In the years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017, all eyes have been on fire regulations, which have come under increased scrutiny – and it’s easy to see why. Even after the disaster, businesses across the UK are still lagging behind on mandatory fire safety regulations. It seems that regulatory change has not brought about the desired outcome at most organizations.  

With all 53 recommendations of the Hackitt Review set to come into effect this year, many are hoping that this will soon change. Dame Hackitt’s ‘new regulatory regime’ will place renewed momentum on regulatory change to help ensure all tower blocks are safe to inhabit.

The industry has realised that introducing regulations in a gradual fashion will see them implemented in a phased and unstructured approach. While every organization is working towards the same fire safety goals, the impact of this piecemeal change has been somewhat of a hindrance. What the industry needs is a complete overhaul of the way fire safety regulations are understood and applied. The Hackitt Review has helped to keep momentum going, but a lot more can be done to make regulatory change a reality.  

The changing regulatory landscape

Take the Fire Safety Order of 2005. The Order, which states that fire detection and suppression systems and fire risk assessments must be ‘suitable and sufficient’, should be the starting point from which businesses determine their fire safety strategy. Sadly, in reality, outdated fire risk assessments and ill-prepared systems are all too common. UK businesses need to reconsider their policies and ensure that they are not only up to regulatory standard, but fully equipped to protect their employees, residents and visitors from harm.

What the industry needs is a complete overhaul of the way fire safety regulations are understood and applied

On a similar note, take 2017’s updated British Standard 5839-1 regulation as a second example. With the extended rules now in place, companies need to understand how they will be affected and what the requirements will be. The standard, which deals with the design, installation and maintenance of fire detection and alarm systems, now calls for greater attention to the reduction of false alarms, increased numbers of sensor types in different zones and improved maintenance. 

Due diligence requirements are being tightened up, and companies will find loopholes much more closely policed. Not only that, but investment in hardware, including covers for call points, is going to be necessary. Change will have to come at both the operational and the budget stages – and preparation is key. The government’s plans for a new buildings safety regulator should have a major impact on practices and on the wider landscape, shedding light on what needs to change within both residential and commercial buildings, and probably beyond the UK. Now it’s up to individual companies to change the way they approach fire safety, and ensure that they can keep occupants as safe as possible. 

Effective fire suppression as a priority  

For a case in point of how regulatory changes should be implemented, let’s consider sprinkler systems. In their current form, there is a requirement that buildings above a certain size and application must have sprinkler systems built in from the earliest stages of planning. 

As the Grenfell inquiry progresses and brings its recommendations to parliament, we can expect a far larger proportion of public buildings required to have sprinkler systems retrofitted, and new builds needing to incorporate them from the very beginning. 

Due diligence requirements are being tightened up, and companies will find loopholes much more closely policed

But it’s not just a matter of installing sprinkler systems: servicing, maintenance, system design, and operation must all be properly attended to. Safety teams must ensure that all sprinkler systems are kept in full working order, checking components on a regular basis and running simulations where possible. 

Regular hazard reviews and testing carried out by certificated companies is also essential, and your systems must be checked by qualified engineers. There should be an attitude of honesty when it comes to upgrades and change – if a system fails to comply with regulations, or has degraded over time, then cost worries must always come second to compliance. 

Assessing the risk at your facilities

To ensure safety, you need to ensure that your hardware is being tested on a regular basis by independent observers. You also need to conduct regular fire risk assessments of the entire building, taking into account everything from exits, gangways and ventilation to detection, alarms and evacuation procedures. From the furthest reach of the building to the place of ultimate safety, you need to have considered every potential hindrance and risk to give you the best chance of protecting your building occupants.

But this doesn’t mean a black and white choice between a satisfactory balance sheet and the safety of employees and the local community. By working with an expert fire risk assessor, businesses can achieve regulatory compliance and desirable safety levels on a workable budget through a combination of intelligent consultancy and expertise. 

In the rush to avoid repeating past mistakes, there is certainly a risk that some fire safety teams may settle for less well-resourced assessors, or those without the expertise required to effectively and safely discern the conditions of the building, just to make sure that something is done. To avoid this, companies should be looking for professional organizations with a proven track record of successful assessments – who should be product agnostic – to conduct the review. 

A full-service offering is a positive sign that points to a good provider – a consultative organization that can assess needs and suggest solutions accordingly, specific to particular environments and systems, is key to reducing risk and achieving compliance. Even better, companies that can provide assessment, servicing, and long-term maintenance across an entire building, site or facility are most likely to be able to help you comply with new regulations and protect your staff and assets.

