Fire Prevention, Safety and Security

Fire Prevention, Safety and Security  Image

Fire prevention, safety and security are undoubtedly key issues for local authority building professionals despite the significant fall in the number of fire related fatalities in the last decade. An area of particular concern and one that is increasingly in the spotlight is arson, which now costs the British taxpayer on average
£1 billion per year.

In fact, arson remains one of the key threats to public buildings, with schools unfortunately being a prime target for attack. Official statistics show that out of all the arson attacks on public buildings, 25 per cent of them were carried out on schools. [1]

Although we cannot anticipate arson, we can prepare for it. Therefore it’s vital that local authority professionals include arson as a focus in their contingency planning, including specific precautions to prevent and limit the damage caused. In essence, it’s about prevention rather than cure so taking a proactive approach, such as increasing building security measures, will help stop an incident before it happens. Fitting additional CCTV cameras, improving entrance gates and ensuring there is no breach to perimeter fences all act as deterrents for arsonists. If budgets are tight however, more pragmatic solutions should be implemented, for instance, relocating refuse receptacles further away from main
buildings.

Councils should also consider their approach to their choice of material for the exterior of public buildings. Whilst timber cladding may be cheaper and, some may argue, more aesthetically pleasing, its vulnerability to arsonists surpasses that of brick and concrete.

Another area of concern for the sector is fire risk assessment. Historically, fire safety certificates were awarded by trained fire safety officers, however responsibility has shifted to the occupier of a building. Although there is an abundance of information and guidance available on how to carry out fire risk assessments, we face a real danger in letting an unqualified person make, what are in effect, life and death decisions. Fire risk assessments need to be conducted by a qualified expert, particularly in public buildings where members of the general public are concerned. Having a fully trained professional who has the correct competencies and skills to identify potential fire hazards will ultimately help to reduce risks, ensure compliance with legislation and potentially save lives.

Colin Bell
September 2011

[1] Department of Communities and Local
Government (2010), Fire Statistics,
United Kingdom 2008, http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/corporate/statistics/firestatisticsuk2008



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