The Industries That Must Overhaul Their Fire Safety Procedures
Though there is widespread agreement and acknowledgement that reform is needed when it comes to building regulations and their relation to fire and smoke safety, the issue as it stands today affects various elements of the supply chain in very different ways.
What are the considerations these different stakeholders must make when it comes to improving smoke standards in the UK, and what steps should each take to ensure the industry gets closer to the overhaul in process we’re all so desperate for?
Tier 1 contractors
Holding most responsibility for residential developments, Tier 1 contractors’ priorities tend to focus on meeting the budgets and timescales set out by the client. The excess expenditure associated with smoke ventilation systems is something contractors often struggle to justify to their clients; it’s something a lot of money must be spent on, but which usually remains invisible – something you hope will never need to come into use.
Working with a full service provider in this field can relieve some of the issues Tier 1 contractors face. By getting involved with a smoke specialist at an early stage in specification and development, the tender process can be hugely streamlined leading to significant cost savings. Rather than splitting up the procedure – hiring an M&E specialist to design a smoke vent system, then working with a separate manufacturer and engineer to complete the installation – efficiencies can be made by working with an expert across all these disciplines.
Tier 2 contractors
A major challenge for Tier 2 contractors is having to deal with multiple sub-contractors who each contribute to the same area of specialism. Within fire and smoke safety, there could be one engineer working on fire rated ductwork, while another fits the remainder of the fire and smoke system. Managing communication between these parties can be difficult, especially when it comes to overarching responsibility for a smoke system; typically, no-one is wholly willing to accept that.
At Exyte Hargreaves, we offer Tier 2 contractors the reassurance that there will be no grey areas when it comes to design responsibility. We’ll manage the whole process from end to end, meaning there’s no conflicts between contractors and consultants on how the project should be done. Doing so will ease communication challenges and provides an opportunity to value engineer the project at design stage, rather than make cost savings later down the line. Plus, working with one sole party will make it easier to get the system through building control regulations.
Architects are expected to know everything about everything. But the reality is, they don’t – and can’t. It’s impossible. And generally speaking, there is a lack of knowledge around smoke ventilation and the complexities its presents when drawing up designs and using BIM to create new residential schemes. Despite this, clients still want to have an architect involved in every element of a development up until its completion. Because they put the initial concept together, there’s a view they’re also the expert in every stage. It adds pressure and puts a responsibility on architects, that really shouldn’t be there.
Instead, by involving specialists in smoke ventilation at the beginning of a project, architects will find it easier to implement all the necessary and regulatory considerations required at the earliest stages in a development. Doing so will mean smoke ventilation becomes an integral part of the initial design, not a retrospective installation which takes up space that was allocated to a different function, such as roof gardens and a specific style and size of window. Then, the specialist on board is available to work with other contractors throughout the rest of the project, freeing up the architect to share their expertise in areas where they are more knowledgeable.
Building services consultants
Ensuring architects and contractors stick to specification can be a challenge. Building service consultants have responsibility for seeing plans through to fruition and needs it to be so, because the design has been especially constructed to ensure the building functions correctly. They, in a similar way to architects, also have to be a jack of all trades; there’s a necessity to understand every element from heating and lighting, to acoustics and cladding. But when it comes to smoke, the area is so complex and dominates such a huge part of the process, that only specialist consultants would know its intricacies.
Furthermore, what a smoke ventilation design looks like on paper, as a drawing, is very different to how it functions on site. By sourcing the expertise of smoke ventilation specialists, consultants will have more foresight into how a smoke vent system can complement a building, how it works together with a wider design scheme and how it should be maintained to ensure it functions sufficiently to protect residents. These are the practical elements that are essential to safety, functionality and efficiency. Unless consultants work with the right people, these all risk being hindered.
There is an industry-wide movement to improve the regulation around smoke ventilation products. But certain outcomes would still put these different roles under levels of pressure that could be resolved easily with one simple tactic – introducing a smoke ventilation specialist to the design, development and installation phases of residential schemes, at the initial concept stages. This easy step will transform the supply chain, and deliver the long term benefits within construction that we’re all fighting for.
Dan Ternent, Business Development Director