The results of risk assessments

A good fire risk assessment can be very literally the difference between life and death. We all like to think that it couldn’t happen to us; that our office or home must be safe, couldn’t possibly fall foul of a stray spark or a dropped match; but the statistics say otherwise. In the year ending September 2017, Fire and Rescue services attended over 170,000 fires in the UK, and there were 346 fatalities as a result. 

To ensure safety, you need to ensure that your hardware is being tested on a regular basis by independent observers

We’ve all experienced the directionless panic that can set in when people undergo an unplanned fire drill. That’s particularly heightened in cases where false alarms are common – frequent evacuations as a result of poor maintenance or system management breed complacency.

Why is this relevant to fire risk assessments? The better your assessment, the more well-equipped you’ll be to plan your evacuation procedure, as well as to locate and maintain your detection and suppression systems. A regularly-updated fire risk assessment is the key to understanding the potential pitfalls of your building, whether that’s sub-par fire doors, narrow staircases, a small number of exterior exit points or simply a need for more alarm call points. 

Some of those factors will be out of your control, but you can take advice from your assessors and install new hardware or remove obstacles from gangways. Above all, you’ll be better able to draft a well-informed evacuation plan to ensure that all occupants know what’s required of them in the event of a fire. 

Aside from all-important personal safety, there are also business considerations involved in fire risk assessments, the most prominent among them being regulatory compliance and future commercial planning. We began by considering some of the major regulatory requirements that have been introduced under BS 5839-1:2017. The best way to help yourself prepare for compliance and ensure that you do a good job of implementing the changes is to have a comprehensive fire risk assessment on hand to help you understand how the rules will apply to your particular situation.

The ability to plan effectively will also help you to look after the bottom line without sacrificing due diligence. There are worries that sweeping changes in fire regulations will cost the earth, and when faced with a whole new raft of purchases and process updates, it can feel daunting and expensive. However, by beginning now and making sure you have a comprehensive understanding of your facility’s strengths and weaknesses with regard to fire safety, you’ll be able to get a basic understanding of what’s going to need changing, allowing you to plan any necessary expenses and review multiple tenders to get the best price.

Moving forward

With renewed focus on fire regulations, it’s essential for companies of every size to shape up, regardless of their workforce or building type. Protecting lives and assets from the risk of fire is of crucial importance. Ignoring the details of fire safety will no longer simply be an oversight – but a matter of life or death. 

Protecting lives and assets from the risk of fire is of crucial importance

Conducting a detailed fire risk assessment is a good first step to ensuring businesses are prepared. From there, choosing a partner who has access to a full suite of services and a proven track record of success will help usher in the necessary change. Fire safety should ultimately be treated with the severity and attention that it deserves – there is simply too much to lose if we fail to learn from past mistakes.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Peter Lackey Fire Manager, Johnson Controls

With a relevant fire service and offshore survival background, Peter has worked in the fire safety industry for over 30 years. He is responsible for Johnson Controls UK&I’s electronic detection systems from development through marketing and training to life cycle management. Peter regularly addresses various professional bodies on fire safety engineering, and has been a member of the Fire Industry Association Marketing Group for almost 21 years, promoting the interests and benefits of membership, including acting as a respected lobby group for UK fire safety legislation

In case you missed it

INTERSCHUTZ Postponed Again to June 2022 Due to Pandemic
INTERSCHUTZ Postponed Again to June 2022 Due to Pandemic

