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• • • SAFETY IN ENGINEERING • • •


Technology must be core of


fire safety for UK schools


and hospitals By Marc Gaunt, segment lead, commercial buildings, Eaton A


s part of the government’s economic recovery plan, Rishi Sunak unveiled a £1billion scheme over the summer to


improve energy efficiency and boost low carbon heating in public buildings, including schools and hospitals. Although a step in the right direction for the economy and our efforts to achieve zero carbon emissions, many public buildings remain at high risk of fires which could endanger lives – an issue the new funding does not take into account. Comprehensive building safety should be of the


utmost importance in the health and education sectors given they have the highest rates of fatality/injury requiring hospital treatment. We can’t risk this falling off the priority list in favour of the UK government’s green package. Instead, building safety must be included within the government’s pledge to ‘build back better’. However, beyond government support, it’s vital that those responsible for upholding building safety standards in schools and hospitals consider what new technologies can be deployed to mitigate the risk of fires and ensure the safe evacuation of occupants in an emergency situation.


FIRE SAFETY IN EDUCATION AND HEALTHCARE BUILDINGS


Figures from an FOI looking into the Department for Education’s school condition data collection (CDC) programme (2017-2019) revealed a clear lack of enforcement of basic fire safety standards across the education sector. The programme showed 2,717 (13%) of UK schools did not have a fire risk assessment, 2,098 (10%) did not have an electrical test certificate and 2,215 (11%) did not have a gas safety test report. Additionally, data from the Home Office highlights that education premises accounted for 4.2% of primary accidental


electricalengineeringmagazine.co.uk


fires across the UK in 2018/2019, whilst hospitals and medical care buildings accounted for 3.8%. Furthermore, 20% of fires in ‘other dwellings’ in London (not houses or flats) in 2019 occurred in nursing/care homes or hospices and 14% occurred in student residence halls. These numbers paint a clear picture of the fire risk present in buildings where some of our most vulnerable members of society are learning, recovering from illness, living and working. At present, the UK government is laser focused on carbon reduction and hazardous cladding in high rise residential buildings. Both are important issues but this ‘tunnel vision’ comes at the expense of wider building safety, which is worryingly overlooked in densely populated buildings such as schools and hospitals. A lack of understanding around fire risks combined with a shocking lack of basic safety standards in some schools means urgent action is required.


HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY MITIGATE THE RISK?


The government and those responsible for building safety must prioritise fire safety and improving standards in UK buildings, but this can only happen with a holistic approach. This needs to include investments to meet safety needs across the entire spectrum of risk, both now and in the future. In 2019/2020 Home Office data found 10% of fires


in the UK were due to electrical distribution faults, which is especially disheartening given that electrically-ignited fires can be prevented before they even start through Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDDs) while adaptive emergency lighting can help to avoid congestion to get people to safety quickly during an emergency – both of which are


readily available in the UK today. As hazards continue to evolve, facilities


managers, building owners and the government must work together to assess the complex nature of risk in buildings today and take stock of existing technologies to ensure they are upholding the highest standard of safety possible.


WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR BUILDING SAFETY STANDARDS?


The Hackitt Review – commissioned following the Grenfell Tower tragedy – encourages the government to take a more robust approach to defining new building safety standards as these only apply to a small set of commercial buildings considered ‘high risk’ at present (specifically multi-occupancy high-rise residential buildings). Yet, the height of a building alone is not sufficient to characterise risk. In fact, the review explicitly calls out hospitals and education buildings as some of the most high risk considering their complexity and the potential vulnerability of occupants, highlighting why the government should bring in specific measures to build additional protection for the occupants of these buildings as soon as possible. We need to see a paradigm shift in building safety


culture – evolving from ‘fit and forget’ to selecting and maintaining the right solutions based on the application and risk. By implementing the right technology and revisiting building safety standards more regularly, facilities managers and building owners can effectively protect people, assets and their reputation, dramatically improving the safety of our schools and hospitals.


EATON eaton.uk.com


ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING • OCTOBER 2020 33


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