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At the time of writing, June 2018, the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster is under way. It’s too soon to draw conclusions, but there appear to have been challenges in policy and supervision.

Some thoughts from an expert in the housing sector carry wider, and useful, implications for anyone concerned with risk assessment. Veteran fire safety consultant Simon Ince has blunt advice: “Know your buildings”.

Whether you are responsible for one small office in a larger building or for a group of buildings that might even be across a number of sites, a common-sense approach is key, says Ince.

Start at the beginning; look at what you are responsible for, and ask basic questions, such as:

  • How was the building in question designed and built?
  • What provisions were made at time of build for coping with fire?
  • What is the evacuation policy?
  • Does the building conform to current fire standards? What remedial measures have been taken, or should now be taken, to ensure compliance with current building regulation requirements?
  • Has the building’s fundamental design changed since it was built?

An “as built” fire strategy is essential, argues Ince, and needs to take into account current use and current occupancy levels, which are often significantly different from the original expectations at time of build. If you are in a Victorian warehouse, for instance, that has been developed with numerous offices and workspaces, and multiple staircases and exit points, each change brings considerations for a best-practice fire strategy.

Considerations such as, does the building support a feasible evacuation strategy? If a “stay put” strategy is indicated, it follows that there must be rigid “compartmentation”, with full fire separation between individual units.

For those working in larger organisations, focus on each site one at a time. Ince points out that a standard fire risk assessment across the portfolio of buildings or sites for which you are responsible will not suffice. Each building needs separate provision, with individual testing and maintenance appropriate to it. And any adaptations or installations must be considered within the strategy.

In short – know your buildings. It could save lives.

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