The dates for INTERSCHUTZ have been changed, with the event now taking place from June 20 to June 25, 2022. The decision to reschedule the world's renowned trade fair for the fire, rescue, civil protection and safety/security verticals was taken by Deutsche Messe, after a process of thorough deliberation and intensive discussion with key market players. INTERSCHUTZ In a context that has affected numerous other trade fairs and events taking place all over the world, the move was driven by the latest developments in the global status of the COVID 19 pandemic. Flagship trade fairs like INTERSCHUTZ have a long-range planning horizon and require a lead time of several months" "Flagship trade fairs like INTERSCHUTZ have a long-range planning horizon and require a lead time of several months. In addition, the industries that participate at INTERSCHUTZ, either as exhibitors or visitors, are among the people most heavily involved in dealing with the current pandemic across the globe," stated Dr. Andreas Gruchow, Member of the Deutsche Messe Managing Board. International trade event He adds, "INTERSCHUTZ takes place every five years. The community of people involved in fire and rescue services as well as civil protection has been eagerly awaiting the next edition of the event. Against this background, the decision to reschedule was a difficult one. But a series of intensive discussions with our partners and exhibitors as well as representatives of key visitor target groups made clear to us that this move was unavoidable.” Gruchow continues stating, “A staging of the event in the summer of 2022 has been welcomed by all stakeholders. This is the only way we can offer everyone the necessary planning security for their trade fair appearance. A flagship fair like this one thrives on a large number of international visitors and, in particular, face-to-face encounters. Based on the current international travel restrictions, our clients would not be able to adequately prepare for such a major, globally significant trade fair." Hybrid event The pandemic has made us all aware of the importance of the fire department, rescue services and civil protection" "The auspices for INTERSCHUTZ have been excellent for a long time," said Martin Folkerts, Global Director of INTERSCHUTZ at Deutsche Messe, adding "We had already signed up a record number of exhibitors for the originally planned edition of the event in June 2020. We are confident our exhibitors will now join us in organizing INTERSCHUTZ 2022, which will be staged for the first time as a hybrid event.” Martin further stated, “The pandemic has made us all aware of the importance of the fire department, rescue services and civil protection. In addition, we expect significant increases in investment in these sectors all over the world, which will present the ideal conditions for our marketplace. More than any other event, INTERSCHUTZ thrives on personal contact and direct networking. It is the platform for the worldwide community." Firefighting technology manufacturers welcome postponement "The manufacturers of firefighting technology within the VDMA expressly welcome the postponement of INTERSCHUTZ to 2022. For us, INTERSCHUTZ is the most important international trade fair for the industry. And our expectation is that it will seamlessly follow on from the great success of 2015. We are certain that the conditions will be in place in 2022,” said Dr. Bernd Scherer, Executive management member of the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) and Managing Director VDMA Fire Fighting Equipment, commenting on the new date of INTERSCHUTZ in June 2022. Scherer adds, “Our highly innovative industry will have numerous exciting new products in its program by then. And the German and international visitors will make INTERSCHUTZ 2022 the big live event of the year as we know it," INTERSCHUTZ postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic Exhibitors also appreciate the direct contact with those who ultimately use their products and services" Dirk Aschenbrenner, President of the German Fire Protection Association (VFDB), also welcomes the decision to postpone INTERSCHUTZ until 2022. He said, "Our emergency services are and will continue to be extremely busy in the coming months. As we know, INTERSCHUTZ is always a welcome opportunity for thousands of them to obtain information, exchange experiences and network. None of this would be possible at present in this tense situation.” Dirk adds, “However, without the many visitors, including those from the non-material world, INTERSCHUTZ would not be what it has always been. Exhibitors also appreciate the direct contact with those who ultimately use their products and services. The industry needs this exchange between suppliers and users." Ensuring safety and security of People Dieter Siegel, the Chief Executive Officer of Rosenbauer International AG, also welcomed the new date set for INTERSCHUTZ to take place in the summer of 2022. Dieter stated, "Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis still has a firm grip on all of us and does not yet allow us to hold trade fairs and major events safely at the present time. However, the safety and health of people is of course our top priority as a system provider in firefighting and disaster protection.” Dieter adds, “We are, therefore, in favor of postponing INTERSCHUTZ until 2022, because we all want nothing more than an INTERSCHUTZ as we know it, an unforgettable trade show experience and a meeting place for fire departments from all over the world, without compromising on the safety of our customers, visitors and guests." The next INTERSCHUTZ international trade event is scheduled to take place from June 20 to June 25, 2022, at the Hannover Exhibition Grounds, in Messegelände, Hannover, Germany.

Strategic & Creative Firefighter Recruitment
Strategic & Creative Firefighter Recruitment

