To minimise financial losses as a result of fire destruction, engineering and design firm WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff states that organisations have the responsibility to develop and implement effective fire safety management plans.
“One of the main challenges in the engineering industry is the failure of companies to implement a fire system that would best suit the business in terms of proper escape routes and evacuation plans, and the maintenance thereof,” says former WSP fire safety consultant Karel Roodt.
Selecting such a system needs to be based on the size and location of a business, but more importantly, the type of business, to ensure that the system used will extinguish the fire as quickly as possible, he adds.
“People sometimes ignore a fire alarm – or worse, do not even realise what it is. There are numerous reasons, which include a lack of awareness. “In addition, emergency planning and proper fire escape routes are often deficient, fire alarms are poorly maintained, basic first aid and firefighting skills are lacking and fire suppression systems often fail when needed.”
Roodt adds that, in many instances, companies have fire-detection and -suppression systems installed that are not suitable for the area in terms of the layout of the building or its physical structure. Therefore, they often fail to operate correctly or provide false alarms, which could have been prevented.
Further, he notes that insufficient fire-engineering courses by local tertiary institutions is a challenge for the industry and such courses are often nonexistent at these institutions. He adds that engineering companies have to send engineers abroad to study and specialise in fire engineering.
“Internationally, there are numerous fire-testing facilities and fire research organisations to develop new ways and technology,” Roodt asserts.
He comments that there are two ways of applying sufficient fire safety to new and existing buildings – by following the SANS 10400 Part T Fire Protection Code or an alternative performance-based fire-engineered protection design approach.
Roodt explains that the fire safety engineering approach is recognised by the country’s National Building Regulations. Moreover, SANS 10400 Part T suggests that fire safety engineering might be the only viable way to achieve a satisfactory standard of fire safety in some large and complex buildings.
He notes that such engineering also offers an alternative approach to achieving fire-safe design solutions, compared with prescriptive codes and regulatory controls.
“The performance-based methodologies associated with fire engineering provide opportunities for a risk-based evaluation to achieve greater levels of safety while allowing the designer and architect more scope to achieve their aspirations for modern designs.”
Roodt comments that, in most cases, the costs of providing acceptable levels of fire safety are less when following a fire-engineered protection design solution.
In addition, he explains that the codes include the Code Prescriptive Compliance – Fire Engineers that will review a design proposal for local code or regulatory compliance according to National Building Regulations or SANS 10400 Part T Fire protection code.
“It will also offer guidance on prescribed fire safety management strategies and provide a complete solution in terms of safety plans, system processes and management tools, which does not support alternative designs solutions. This prescriptive code does not allow for flexibility in more complex building design,” he explains.
Moreover, Roodt advises that a fire system maintenance plan and contract needs to be in place with the fire servicing companies. Also, regular fire-system testing by a facility manager or fire-system contractor as prescribed by the supplier of the specific fire system needs to be done in addition to regular fire safety risk assessments.
Emergency evacuation plans must be regularly practised and fire escape routes must be easily accessible, he concludes.