A Fire Strategy Plan is an essential aspect of building and infrastructure design. It is a fire strategy document that ensures that buildings are constructed and maintained in a way that minimises the risk of fire and ensures that, should a fire occur, the occupants can escape safely and the fire can be fought effectively. This planning is crucial for both the safety of individuals and the protection of property.
One example that highlights the importance of fire strategy planning is the Grenfell Tower fire in London, which occurred in 2017. This tragedy claimed 72 lives and left many more injured and homeless. An investigation into the incident revealed several failures in fire safety measures, including inadequate escape routes and cladding materials that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire. This incident sparked a nationwide review of fire safety regulations and has emphasised the need for thorough fire strategy planning.
In response to this tragedy, new fire safety regulations have been introduced in the UK, such as the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill. These reforms aim to strengthen fire strategy planning and ensure that buildings are constructed and maintained with proper fire safety measures in place.
- Fire strategy planning is a vital tool for managing fire safety.
- It involves building regulations compliance, passive and active fire protection measures, engaging competent assessors/engineers and implementing appropriate safety measures.
- The Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted the importance of thorough fire strategy planning.
- New regulations have been introduced to improve fire safety measures in buildings.
What is Fire Strategy Planning?
Fire strategy planning is a comprehensive approach to fire safety management that involves evaluating and mitigating potential fire hazards in buildings and infrastructure. It is a document that brings together all available fire safety information, including certification documents, architectural drawings, and the physical condition/layout of the premises (if already existing), and benchmarks them against the requirements of B1-B5 of the Building Regulations 2010. The fundamental purpose of a fire strategy is to justify—or recommend—the fire safety requirements of a property, fulfilling the fire safety objectives and achieving the desired evacuation outcomes based on how the building will be used by the Responsible Person.
While a fire strategy can inform and contribute to building design, especially if there are shortcomings in initial design proposals, it is not a design role. Its function is to ensure that fire safety requirements are met, not to create design elements.
Why is Fire Strategy Planning Important?
Fire Strategy Planning is crucial for a variety of reasons:
- Protects Lives: The primary purpose of fire strategy planning is to safeguard individuals in a building or infrastructure. Proper fire strategy planning ensures safe evacuation routes, reducing the likelihood of harm in the event of a fire.
- Preserves Property: By averting fires and slowing their spread, fire strategy planning minimises damage to buildings and infrastructure, saving valuable property and financial resources.
- Compliance with Legislation: In the UK, fire strategy planning is not just advisable but is a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Non-compliance can result in penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
- Insurance Requirements: Having a comprehensive fire strategy plan can influence the terms and conditions of property insurance policies. Insurers often require stringent fire safety measures to reduce potential risks.
- Ensures Business Continuity: For commercial properties, a fire can result in significant downtime or even permanent closure. Fire strategy planning helps ensure the continuity of operations.
- Contributes to Building Design: Fire strategy planning influences architectural and engineering decisions, contributing to the functional and aesthetic aspects of building design.
The Regulatory Landscape
The regulation landscape around fire safety is continually evolving, emphasising the importance of staying up-to-date with current legislation and standards. The following are some key regulations and guidelines that impact fire strategy planning and fire safety training in the UK:
Building Regulations Part B:
Scope: Sets the standards for the design and construction of buildings to ensure the safety and health of the people inside those buildings.
- Establishes the minimum fire safety requirements for new constructions.
- Addresses issues like means of warning and escape internal fire spread and external fire spread.
Building Safety Act 2022:
Scope: A comprehensive reform of the building and fire safety procedures and regulations, especially concerning high-rise residential buildings.
- Major Revisions: As of 1 October 2023, significant changes have come into effect as per Section 156. Building owners, managers, and professionals need to familiarise themselves with these changes.
- Accountability and Responsibility: The act emphasises the roles of the ‘Accountable Person’ and the ‘Building Safety Manager’. Their duties include ensuring the safety of residents and maintaining the fire and structural safety of the building.
