FIA calls for additional fire protection in key-critical community buildings

Isn’t it high time that all businesses were required to carry fire insurance on their buildings? Fire Industry Association (FIA) CEO Graham Ellicott reviews this key issue and explains why the FIA believes designers and building owners should consider the use of additional fire protection in buildings that are critical to local communities.

At a fire seminar that I recently attended, a risk manager from an insurer commented that fire losses continue to increase with those from larger fires leading the way. Currently, these losses stand at approximately £4 million per day. The risk manager went on to state that insurers are now dealing more with buildings on fire rather than fires in buildings.

The rationale of the UK Building Regulations is that ‘in an emergency, the occupants of any part of a building should be able to escape safely without any external assistance’ (Approved Document B to the Building Regulations). However, in many cases the designers of buildings/structures or the owners of an existing building may want to go further and increase the level of fire protection installed in the building so as to give the fire services more time to extinguish any fire that might occur. This could lead to a reduction in the amount of damage caused and, in turn, influence the subsequent insurance claim.

Added fire protection will provide extra comfort for insurers and also fire-fighters who may have to enter a fire-ravaged building after the occupants have escaped. Surely, in buildings that are critical to the community such increases in the amount of fire protection are to be applauded as nobody wants to see a school destroyed or a hospital badly damaged, do they?

Increased levels of fire protection in buildings don’t all have to be red, unwieldy and ugly on the eye. For example, many building users are concerned about excessive use of wiring for alarm systems and unseemly trunking and conduit. They’ve no need to be. Those days are gone as wireless systems with stylish multi-detectors that are easily hidden may be quickly and economically installed.

Graham Ellicott: CEO of the Fire Industry Association

Graham Ellicott: CEO of the Fire Industry Association

Indeed, it’s not just fire detection systems that may be sympathetically incorporated within any design. In general, most modern fire protection products (for example recessed sprinkler heads, flush control panels, bendable fire-resistant partitions and concealed door closers) are designed to blend in with the background.

Fire insurance on buildings

This is all good and sound advice, but isn’t it time all businesses were required to carry fire insurance on their buildings? Even very small companies are required to hold Employers Liability Insurance, so why no requirement for even a basic level of fire insurance, particularly so when many businesses experiencing a major fire cease to trade within a year of its occurrence? Too many buildings key-critical to communities, such as local Government buildings, carry no fire insurance at all.

While it’s all very well specifying an increased level of fire protection for a building, it’s equally necessary to ensure those protection systems are properly installed and maintained. At the end of the relevant phase of construction, the fire protection installer will issue a Certificate of Conformity which will claim that the product has been installed in accordance with the terms of the contract. What does the Certificate of Conformity mean? Is it really worth the paper it’s written upon?

From the FIA’s point of view, the Certificate of Conformity’s worth is greatly enhanced if it’s issued under the auspices of a third party certification scheme. Such schemes mean that competent operatives have correctly installed the specified products and that independent inspectors have randomly inspected the work.

Another good reason to make sure that the fire protection systems in buildings are properly installed and maintained is the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. This states that an organisation will be guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death and amounts to a “gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased”. An organisation that’s found guilty of corporate manslaughter will be liable for an unlimited fine.

Importantly, the Act also allows the court to call for a publicity order that requires the offending organisation to publicise details of its conviction.

The FIA believes that designers and building owners should consider the use of more fire protection in buildings that are critical to the community, such as public buildings including schools, hospitals and community centres. The value to the country of keeping these buildings operational far outweighs the small additional cost of an extra level of fire protection.

Not just a ‘nice to have’ exercise

Extra fire protection is not just a ‘nice to have’ exercise. It could mean the difference between a community-critical building either surviving or not in the event of a blaze. Third party certification breeds good practice and means worthwhile Certificates of Conformity are issued. This will give confidence to the specifier, client and the enforcer that the job has been carried out to the highest standard.

Should a disaster occur, lawyers will come looking for the person with the biggest pockets. It’s highly likely that the use of a third party certificated company would be seen as the basis for a sound defence in the event of a lawsuit concerning the performance of fire protection systems.

In the worse case scenario wherein somebody is killed in a fire, the possibility of a breach of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act becomes real and, again, the use of a third party certificated company could be highly beneficial to the accused organisation defending such an action.

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