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With recent changes and updates to the fire safety regulations, Bijan Fard at FDS outlines the current landscape and how specifiers can ensure compliance.
In the past year, there has been increased attention on the fire safety of buildings, both in terms of the materials and designs. Ensuring that any new or refurbished building fully complies with or even exceeds all relevant legislation is crucial.
In England and Wales, Approved Document B (ADB) of the Building Regulations (referred to as Part B in Wales) is one of the key sources of guidance on fire safety compliance for both residential and non-residential buildings. As an advisory document, it sets out the standards that must be met to ensure the risk posed by smoke and fire is minimised. However, while it does outline a set of standard solutions, it is not prescriptive about how the standard is achieved and states that:
“…there is no obligation to adopt a particular solution contained in an Approved Document if you prefer to meet the relevant requirement in some other way”
This allows fire safety engineering specialists to design bespoke approaches to suit the specific characteristics of a building, rather than strictly following the guidelines in what is referred to as a ‘code compliant’ approach. A fire engineered solution often allows challenges of the design to be overcome and enables the internal layout to be optimised whilst also maintaining the functional requirements of the codes.
Taking smoke ventilation as an example, the advice given on elements such as travel distances and escape routes is based on the assumption that a set of standard solutions will be used – in this case, a natural ventilation system. This is a relatively simple and cost-effective approach but relies on the natural movement of air to extract the smoke. Selecting a Mechanical Smoke Ventilation System (MSVS) that has a greater capacity and efficiency can allow longer travel distances to be permitted and, in some instances, the removal of the additional staircases recommended in the regulations while maintaining or even improving safety. Furthermore, a reduction in the shaft size can provide more free space, thus potentially reducing costs.
In November 2018, the government issued updates to ADB in response to the findings of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The amendments essentially implement the ban on combustible façade materials on buildings over 18m high. This applies to any building that includes residential dwellings as well as structures with an institutional purpose such as student accommodation, care homes and hospitals. In addition to new builds, the updated regulations apply to any change of use redevelopment and work to upgrade the thermal performance of buildings.
Approved Document B has also 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.
In addition to ADB, Approved Document F of the Building Regulations also needs to be considered when designing smoke ventilation systems for underground or enclosed car parks. Car park areas that are not sufficiently naturally ventilated require mechanical or hybrid systems to monitor the air quality and provide ventilation to remove pollutants produced by vehicles, including carbon monoxide, to ensure a safe environment for users. This can often be combined with the emergency smoke ventilation solutions and therefore should be considered as part of the overall fire strategy.
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
Another key piece of fire safety legislation is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (or RRO). The order must be complied with throughout the operational life of a building and applies to most non-residential properties, including offices and shops, pubs, clubs and restaurants, hotels and care premises, such as hospitals and care homes. RRO introduced the need for employers to appoint a ‘responsible person’ (usually the building’s owner or manager), who must carry out a fire-risk assessment and ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to guarantee the safety of building users.
Any breaches of the fire safety standards can result in enforcement action, which could include a prohibition notice, building closure and potential prosecution resulting in fines or even imprisonment for building owners and managers.
While the regulations provide a minimum standard of fire safety, for many building owners it is not simply about complying with the regulations. In fact, the events of recent years have demonstrated the importance of going beyond the minimum to optimise the safety of building occupants. The complexity of applying the standards in practice means that expert guidance from fire engineering consultants is vital to not only comply with the regulations but improve the level of safety of building occupants.
Refurbishments, including changing the use of a building, can provide a more cost-effective option compared to new build developments. However, whether changing the use of a building or refurbishing an older or historic property, fire safety requirements need to be considered to ensure they meet appropriate standards. Providing the right fire safety measures may impact on the building’s design, which is why fire engineers need to be brought into the project early on.
Approved Document B sets various travel distances for occupants to reach the nearest fire exit depending on the building’s use. When changing a building’s purpose, the internal design often needs to be remodelled. For example, in an office building there should be a maximum of 18m to the nearest exit where travel is only possible in one direction. However, this distance is more than halved for residential buildings where the allowable distance is just 7.5m from the front door if there is a single evacuation route. To accommodate these travel distances (more than 7.5m), alternative means of escape are required (i.e. additional staircases).
Historical buildings can also require additional considerations as the original design might not be compliant with modern fire safety guidelines, but the building may be listed or protected. In this case, the design of the fire safety systems will need to consider how the original features and aesthetics can be retained, while ensuring safety. Often, a fire engineered strategy is necessary to provide an alternative method for achieving the required standard while retaining the building’s original features.
Developers need to demonstrate to Building Control that their designs are compliant with building and fire safety regulations. It is therefore advised that a fire engineer is brought into the process as early as possible, to ensure that the appropriate fire safety measures are introduced from the start and that the project runs smoothly.
St Clements Hospital
For example, FDS Consult played a vital role in the refurbishment of the St Clements Hospital, a Grade II listed building in Bow, London. Originally a workhouse in 1848-49, the structure became an infirmary in 1874 and has now been converted for residential use. The latest works included the construction of eight new blocks, creating 252 homes. Due to its listed status, the building’s period details had to be retained, while also ensuring that present-day residential standards were met. To achieve this, Linden Homes appointed FDS Consult to create a comprehensive fire strategy.
When working on a refurbishment of a building, partnering with fire safety consultants will ensure that the design is compliant with guidelines, whilst managing any building specific requirements. By treating each project individually, FDS Consult can recommend the best solution for the project.