The recruitment of firefighters is not cheap. While metrics and budgetary line items vary among the size of fire departments, the recruitment of one firefighter from the viewing of your recruitment materials on Day One through academy graduation to one full year on the job is very expensive. For a check up from the neck up, let's begin with two quizzes: The Ultimate Firefighter Recruitment & Retention Quiz Part 1: Is your department having difficulty recruiting qualified firefighters, possibly reaching near-crisis proportions? Have qualified candidates whom you want to hire declined your offer? Is the competition for qualified firefighter candidates in your area overly intense? Have you pondered thoughts of having to pay outlandish salaries, signing bonuses, premium fees to recruitment agencies, or even curtail hiring or raiding your competition? Does your recruitment and human resources departments need to learn how to recruit more strategically and creatively to solve your recruitment problems?   Scoring: If you answered Yes to any of these questions, then your department may need to consider a paradigm shift of its recruitment efforts from the “same-old, same-old” to a comprehensive business model based on creative problem solving, aggressive marketing, and innovative thinking. Part 2: Is your recruitment and human resources staff… Armed with a dynamic interactive presentation that results in responses and interest by qualified applicants? Supported with a superior website, an online presence, and printed materials that actually get read? Regularly trained and exposed to new relationship and marketing strategies no matter how experienced they may be? Provided with one-on-one or small group marketing executive coaching? Mystery shopped or recorded as part of their performance appraisal?   Scoring: If you answered No to any of these questions, then this is your first step to strategically and creatively improve your recruitment metrics.This unique marketing model may be up to an 180 degree reversal from what your department has been doing for decades No matter how good your recruitment and retention efforts may be, they could always be better. There is good news and bad news: The bad news is this unique marketing model may be up to an 180 degree reversal from what your department has been doing for decades. Your recruiters and human resources personnel are going to be reluctant to change. Warning The first words out of their mouths will be, “What! Are you crazy?” How receptive will your recruitment staff be to the task of having to unlearn the old recruitment techniques and replace them with a variety of new creative recruitment strategies based on the principles of behavioral psychology? As for the good news, the change is not painful, though it will feel uncomfortable…at first. More importantly, a shift in strategy will produce the positive qualitative and quantitative results and metrics you are seeking. Firefighter recruitment cost Question: What does it cost your department to recruit one firefighter? Begin with the basic costs incurred reengineering of your recruitment website and printed materials, online presence and social media, educational presentations, advertisements, job fairs, and processing of paperwork of your application materials.The fees associated with tests: drug, polygraph, criminal background, and psychological Next line item: the fees associated with tests: drug, polygraph, criminal background, and psychological. Compute the costs once formal training has begun: education, salaries, uniforms, etc., all the way through graduation. Has your cost for each recruit reached $100,000 yet? What is your reaction when a candidate drops out midway through the training academy, or after one or two years feels being a firefighter is not the career for him or her? The Solution The firefighter recruiter as Marketeer. Fact: If the applicant doesn’t like you, he or she won’t consider your department. Why? We tend to do business with people we like; people who listen and convey they understand our needs, versus  people who “talk at” us with a robotic presentation. Few fire departments actually have a formal strategic marketing plan in writing for its recruitment efforts But, there is a major problem: In the corporate world, recruiters usually receive a base salary plus commission for its placements. As an employee of a city, county, or municipal fire department, your key recruitment employees fall under a different compensation structure. Your employees probably have not received the intensive training in sales and marketing. Few fire departments actually have a formal strategic marketing plan in writing for its recruitment efforts. Recruitment and marketing are among the many hats firefighter recruiters must wear…yet few wear it well. The approach to recruitment follows a “recruitment is marketing” training model based on the business concept of Omnichannelization. Your challenge is to market your department and sell yourself to create your position in the marketplace be it a department with 10 fire stations competing with the nearby department with 40 stations.  Recruitment auditing Consider that many applicants have read the same book as you, the one containing hundreds of interview questions and the answers to each. Somewhere within the interview process the applicant is going to be asked, “Why do you want to be a firefighter?” Follow up that question with ones which reveal deeper information, and questions the applicant has never been asked such as, “What are you most afraid of in becoming a firefighter, your biggest fear?” Your challenge is to develop at least 10-12 of these types of questions testing the critical thinking skills of the applicant.Somewhere within the interview process the applicant is going to be asked, “Why do you want to be a firefighter?” The Recruitment Audit: Identify what you are doing right, what needs improvement, and what you are not doing at all. Strategize to overcome weaknesses Analyze what your department has been doing thus far. Identify and justify your department’s top three strategies to overcome its six weaknesses, ones of which you may be totally unaware. What’s involved? Most of your printed materials are not read. Why? Whether it is your brochure, public relations materials, they “talk at” the reader rather than come across conversationally. Take a magnifying glass to color, font and font size, and voice. Well-written copy functions as one of the best screening tools during the personal interview. Most application forms are a major turn-off with the voice of a drill sergeant. Ask your human resources people how many applications are submitted incomplete, missing required information. Motivation There is a psychology of firefighter recruitment that identifies the “real” forces that motivates the candidate to accept one department over another.  Recruiters need to learn to develop several distinct strategies customized to its variety of vertical markets. One size does not fit all.  A few final words Are you ready to reengineer your department’s recruitment efforts? It all begins by obtaining a total buy-in, involvement, and training from your entire staff to achieve its desired recruitment results.

