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The Grenfell tragedy has shocked the public and rocked the construction industry. The ongoing inquiry into the 2017 tower block fire has exposed huge flaws in existing practices across architecture, material specification, and building projects. It is also reinforcing the critical importance of fire protection. It took Grenfell, and admittedly the many years that have followed, for the industry to fully reappraise the product selection and testing regimes needed to ensure resident safety in buildings. Now, the tide is really starting to turn. Fire protection training Research we conducted across the UK, Germany, and France, in the aftermath of the disaster, revealed that knowledge levels surrounding fire and fire protection amongst some of our most trained professionals in architecture was very low. Across the three countries, only 3% of architects were able to correctly define the four basic fire protection terms: active fire protection, passive fire protection, fire resistance, and reaction to fire. Of the architects surveyed in the UK, 8% were able to define the four terms, in France, it was only 6%, and in Germany none. Hardly any of the architects interviewed, a mere 2%, said they’d had comprehensive fire protection training, most had some training, and less than one in ten (8%) say they’ve never had fire protection training. Fire-Protected buildings It was clear, post-Grenfell, that things needed to change, ensuring fire awareness is a top priority Our research confirmed that architects and specifiers had limited knowledge of fire protection and a lack of training in the area of designing safe, fire-protected buildings. It was clear, post-Grenfell, that things needed to change, ensuring fire awareness is a top priority, no matter how much time pressure industry professionals are under. And now they have. I believe that when COVID hit in spring 2020, a window of opportunity opened for fire protection awareness. Working together seamlessly Overnight, the majority of us were confined to our homes and adapting to working remotely where possible. For some businesses - such as ours here at Zeroignition - it had very little impact. Zeroignition is a global company and we have always operated remotely, enabling us to hire the best possible experts from around the world all working together seamlessly, remotely, and across 10 time zones. For other businesses, particularly architects, specifiers, and building consultants within the construction industry, this shift, which remains the same almost a year on, provided a very different way of working. A way that has now been proven to really work. Benefits of homeworking Online webinars have covered a variety of different topics including fire safety The benefits of homeworking are plentiful. One of the major benefits is time, a luxury many of us just didn’t have pre-pandemic. Now there’s no commute to work, to meetings, and to events. As exhibitions and conferences could not take place last year, many moved online, giving industry professionals the chance to engage and learn from the comfort of their own home, often at a time to suit their personal schedule. Since the outbreak of the pandemic last March, it has been reported that a whopping 49.2% of the British workforce were intent on investing time to actively further their learning. The NBS, (formerly National Building Specification) says it has seen a dramatic increase in webinar attendance. Eager participants include product manufacturers and also architects and specifiers. Online webinars have covered a variety of different topics including fire safety. Fire protection standards At Zeroignition we know that education is non-negotiable when ensuring buildings are built safely. Government regulations are being tightened to save lives, and as an industry, those of us in the business of design and construction must also continue to challenge ourselves to know more in order to meet incredibly high fire protection standards. Increased knowledge, coupled with a systematic approach - where products are seen together as a system, rather than individual components - would turn our methodology on its head for the better. Traceability is also a key component to add to the mix. One of the biggest failings unveiled by the Grenfell inquiry was the lack of traceability of products used for the building refurbishment. Investing in research and Development The introduction of a new regulator will help to ensure materials used when constructing buildings are safe This just wouldn’t happen in other industries such as aviation, or automotive, where every component of the structure is known and recorded. The introduction of a new regulator will help to ensure materials used when constructing buildings are safe, fit for purpose, and 100% traceable. Companies must be ready to stand up, take responsibility, educate themselves and invest in R&D to enable them to do things properly. The companies we’ve spoken to are willing to be more transparent, and share a product’s journey from testing, through to manufacture, installation, and maintenance, which is so important and really promising to see. Filling knowledge gaps From the very beginning, we’ve been challenging the industry to improve. To learn more. To try harder. To think differently. I can attest from our conversations with manufacturers that safety elements including fire safety have risen to the very top of the agenda. Never before have I seen companies so invested in R&D to enable them to build smarter, better, and safer – and consign appalling events like Grenfell to the history books. The pandemic has given the opportunity to invest time in filling knowledge gaps. So let’s continue to invest time in education and personal development to do better. Because it really matters. Change is imminent and safety is at the forefront.
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.
