Jonathan O'Neill OBE

It was a privilege to be a part of Fire 2020 last Wednesday. The new industry event, which we organised alongside our colleagues at the Institution of Fire Engineers and the National Fire Chiefs Council, brought together people from all sorts of roles within the fire industry and inevitably, provided much food for thought.

I appreciated the chance to talk about the pressures and constraints facing building owners and managers and to hear the progress being made by Stephen Greenhalgh, Minister of State for Fire, on the Fire Safety Bill.

It was sobering to discuss the devastating consequences for companies, communities, and individuals when a fire rips through a care home or school or business. So many establishments do not have the organisational resilience that you would expect, and there is an urgent need for property and business protection to move up the agenda.

We took the opportunity to launch our new campaign, Know Your Building, which aims to highlight the true cost of fire for businesses and how owners and managers can reduce the impact of a major fire by truly ‘knowing’ their building. As part of our campaign, we have created a Fire Risk Blind Spot Calculator. It helps identify gaps in fire safety awareness and evaluates four key areas - building knowledge, fire protection systems, training and competency and organisational resilience. It only takes five to ten minutes to complete, but it could give you insights that could change your entire approach to managing fire risk. That’s a big claim I know, but we are passionate about helping to raise standards across the UK.

As we discussed potential blind spots and challenges facing building owners and managers, I was struck once again by the ambiguity in the current and proposed legislation. While it does require fire risk assessments to be undertaken by a ‘competent’ person, there is still no definition of what competent means. How many more fires do we need to witness before we bring standards in line with other industries? For many years, gas checks have been performed by CORGI qualified individuals. When will the fire industry follow suit?

And let’s not limit accreditation to fire risk assessments. Now is the time to raise standards across the board and insist that all products and services are third party certified. It’s the only way to guarantee the competence of installers and fire safety practitioners, and to ensure traceability and suitability of all fire safety products.

Additionally, we need to see a change in the law regarding sprinkler systems. It really is a no brainer. Insurers, fire chiefs and architects are all united in their view that sprinklers are the most effective way of controlling fires, saving lives and improving the resilience of the built environment. They are reliable and more often than not negate the need for fire and rescue service intervention. The sooner sprinkler systems become mandatory in all high risk buildings such as schools, hospitals, care homes and multi storey buildings, the better.

Finally, all these changes must be implemented as part of a fire strategy, something we believe should be a requirement for all commercial buildings. A fire strategy will consider the unique challenges to a business and work with the responsible person to ensure it is more resilient to the risks of fire.

With proper protection and prevention systems in place, a major fire can be contained and doesn’t have to be the end of the story. While there is so much going on at the moment that we can’t control, it feels as if this is something we can proactively do. And we must.

To visit the Fire Risk Blind Spot Calculator, click here.