David Sugden, Chairman of the Passive Fire Protection Federation says Risk Assessments should always start with the structure.
The best starting point is Regulation 38 (which is Regulation, not guidance!) in Approved Document B. This requires those constructing new buildings or making major changes to existing buildings to provide details of all the fire safety measures. Building Control must no tissue the Completion Certificate until this information has been provided - andit should include details on the actual structure of the building. This is to provide the Responsible Person under the FSO with the information for an initial Risk Assessment.
So how does the average landlord or building owner go about this exercise? For older buildings where records of work done since the original construction are poor or non-existent the only way to start is by examining the structure.
The Risk Assessment should investigate whether the original compartmentation of the building remains intact.Compartmentation refers to the areas of manageable risk within a building that are designed to contain any outbreak of fire for a certain time; usually 30 minutes but sometimes up to two hours. Approved Document B also requires the load-bearing elements of the building to remain stable for a similar period of time.
The Responsible Person will need to know the boundaries of the compartments, known as the 'fire separating elements'(such as floors, ceilings and walls along escape routes) and be satisfied that any penetrations/holes are adequately sealed. Any pipes, cables, ductwork,doors and windows - ie anything that penetrates the fire separating elements - must be constructed to provide the required period of stability, integrity and in some cases insulation. Any work done on the building after occupation must not compromise these fire separating elements or reduce the structural stability of the load-bearing elements.
To ensure this happens, any further maintenance or improvement work should be undertaken by contractors who know about structural fire safety (known as Passive Fire Protection or PFP).Approved Document B recommends that contractors are members of recognised third party certification schemes rather than general tradesmen who may leave fire safety products and measures damaged. Contractors should provide Certificates of Conformity showing how the integrity of fire separation element has been ensured, or how structural stability has been maintained. Only when you have certificates of conformity for all the work should you then look at the management of the escape routes, fire drill operations etc. Remember the Risk Assessment is a dynamic document and should be revised after any modification to the building.
Further guidance and details of third party certification schemes -shortly to include those currently being established for Risk Assessors - are on www.pfpf.org.uk.
This article was originally published in HABM October 2011