It is well reported that incident numbers attended by the UK Fire and Rescue Services have reduced over the last decade, partially as a result of the improved fire safety education conducted by dedicated teams in community fire safety, and other related activities. In particular, during the period 2008-2018, there was a 20% reduction in total fire calls. However, in 2019, there was a small annual rise in the number of fires attended, and in particular, secondary fires. (Home Office, 2020). As a consequence, the total number of fires a firefighter will attend in a career starting in 2020 is likely to be significantly fewer than a firefighter who began their career in 1990. As such an alternative strategy is required to compensate for the reduced opportunities to ‘learn on the job’ in order to meet the same learning outcomes required of all roles, firefighter to chief fire officer. Clearly, this is not easy: fire environments are dynamic, multi-faceted, typically incorporate large volumes of “complex data” and are personnel or resource heavy to simulate accurately. However, the employment of hybrid reality, augmented reality and virtual reality training has demonstrated success across a number of services, and post-COVID-19 is likely to continue to rise in prevalence. firefighter operational training A significant proportion of firefighter operational training is centred on technical equipment use, and it is not always easy or possible to create a physical space where training with them is easy. Yet virtual worlds, with their limitless possibilities, allow us to create practically any scenario and with any combination of tools to use. The employment of hybrid reality, augmented reality and virtual reality training has demonstrated success across a number of services The introduction of new tactical options, such as cold-cut Cobra, or the Emergency One “E1 Scorpion” would traditionally follow a relatively slow uptake-arc, as only a certain number of operators can be familiar with it initially, and we would expect an increase in usage as awareness is gradually built up. However, in a virtual environment, all firefighter or commanders can experiment with all potential tactical options, as there is no limit on availability or scenario complexity. During Fire officer training, there are elements of role or support functions which are not suited to virtual worlds, these generally involve human interactions, and the application of dynamic administrative tasks like decision logging and information processing. To improve the accuracy and value of the training this dynamic is often achieved through the use of actors, role players and “props” to augment the virtual training environment. This hybrid approach enables all aspects of firefighter or fire officer roles to be developed as realistically as possible, honing skills in the classroom that can be applied in the incident ground. Judgement in high pressure situations In conjunction with this development in the training environment, and the recognition that training now plays a central part in building a commander’s capabilities, considerable work on understanding and developing these behaviours associated with decision making, have been the focus of several major research projects (Butler et al. 2020, Cohen-Hatton et al. 2015). In addition, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) had identified that commanders’ judgement in high pressure situations, especially where risk appetite was concerned, needed some consideration. Effectively they recognized that this was a “human factors” consideration, where the commander themselves was the factor posing the greatest risk (to themselves, the public and to the people they are in command of) (CFOA, 2015). Command decision making skills and the application of human factors throughout training are now widely recognized as essential components in the development of a fire officers skill set. Fire Services are effectively required to train commanders in those skills, allow them to develop and maintain them and in particular systematically record and evaluate the strength of those skills. The Effective Command model The Effective Command model developed in 2015 offers a solution to this challenge. It follows a behavioral marker philosophy and can be used to record operational competence achieved during training, incident monitoring or formal assessment, from incidents or simulated training environments. Command decision making skills and the application of human factors throughout training are now widely recognized as essential A rich multi-mode training environment allows in the development of Recognition primed decision making, where the experience is rich enough to become a part of a commander’s knowledge base, allowing them to determine the nature of problems, quickly and resolve them based on past successful experiences. The Effective Command training methodology aligns with the five principles of simulator-based exercise team training, as outlined by Crichton (2017). Principle 1 - Develop learning objectives and expected performance standards Through the use of scenarios, incident commanders are presented with unexpected events or dilemmas (Lamb et al, 2014). These cues stimulate the expected behaviours and allow relevant behavioral markers to be practiced or demonstrated. Principle 2 - Train the team or individuals Training the individual in non-technical skills is often overlooked during training and development of Fire Officers. Principle 3 - Use a structured observation tool The structured observation tool Effective Command is used to capture positive behaviours as well as areas for improvement. The framework is also used as a basis of the training design, used to provide feedback and for self-reflection by the student. Principle 4 - Provide feedback during a structured debrief Feedback is given face-to-face immediately following a scenario-based exercise, and behaviours observed during the exercise are highlighted. Principle 5 - Repeat the Training regularly It has been identified in a recent study (Lamb et al, 2020) that structured and holistic training and assessment systems, like Effective Command, provide an efficient and auditable way of developing and assessing Fire Officers. Enabling data trends to be fed into subsequent training cycles to maximize continual organizational development. Through the employment of a consistent behavioral framework, the process of developing essential knowledge and behaviours begins earlier and ensures firefighters are safer and more effective both immediately and as future officers.
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