- Resident Engagement: The act places a strong emphasis on involving residents in decisions about the safety of their homes. This includes access to safety information and a clear and efficient complaints procedure.
- Regulator of Building Safety (RBS): The act introduces a new national regulator for building safety, ensuring that buildings are safely designed, constructed, and maintained.
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO):
Scope: Focuses on fire safety in non-domestic premises in England and Wales.
- Fire Risk Assessment: A cornerstone of the RRO, requiring a fire risk assessment for all non-domestic premises.
- Responsible Person: The RRO places the responsibility for fire safety on the ‘responsible person’ – usually the employer, owner, or landlord. They must ensure that a property is safe from fire risks and that safety measures are in place.
- Enforcement and Penalties: Non-compliance can lead to significant penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
The Core Components of Fire Strategy Plans
The core components of a fire strategy are aligned with the titles of each “B” section of Approved Document B of the Building Regulations 2010, which include:
- Means of Escape: Detailed plans for ensuring occupants can quickly and safely evacuate during a fire.
- Internal Fire Spread (Linings): Use of appropriate materials and construction techniques to prevent fire spread on the interior surfaces of the building.
- Internal Fire Spread (Structure): Ensuring the building’s structure can resist fire spread and maintain stability.
- External Fire Spread: Measures to prevent fire from spreading to or from neighbouring buildings.
- Firefighter Facilities: Incorporation of features to aid firefighters in their duties, such as access routes and specific systems like dry risers.
Additionally, all fire strategies should include Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations 2010. This mandates the provision of information to the Responsible Person on how to safely use and manage the property throughout its lifecycle, including aspects such as maintenance, staff training, policy making, and coordination with other parties.
It’s important to note that a fire risk assessment is a separate document from a fire strategy. Although one may influence the other, they do not form part of one another.
The Human Element
While fire strategy plans often focus on the technical and physical aspects of building design and management, it’s crucial to remember that people are at the core of a Fire Strategy Plan. Ensuring everyone has access to safety-critical information and understands their roles in preventing fires, responding to incidents, and evacuating safely is critical. Regular drills, training sessions, and information campaigns can help create a fire safety culture within a building.
Beyond Compliance: Best Practices
Incorporating Regulation 38 requirements into the fire strategy emphasises not just compliance but a comprehensive approach to managing and using a property safely. This is integral to our broader discussion on fire strategies, ensuring that beyond adhering to regulations, best practices are embedded in the everyday management and operation of a building. Some best practices include:
- Fire Safety Audits: Regular audits by independent fire safety experts can identify potential hazards, evaluate existing systems’ effectiveness and suggest improvements.
- Investing in Fire Protection Systems: While costly upfront, installing state-of-the-art fire protection systems, such as smoke ventilation systems and advanced sprinkler systems, can significantly reduce the chances of a major fire incident.
- Emergency Planning: Having a clear emergency plan in place is crucial. This includes having designated assembly points, communication protocols during emergencies, and regular drills to ensure everyone knows what to do in an emergency.
- Regular Training and Education: Continuous training ensures that all occupants and staff are aware of fire risks, prevention strategies, and how to respond during an emergency.
- Fire Safety Culture: Building a culture of safety within a building involves encouraging everyone to take responsibility for their safety and the safety of others. This can include promoting fire drills, reporting potential hazards, and regular communication about fire safety measures.
Building fires can have devastating consequences, and ensuring that buildings are safe from fire risks is essential for the well-being of occupants and property. At Eyton Solutions, we are committed to helping our clients create robust fire strategy plans that go beyond compliance and prioritise the fire safety objectives of all building users. Our experienced team work closely with clients to identify potential risks, implement effective control measures, and provide ongoing support to maintain a culture of fire safety within their buildings.
Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you create a comprehensive fire strategy plan for your building. Remember, it’s not just about compliance – it’s about keeping people safe.