost of Waking Watch, now is the time to consider a Fire Alarm System to keep residents in high-rise buildings safe.

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