Fire safety in buildings is of paramount importance. That’s not much of a revelation but it’s an issue that’s been the subject of some high profile debate recently.
Timed to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, there was a recent parliamentary reception on the importance of fire safety in new building design. Issues discussed included whether there’s complacency over fire safety due to developments in building technology and whether building standards are being compromised to meet increasing development demands. One of the core messages was the need to think through fire safety implications and have professional input at every stage of the process – even before building starts. But actually, this doesn’t only apply to new builds.
Have you adapted any of your company’s buildings?
Have you added extensions onto any of your company’s buildings? Or even just refurbished an existing building or reconfigured the interior? Making changes to buildings to accommodate evolving requirements is something many businesses decide to do. But very frequently the changes will have implications for health and safety, including fire safety.
It’s more obvious that you’ll need to consider the safety implications up front if you’re having a very large extension. But what if a few offices were having walls moved around to accommodate a new department? It might not seem like a major issue but any kind of change can have implications for your safety and security arrangements. Have you considered what they might be and what you might need to do to keep people safe?
Quite frequently refurbishments take place while people are still using part of the building. It’s unavoidable in many instances but remember you have a duty to protect people while that happens. Not only do you need to make sure the risks created directly by the refurbishment activity are managed but you need to identify any temporary risks that might be created that could jeopardise your usual fire safety arrangements.
For example, are fire stops going to be breached and is compartmentation going to be temporarily compromised, increasing the risk that fire could spread rapidly? Will fire doors be affected in any way? Will any of your alarm systems – specifically your fire alarm system – need to be disconnected at any point? And if so, have you ensured a temporary system is in place to protect people? Will any building exits have their access restricted?
These types of issues all need to be addressed before you go ahead with making any alterations.
Following your refurbishment
Once you’ve completed any extensions or refurbishments revisit your fire risk assessments. Do you still have adequate detectors and are existing alarm systems sufficient for the new environment? Have you done anything that compromises access to fire escapes? Do you still have enough fire extinguishers; are they the right ones and are they now positioned correctly? What about your emergency lighting? Is it still suitable for the new layout? Has it been obscured in any way? And what about your signage? Is it still appropriate? Will you have different people now using the building who may have particular issues that you haven’t considered?
If you need some help assessing what you need to do to manage fire safety as part of a building extension or refurbishment project, give us a call. You can also speak to our partner business LMS who can help manage part or every aspect of the process on your behalf.
Businesses have to work with the space they’ve got but always keep in mind the fact that your fire and security arrangements were configured to suit a specific use of space. A specific use which is about to change if you’re now planning on altering the layout. Don’t disregard that fact. It could turn out to be a fatal oversight.