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FMA Industry Insider - A cut too far?

17 February 2012

There is evidence that in the current economic climate some UK companies are cutting back on some of their fire safety measures – which, according to Tom Welland, could potentially be putting employees’ lives at risk.

Almost a fifth of bosses questioned in a recent nationwide survey, admitted that due to current economic conditions they had revised some fire safety procedures to save costs including the delaying of fire safety equipment maintenance checks, reducing staff training or delaying updating of fire risk assessments. Astonishingly, 20 per cent of those questioned had already experienced a fire on their premises.

Alarming statistics
This survey comes at a time when the Fire & Rescue Service has announced that not all Fire & Rescue Services will respond to certain calls originating from automatic fire alarms in low and medium risk business premises. Each brigade has its own policy and it is well worth a call to your local station to find out their policy. Fire & Rescue Service data revealing a staggering 97% of all calls to automatic fire alarms were false alarms has prompted the fire service to take action that it said would ensure ‘…operational resources are used effectively and to ensure that they are available to respond to real emergencies’.

This policy will worry many in the business community as it could mean small fires developing into significant events.

So this move makes it even more important to ensure that fire alarms are regularly maintained to avoid false alarms, and ever more importantly to minimise all potential fire hazards and fire spread risk. This can be achieved through good housekeeping and a vigorous approach to fire risk management.

Thinking outside the box
However, one area for potential savings which companies should be looking at is the need to understand how the businesses assets are (or are not) being used. Many companies do not having an adequate understanding of how one of their most expensive assets - the space they lease or own - is being utilised. So in the current environment, when companies are looking for cost savings, there cannot be a better way of making the most of what they already have.

There has been much published about the restrictions and obligations placed on companies by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005. Although there has been little comment about how, if interpreted properly, this legislation can in fact help liberate the whole interior design and management of premises and result in a significant increase in available desk space.

In light of the changing legislative landscape by which the work of our members is governed, we are certain that this will be of great interest. We will be sure to communicate to our members that the prospect of the correct interpretation of legislation can, in fact, result in the greater operational efficiency of a working space.

My own experience is that the pragmatic application of Regulations actually adds substantial business benefits as well as compliance. Workplace analysis gives due consideration to the economics of work environment design and strategies for a building's future utilisation as an innovation and flexibility. Workplace analysis and optimisation takes full account of the impact of design implementation and the benefits of increased productivity and staff motivation as a function of effective property management.

The UK’s leading consultancy companies are increasingly being required to consider wider building design issues and work closely with Facilities Management companies to recommended strategies that can be integrated with the whole building management services to produce a more flexible, cost-efficient work space.

Companies can also over-estimate how much office space is really occupied or needed in traditional working environments, so flexible and more effective use of office space does enable higher levels of occupancy without encroaching on legal space requirements.

Remember it’s often simple changes that have the most effect, such as; re-evaluating estimated evacuation times – guidelines that depend on the mix of a building’s occupants and the type of activities being carried out there; increasing the amount of fire detection equipment installed to annunciate a fire sooner and initiate an earlier evacuation; re-designing obstructions, even small ones such as shelves being moved or made smaller to help ease an evacuation.

Tom Welland is Commercial Director of Fireco’s Building Consultancy division, who are members of the FMA. He is a qualified Fire Safety Manager and councilor for the Fire Industry Association (FIA) and has sat on the Fire Industry Associations Fire Risk Assessment council since 2008 helping develop codes of practice and certification schemes.

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