Across the last four decades, the life safety industry has met a number of significant challenges and opportunities presented to it, among them the need for better risk management within the global built environment. While those working diligently across the sector have made great strides to address the issues of tomorrow, Graham Lowe highlights why he feels there’s still more work to be done.
Educating building owners and keeping those responsible for life safety up-to-speed with the legislative landscape is an ever-present challenge. As recent events have shown in stark detail, tragedy can occur even in the most modern cities if fire safety responsibilities are not taken seriously enough. To pre-empt this, there’s a need to continually update Government, building owners and duty holders alike on the knowledge they need to keep occupants safe.
Recent research carried out with installers working throughout Europe reflects this concern, and highlights the fact that there’s increasing apprehension around customers’ understanding of life safety systems and regulation. Carried out by ourselves, the research identified that almost a third (32%, in fact) of life safety system installers regularly encounter properties with inappropriately positioned or otherwise outdated life safety equipment. Over one third of those system installers also stated that up to 80% of sites they visit don’t comply with the current fire safety regulations.
The research also examined attitudes towards life safety maintenance. According to the report, nearly 70% of European installers think their clients view the upkeep of their life safety systems as a ‘tick-box’ exercise, with just 11% believing it to be an essential process that safeguards building users.
To combat these worrying findings, there’s an industry-wide need to highlight how a number of fire risks can be averted by investing, not just in the latest technologies, but in upgrading and correctly maintaining existing fire detection systems in order to ensure they offer optimum performance at all times. Especially in the larger or high-rise buildings, it’s absolutely imperative that adequate early warning is given to building occupants at the onset of a fire incident so as to afford everyone within sufficient time to evacuate the premises safely.
Key to this is working with central Government and building owners to establish an environment in which everyone has the systems in place to keep occupants safe from fire risks. There’s also an overriding need to make educational resources available to those who need them, such that duty holders can stay up-to-date with the latest insight and information that will help them better protect buildings and the people who use them.
Responding to legislation
Education around life safety must be closely aligned with updates in legislation and new regulatory standards. BS 5266 Part 1 2016 Emergency Lighting Code of Practice, for example, has recently been updated to include a broader array of categories. The updates also mean that BS 5266 is no longer a prescriptive requirement. Rather, it’s the easiest way in which to demonstrate to the auditing authorities that adequate safety precautions are in fact in place.
Construction professionals need to be aware of these changes and the potential impact they have, such that occupant safety isn’t compromised. As a business, we’ve responded to demand by hosting a Continuing Professional Development-approved emergency lighting webinar for the industry. This proved to be an extremely popular development with our stakeholders and, moving forward, we’re now looking at how we can continue to pass on valuable insights through additional webinars and online resources for those seeking information on regulatory updates.
The smart cities revolution is another transformational movement driving change across our industry. These urban spaces, which actively integrate advanced information and communication technology into infrastructure, are fundamentally changing the ways in which buildings – and, more widely, towns and cities – are being designed. Life safety technology is by no means exempt from feeling the impact of this widespread digitisation. Rather, it’s already playing a pivotal role in the transition.
Modern life safety systems and technologies already operate as part of a connected network in which one centralised panel controls all fire safety and emergency lighting equipment within any given building. This means facilities managers can monitor the performance of their entire life safety network from a single location, helping to save time as they carry out the regular inspections required by the law.
Smart lighting technologies are also already widely used in environments such as hospitals in a determined bid to offer optimum comfort and energy savings simultaneously.
In line with the increased use of these technologies and the drive towards smart cities, I believe we’re going to see the introduction of even more stringent fire safety legislation and building control regulations in the coming years. My prediction is that there will be a greater emphasis on the integration of control systems – including fire safety and emergency lighting equipment – across the built environment to ensure that technologies are working together effectively.
By efficiently streamlining the process of life safety system maintenance and ensuring that systems are operating in the most efficient manner, building occupants will be warned of fire risks at the earliest possible moment to help ensure their safer evacuation.
In Britain, there’s one event that’s impossible to avoid talking about when looking towards the future of business. The majority of UK-based businesses are facing some level of uncertainty when it comes to Brexit. However, here at Hochiki Europe, we’re currently putting the relevant processes in place to ensure that we continue to provide the best possible level of support for our customers both here in the UK and overseas as the country leaves the EU.
Post-Brexit, we’ll be focused on ensuring we continue to invest in cutting-edge technology to keep remain ahead of future life safety trends, demands and challenges as they evolve. We will also innovate and invest in developing our product range, working in close partnership with our sister company Kentec, the fire alarm control panel specialist. We’ll be using our network of independent third party panel manufacturers supporting the Hochiki Europe open protocol ESP to ensure that we’re always enhancing the connectivity of our products.
As the world embraces digital technology, it’s fair to state that Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become increasingly present across the built environment. I believe it will completely transform the way in which we build and maintain our commercial environments.
As a collaborative practice, BIM allows all parties involved in the lifecycle of a building – from architects to construction managers to facilities managers – to input, share and access data regarding the location and qualities of all elements appearing in building designs. This significantly improves efficiency, reduces wastage and cuts costs for all those involved.
When it comes to life safety specifically, BIM offers a number of additional benefits. For example, it can assist in depicting how a fire might move through a building or evaluate the potential spread of smoke, allowing the fastest and safest escape routes for occupants to be identified. Equally, specifiers can access the fire resistance credentials of all building materials used in a project (such as insulation and flooring) through the BIM Library to ensure all materials meet the required legislation.
Recently, BIM Level 2 became mandatory for all centrally-procured Government construction projects. While more and more organisations are beginning to recognise the benefits of BIM, in line with this mandate, facilities managers and the entire construction sector are under increasing pressure to maximise efficiency and save money. BIM can offer invaluable solutions.
The fire safety industry has shown great resilience in responding to the ever-growing challenges posed in recent years. By acknowledging that there’s room for further improvement, those working within the sector have an opportunity to develop new and innovative solutions that can have a positive impact both now and into the future.
It’s essential the industry adopts a collective and proactive approach towards education across the sector and continues to invest in new technology that will further enhance life safety within the built environment.
Graham Lowe is Managing Director of Hochiki Europe