Avoiding Electrical Fires Through Preventative Technology
Avoiding Electrical Fires Through Preventative Technology

There are many daily risks faced by buildings and their managers, with electrical fires being one of the most common and dangerous. Commercial fires impact occupant health, property and the business itself – with 25% of businesses who suffer a fire never reopening.  Given the often-unpredictable nature of electrical fires, businesses must invest in the latest technologies to prevent irreparable damage. It is the responsibility of the consultant engineer to show leadership and initiative in improving safety to protect the business, its employees and its most valuable assets. Engineers must look beyond simply tackling overloads and short circuits and examine a range of connected solutions that can stop a fire before it even has a chance to begin. This drastically reduces the cost of damages and repairs, while giving building operators unrivalled visibility. Connected protection is crucial at every level of the circuit, from the switchboard to distribution. A centralized system for equipment monitoring and detection provides building managers with all the information they need to keep fire risk under control, and therefore protect staff, property and business. Electrical fire risk awareness During the design and implementation phase, the consultant engineer’s role is traditionally to respect and master the local standards. They should ensure all components and parts of the circuit comply with the latest wiring rules, electrical and building codes. Yet for enhanced safety they should also be willing to look beyond the standards of the day. Given the often-unpredictable nature of electrical fires, businesses must invest in the latest technologies to prevent irreparable damage Today’s regulations do a good job of protecting buildings from the dangers of short circuits and overloads, mostly by mandating the use of circuit breakers. However, consultant engineers should also be aware of the risks posed by circuit deterioration and mistakes made during the installation. Loose cabling and faulty insulation or connections – even something as small as an untightened screw – can significantly increase a circuit’s fire risk. It’s up to consultant engineers to know their market and provide solutions that go beyond the minimum to detect and prevent electrical fires. Why electrical engineers must go the extra mile A stitch in time saves nine. While tackling overloads and short circuits is crucial, engineers must go further, examining a range of connected solutions that can stop a fire before it even has a chance to begin. Acting pre-emptively can drastically reduce the cost of damages and repairs and provide building operators with unrivalled visibility of their facility. Connected protection is crucial at every level of the circuit, from the switchboard to distribution. A centralized system for equipment monitoring and detection will provide the building manager with all the information they need to keep fire risk under control. Connected protection is crucial at every level of the circuit For optimal protection, organisations should employ smart, connected solutions that detect fire and the risk of fire at every level. This means additional protection for the switchboard and the circuit at all levels of the electrical installation, underpinned by a centralised system for monitoring and pro-active action. Using Residual Current Devices (RCDs) against insulation faults triggered by earth leakage currents exceeding 300mA, is a familiar solution. Engineers now have access to more effective earth leakage protection solutions with the same footprint as a classical overload and short-circuit protection. Products can now also offer permanent earth leakage current measurement which, when connected to a monitoring system, allows pre-alarming and monitoring during the time of any drift in the insulation. Identify switchboard vulnerabilities Unprotected electrical switchboards are especially vulnerable to fire risk. The equipment is susceptible to rodent infestation and internal overheating, issues that can often go unnoticed until it is too late. The IEC 61439-2 Low-voltage switchgear and control gear assemblies – Part 2: Power switchgear and control gear assembly’s standard addresses these risks, making compliance a must. However, fulfilling these design and manufacturing rules for switchboards does not eliminate the risk of connection failure. A critical sequence of events can occur. First, increasing electrical contact resistance accelerates further deterioration. This increased resistance induces a rise in temperature – high temperatures deteriorate the connection surface even more. The more deteriorated surface leads to a further increase in contact resistance, and the resulting thermal runaway will cause complete connection failure. Fire, flash-over and explosions become a real risk. Enhanced electrical fire prevention Moreover, final circuits should be protected by an arc fault detection device (AFDD) for enhanced fire prevention. Final circuits should be protected by an arc fault detection device (AFDD) Circuits age unevenly and unpredictably, so persistent monitoring and predictive maintenance are key to limiting fire risk. Cloud analytics can help provide asset health analytics to interpret the status and history of your most critical assets, with preventive notifications and 24/7 support. Fire prevention must be a top priority when assessing all the safety and risk-management of a building. In the case of electrical fires, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, establishing the right approach before crisis strikes will be invaluable. Connected solutions across the entire circuit are an effective solution for consultant engineers to defend buildings from the often-underestimated dangers of faulty installation and ageing components. In short, smart electrical fire prevention provides peace of mind for engineers, facility owners and occupants alike.

vfd