Fire safety remains a vital component of new building designs in an age of increasing demand and state-of-the-art construction methods and materials, a Parliamentary reception heard.
The reception examined what the fire-related challenges and opportunities are in the built environment in today’s world and explored the role of occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals in prevention and ensuring there are mechanisms in place to protect workers should an incident happen.
Gary Laird, Chair of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) Fire Risk Management Group, said it is important that planners and designers – faced with meeting societal needs and expectations for growth – consult OSH professionals on fire safety from the outset of construction projects.
He added that OSH professionals have a role to reinforce a fire safety culture once buildings are in use, meaning it is vital they are fully competent in this area.
The event was held by the IOSH group at the House of Commons on Tuesday 6 September, to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.
Gary said: “Training, education and evidence-based practice are all essential tools. The rise in [building] technology and the ever-increasing demand for growth and urbanisation has seen new building development to meet these needs.
“But, we need to always ask ourselves ‘could we be compromising building standards to meet this demand and what effect will this have on future firefighting capability?’”
The reception was hosted by Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, and attended by MPs, Peers, industry leaders, representatives of trade associations and professional bodies and IOSH members.
Gary, a former senior firefighter, welcomed the delegates. He stressed the critical importance of providing automatic sprinklers in buildings and highlighted that his group is working with others to inform and advise governments and public policy-makers on fire safety.
Dr David Gold, who is also a member of the IOSH group’s committee and an international consultant on fire safety, also highlighted the important role of OSH professionals.
He said: “There needs to be adequate pro-active planning in place to deal with emergencies that are regularly tested through scenarios and drills with a view towards continual improvement. Planning also needs to look beyond the event itself at the long-term crisis management and business continuity.
“Our emphasis and priority must first and foremost be on the protection of human life. We should however also keep in mind that if a workplace is damaged or destroyed, that there are potentially thousands of people who can be directly or indirectly affected. Our planning efforts must also take into account what measures can be put into place to allow for organisations and communities to recover from a fire.”
IOSH Vice-President Andrew Sharman and Fire Sector Federation Chair Brian Robinson also gave presentations. Following the presentations, the delegates were invited to submit questions to the panel.
After the reception, David said: “In concluding the event, I asked the speakers to say what the takeaway messages were from the event.
“There were four: with the strengthening of fire safety and its associated technologies, we must be careful not to lapse into complacency; the importance that not only workers but also the general public are continually provided education and information about fire safety; the need for occupational safety and health professionals to fully embrace the concepts of fire safety and integrate fire safety into occupational safety and health; and that if efforts to prevent fire are to succeed and means to protect workers are to be effective, the fostering and reinforcement of a fire safety culture is imperative.”
The Great Fire of London began in a bakery in Pudding Lane in September 1666 and spread across the city, destroying thousands of buildings.
For more information, go to www.iosh.co.uk