I recently made the journey down to London for the 2019 FIREX International exhibition. Held at the London ExCel, FIREX International is Europe’s only dedicated fire-safety event, with over 130 exhibitors and an estimated 18,000 people expected to have attended over the three days.
As well as supporting our clients, Isover and Quelfire, who were exhibiting at the show, and hosting a series of editor visits to their stands, a key attraction of FIREX for me was the wide array of industry-led seminars available. Talks ranged from discussing the need for third-party certification of products and the key changes to Building Regulations to the future of the fire industry after Brexit. Seminars at events and exhibitions, such as FIREX, are always a great opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of issues currently facing the construction sector, providing a useful insight into key topics and debates. This is especially valuable, as it’s great reference material for the technical writing I do for my clients on a day to day basis.
One of the seminars I attended at FIREX was focused on the government’s proposals for the new building safety regulatory system and examined the potential impact on the construction and fire sectors, led by Niall Rowan, CEO of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP).
Like everyone else, I’ve heard and read a lot about fire-safety in the last couple of years – even before I started working in the construction industry – and it still never fails to shock me how many discrepancies, omissions and errors there can be in terms of a building’s fire protection, especially when you consider that it’s people’s lives at risk. In the seminar, Niall commented on an extract from a report published in 2003 by the ASFP for the then Department of Trade and Industry, which commented on how ‘public safety is being impinged by incorrect PFP measures and […] a disaster caused by accelerated or unexpected fire spread could follow if no action is taken to improve initial standards’. How then, despite this warning 14 years prior, could a disaster such as Grenfell happen?
Niall then went on to examine the findings of the Hackitt Report and reviewed the steps that government has both already made and proposed to make in light of the same. Yet, despite the findings of the Hackitt Report and Government’s recent consultations and proposals, the overriding message from the seminar was that much more still needed to be done.
As well as the need to consider fire protection at the design and specification stage of a project, rather than as an addition or afterthought, one of the main issues raised was the need for detailed, regular inspections of a building’s passive fire protection, to ensure that it complies with current regulations and would perform correctly in the event of a fire. Indeed, unlike fire doors, which are readily visible for inspection, other passive fire protection measures can often be hidden from sight in the internal structure of a building. The ASFP has developed a guide, which can be purchased by non-members here.
Another concern that I took away from the seminar was a common feeling of confusion amongst the industry as to who is actually responsible for fire-safety within a newly constructed or refurbished building. Several roles and responsibilities outlined in the Fire Safety Order were discussed, such as the ‘duty-holder’, ‘responsible person’, ‘accountable person’ and ‘building safety regulator’; however, a show of hands from the audience revealed just how few people truly understood such titles – a telling sign.
It is clear that fire-safety is, and will no doubt continue to be, an issue of great debate, feeling and concern within construction. As a result, attending related events, such as FIREX, and engaging with industry-led seminars is key, especially from a PR perspective, in order to stay on top of the current approaches, viewpoints and regulations.