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CROSS Safety Report

Fire safety management during building works

Report ID: 1193 Published: 21 August 2023 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A reporter shares multiple and various concerns about the maintenance of existing fire safety measures during a period of building work, as well as the approach taken to manage building evacuation for persons with reduced mobility (PRM).

Key Learning Outcomes

For building contractors:

  • When commencing construction projects on partially occupied buildings, ensure the potential impact on fire safety is fully considered
  • Use best practice guidance, such as the Fire Protection Association's Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation

For designers, consultants and building owners:

  • Designing means of escape for persons with reduced mobility requires advice from competent persons
  • Adequate project management is essential to prevent apparent reckless behaviour from contractors

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The reporter is a fire, health and safety professional employed at a higher education institution. A substantial construction project had commenced by the time the reporter took up the post. The reporter identified various failings.

The reporter discovered that, as part of a major new build project, construction work was underway beneath student sleeping accommodation. On inspection, there was no apparent consideration of the provision of fire resisting construction to separate the construction site from the sleeping accommodation.  Additionally, the construction project resulted in reduced widths and extended travel distances for escape routes from the occupied areas, with no emergency lighting provision, and inappropriate automatic fire detection. In the view of the reporter, this demonstrated a reckless attitude by the contractor.

The reporter identified ineffective project management with little substantial input from the client. There was no apparent cooperation between the relevant parties, nor use of easily available guidance such as the Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation, published by the Fire Protection Association. A subsequent visit by Fire and Rescue Service inspecting officers resulted in a Notice of Deficiencies being issued.

Despite repeatedly urging the contractors to take more care, citing the Grenfell Tower fire and the failings identified in the Hackitt Review and the Public Inquiry, the reporter was met with apathy.

Whilst the reporter requested fire safety information in relation to the construction works and the new build, little information was forthcoming. A first draft fire strategy document referred to the necessity for evacuation lifts. However, the final draft fire strategy, as submitted for building control approval, made no mention of evacuation lifts but referred to 'identifying and training staff to physically assist wheelchair users'. The reporter raised their concerns with senior management and it is understood, by the reporter, that the change in strategy was founded on false assumptions. 

The reporter says that without regard for student safety the contractors started works with no apparent consideration of the impact on escape routes. 

Expert Panel Comments

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Occupation of a building while construction works are underway requires very careful planning, and it seems that this was not done here. If there are doubts about fire safety precautions and management's willingness to address concerns, then the relevant enforcing authorities should be brought in without delay. 

Previously published by CROSS, Report 1169 Fire safety concerns for partially occupied Higher Risk Residential Buildings is relevant. 

If there are doubts about fire safety precautions and management's willingness to address concerns, then the relevant enforcing authorities should be brought in without delay

This report demonstrates the need for a holistic assessment of fire safety risk when building work is taking place, including the effects on any adjacent areas potentially impacted in terms of fire safety. This assessment should be undertaken by a competent fire engineer as part of a specific fire strategy to provide adequate safety and mitigation to suitably address risk. 

Principal designers must recognise the importance of engaging with fire engineers to produce construction phase fire strategy documents which would identify the actions required to ensure the safety of those occupying the premises during construction works.

It could be concluded that the issues highlighted in this report demonstrate commonplace failings in the UK construction industry, which values project cost and timescale above all else.  Competent input is neither sought, nor desired since it is likely to impact cost and/or timescale.  The obvious failings identified by the reporter serve to highlight how much further the industry needs to improve even to meet a minimum level of safety.

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