To talk to us about consultations please contact (0)1322 387411 or email [email protected].
We have received CQMS Safety-Scheme accreditation, which demonstrates our commitment to health and safety and compliance with the Safety Schemes In Procurement (SSIP) Core Criteria. These criteria cover a number of areas including health and safety policies, safe working practices, employee training, reporting and monitoring and staff welfare provision.
We wish to echo the words of our colleagues across the construction industry in sending our condolences to all those who have been affected by the tragic event at Grenfell Tower
You may be aware that Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) is one of the most widely applicable fire safety laws in the UK – but do you know what types of buildings it covers and what level of responsibility the law enshrines on you? Here, Jigar Pandya – Senior Fire Engineer at FDS Consult, tells you all you need to know
Where does RRO Apply?
Jigar Pandya: “Put simply, pretty much any public building or open space. In fact, the only types of buildings and dwellings not covered by the Order are private homes and properties (whether houses or flats), which are the responsibility of the householder or resident. If you have any level of responsibility for any public use building – even privately owned commercial or retail premises, you have an obligation to follow the legislation.
What are my responsibilities?
JP: “The first responsibility you have is to evaluate the premises, identifying both potential dangers and areas of concern, as well as considering individuals within the area that are particularly vulnerable in the event of an emergency. You must take all reasonable steps to safeguard the building from fire, including devising escape strategies and installing adequate fire safety measures. You should also consider the building’s use – allowing for the safe storage of flammable materials.” Finally, routinely check the premises to ensure that good fire safety practice is being followed and keep a log of your findings – identifying areas for further improvement and ongoing maintenance.
What do I need as part of my plan to meet RRO?
JP: “Although the use of the building (and any sector specific legislation) will have an impact on the level of fire safety measures necessary, a minimum requirement in all cases is the use of a fire detection and warning system and a way of fighting small fires – such as fire extinguishers and blankets. Working with a fire engineer it should be easy to identify the most suitable, practical and cost effective fire safety solution for the needs of your premises. “At FDS Consult our fire consultancy experience and expertise, combined with our unparalleled knowledge of building design safety, allows us to impartially advise you to determine what is needed when it comes to fire alarms, smoke venting and compartmentation – making your fire safety strategy simple and effective.”
As a company FDS Consult has a lot to look forward to, and is driven to maintain its position at the forefront of fire engineering. To help us achieve our goals, its vital to consider what makes us different, what we do well and what we can do better in the future. A key vision for our company is to be a vital partner for your next building project, as this is where we can add maximum value. We feel that our experts should be a key element of the design team for any project, incorporating fire design as part of the entire building design and not an afterthought. By doing so FDS Consult can assist to not only achieve the architectural vision, but building regulations approval at the same time. The earlier a fire engineer gets involved in the design process the more benefit he/she can provide. A further benefit that we feel we bring to projects is our ability to understand the process of fire safety design from design concept through to the practical installation of fire safety systems. We can advise on systems as well as fire engineering design thanks to our intimate knowledge of the options available on today’s marketplace. Our innovative design approach ensures that you get a value engineered solution that meets your needs exactly. To discuss your next project with a member of our team simply get in touch on 01322 387 411 or via [email protected]
FDS Consult has received exceptional feedback for its CPD seminar on the benefits of fire engineering and achieving fire safety compliance in commercial properties. The seminar, which gave attendees over three hours of CPD time, was attended by a large number of architects and contractors – the vast majority of whom described the event’s content as ‘very good’ or ‘good’. Three of FDS Consult’s expert fire engineers used their combined 35 years of fire engineering experience to present those in attendance with examples of fire engineered solutions in commercial office, retail and warehouse developments, as well as covering the regulatory reform order (RRO) and building life cycle. Michel Wizenberg, Managing Director of FDS Consult and one of the event’s key speakers, said: “We were delighted with both the turnout and the feedback gathered at our most recent CPD seminar. The audience were highly engaged with the content and will hopefully have left with an understanding of the real value that can be added by working with a fire safety engineering expert.”
FDS Consult continues to be a thought leader in educating architects, developers and building consultant professionals in fire safety design. To enhance further education in the industry, FDS Consult has created a new CPD and Educational page to be a quick source of information offering advice and updates on legislation and industry news. It also gives details of forthcoming seminars and webinars with the option of accessing and downloading presentations they have missed.
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a branch of fluid mechanics that uses numerical methods and algorithms to solve and analyse problems that involve fluid flows.
CFD modelling has become a very common tool in the field of engineering and its broad use expands over the automotive, aeronautical, structural, mechanical and fire engineering fields to name a few. The reason for the dependence on CFD is because it allows for a product or system to be designed and ensures that it works prior to building and installing it. This means that the design and installation process becomes much more cost effective and less time consuming.
The processes for modelling are numerous and include: turbulence, buoyancy, thermal radiation, flame spread, pyrolysis, combustion and the tracking of specific gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and smoke.
There are some cases in fire engineering where doing hand calculations or zone modelling is not sufficient as the flow effects or building geometry may be too complex to be solved by these methods. CFD modelling is now providing answers for these complex calculations. The results then set the benchmark of how the system should operate and what the resulting effects will be. The new system and its effects can be verified upon commissioning of the installed equipment in the building.
If you would like more information on our CFD modelling services please contact Michel Wizenberg on 01322 387 411 or email [email protected]
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