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Going beyond the Minimum – Fire Safety Standards

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Brian Stevens at Evaclite outlines current thinking within the industry and how specifiers have new innovations in their toolbox that can ensure compliance…and beyond.

It is possible to design a building to comply with the standard codes of practice, as set out in Approved Document B (ADB) of the Building Regulations and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (or RRO)

But while the regulations provide a minimum standard of fire safety, for many building owners it is not simply about complying with the regulations.

Approved Document B has recently been updated to restrict the use of desktop studies or assessments in lieu of testing. This approach has been commonly used and is where previous test data is used to suggest how a system or materials will perform in the event of a fire. However, in reality, it is often impossible to accurately predict how it will react in practice as even small changes to the design or build up can significantly affect its fire performance. Similarly, what other systems and procedures that are accepted as the norm should we now be looking at?

Historical events have highlighted the need to not only ensure compliance with the regulations but have also opened up discussions on whether compliance with the minimum provides a solution for all?

An example of this is The Kings Cross Underground Fire on November 18th,1987. Most of the people that died, did so because they took the wrong route out of the station, they took an evacuation route that leads them into the path of the fire. 32 years on and now in the 21st century, with new technologies in adaptable, intelligent emergency exit signage, is it still acceptable for instance to be using dumb “standard” exit signs that can potentially lead people towards a hazard?

Is it even possible today to design a building that’s fireproof? Probably not 100%, and if it does burn it’s going to produce smoke, heat and toxic gases. Fire design engineering is also about making sure we can get people out of that structure as quickly and efficiently as possible, eliminating bottlenecks and directing people to the safest exits and avoiding smoke-filled corridors, as set out in BS5266-1 :2016 Annex B. Integration of building systems such as fire detection and emergency lighting can enable quicker, safer and more decisive evacuation.

Fire safety engineering is not just about compliance with a set of prescriptive codes, it is about developing performance-based solutions that are not only safer but can be cost effective without having to implement complicated systems or change the original design and thus satisfying the architect’s aspirations.

While the regulations provide a minimum standard of fire safety, the events of recent years have demonstrated the importance of going beyond the minimum to optimise the safety of building occupants.

The author would like to thank Bijan Fard at Fire Design Solutions and references from the EU Getaway Trial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbVT5OZfMF4

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