Five steps to improved life safety
Author : Neil Eves, Head of System Sales, Hochiki
03 January 2023
Corporate fire and security, once seen as a cost drain, is now a data driven offering which can add to the overall goals and objectives of your business. Advances in technology have probably been the biggest driver, allowing fire and security specialists, facilities managers and responsible persons to better understand their business premises, which in turn, enables a value-add aspect.
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As businesses and technology continue to advance, there is a huge opportunity for you to work with fire specialists to move your business beyond previous limits. By aligning with other business units, stakeholders and organisations the expectations of your company board as well as governing bodies can not only be met, but using real time analysis of incidents, threats and events, you can prove your integral life safety role within the organisation.
But how do you convince your business to move beyond what is legally required?
Your biggest opportunity will be to provide analysis (industry led and the insight from fire and security partners) to enhance your existing risk management processes, saving you time and money, streamline other processes and gain buy in from your colleagues. For example, a good health and safety record can provide you with a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting new team members. Good health and safety practices in the workplace builds trust in your reputation and brand, particularly with Millennials and Gen Z employees who seek roles with corporations who share their values around corporate responsibility.
Like all processes, it is wise to remember that fire and security continues to evolve with no ‘finish line’ in sight. New technologies, threats and events will require you and your team to adapt and adjust accordingly, but this shouldn’t be seen as a negative. This is a fantastic opportunity to look inwards, review and analyse past incidents, understand what the future might look like and how to build what is needed for your business’ unique circumstances.
The five-step life cycle model
A good place to start is with a data lead offering via a five-step life cycle model. Track and Analyse, Enhance, Optimise, Anticipate and Innovate, with each stage acting as a steppingstone to the next. Viewing security and fire processes in this way will demonstrate to the wider business the benefit beyond legal requirements, which can be used in multiple ways – something your competitors may not have thought of. Depending on the size of your business you may wish to work with a fire specialist or installer to understand this better.
Track and analysis
The ‘Track and Analysis’ stage is all about asking questions. How does the existing process work? How can the existing process be enhanced i.e., with new technology? What are your competitors doing? How about looking at other industries, are there lessons to be learnt there? Is your business up to date with the latest legislation?
Of course, limited resources to make these improvements to systems and process might be an issue, or you might think that your workplace has a good health and safety environment and therefore your business might not be willing to assign new budget to make improvements. This is where it is important to look at the concept of ‘reasonably practicable’ comes in. Sitting at the heart of the UK’s health and safety system ‘reasonably practicable’ is a legal term that means businesses must balance the cost of steps that they could take to reduce a risk against the degree of risk presented. It’s all about taking appropriate measures that realistically reflect the level of risk. For example, to spend £1m to prevent two members of staff suffering from bruised knees is grossly disproportionate. However, spending the same amount on preventing a fire risk that could kill or maim 150 people would be reasonable.
Risk analysis and insight are not steps to be rushed or scrimped on, especially when we are talking about the safety of people, buildings and assets. Obviously, there is a line, but gaining visibility internally and externally (competitor analysis and industry legislation) will help you and your stakeholders to work towards gaining a comprehensive understanding of fire and security incidents and help you monitor the environment you operate within.
By taking a deep dive, tracking what your business has now and what you might implement in the future, remembering the ‘so what’ aspect, will enable you to successfully move to the next stage.
Enhance and optimise
Key considerations for your business at the ‘Enhance and Optimise’ stages would be to understand and find connections between incidents, how to work towards reducing the magnitude and impact of such incidents, as well as implementing more escalations and advanced reporting. For example, does your business really understand the energy usage of any safety systems in place, what about the impact of a false alarm incident from a faulty device on production and profits? Both of which when you know the answer could speak volumes to your finance director.
Understanding the granularity of these types of events will shape what your business’ fire and security processes might look like in the future.
The next stage is to ‘Anticipate’ security improvements. This is where you shift attention to the external environment, becoming more proactive by identifying and neutralising threats before they even become incidents. Often this stage sits with larger corporations, where events such as deliberate attempts to threaten security become risk factors to consider. However, even for smaller businesses it pays to keep a watchful eye on this type of scenario, especially if you have ambitions to grow.
When it comes to Innovation, of course, any size of enterprise will benefit from the latest technological advances in fire safety design and manufacturing, according to budget and resources.
Whilst remembering there is no finish line, your fire and security process should be a wheel that turns constantly, fed by the expertise available to you in the marketplace in order to meet the latest fire safety legislation. It’s also worth knowing life safety technology might help your business achieve its environmental targets - did you know that there are now emergency lighting devices, that can not only protect your people and assets, but also significantly reduce energy consumption.
In today's world, your responsibility for workplace life safety goes far beyond what it might once have as there are so many more factors to consider. You and your team may have to adapt to the changing circumstances of your businesses, environmental and social impact, needs of your customers and of course requirements by law. Working with fire safety partners who know it is no longer acceptable to just fit a fire detection device is vital. Instead look for partners who can provide you with additional insight, ongoing consultation on maintenance and those who work with the best in the business when it comes to life safety research, design and manufacturing of life safety systems and devices.
By implementing this five-step approach to improving life safety within your business, you will become a more resilient and future proofed organisation.
Risk Assessment – the law.
Neil Eves, Head of System Sales, Hochiki
It is important to understand that the above does not replace your internal Risk Assessments, it is merely an approach to take to cover all bases.
Risk assessments are an essential part of modern day living, keeping the people around you alive and safe. If a Risk Assessment is done poorly, the consequences could be severe. Death is the worst-case scenario.
In 2007 at the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay a blaze killed three people and was described as the deadliest hotel fire in the UK for nearly 40 years. The owners were fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £62,000 costs for failing to meet fire safety standards and not maintaining the building’s fire detection system.
More recently, a contractor has been fined £600,000 and its director ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and fined £4,200 following serious and repeated failings in managing the risk of fire during work at a site. The investigation launched by the HSE, and assisted by the local Fire & Rescue Service, identified failings in fire management at the site which created risks to workers and members of the public who were visiting show flats outside of business hours. The investigation found that the environment at the site was poorly managed, and the construction work being carried out was done so in an unsafe manner which could have resulted in a fire.
For health and safety managers you work with, its important they know that the HSE can also carry out spot checks to see whether a premises has carried out a risk assessment and its doing all it can to minimise danger to occupants. Those convicted of not doing so will experience the full weight of the law – minor penalties include a fine of up to £5,000 for breaching Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, while major penalties can mean unlimited fines and up to two years in prison. In addition, under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, Fire Safety Enforcement Officers now have the right to enter any workplace at any reasonable hour, without giving notice to inspect a premises. If a breach is found, then the severity of the action will be decided by the officer. Sometimes informal advice may be given, or an Enforcement Notice may be issued, but a severe breach could lead to prosecution.
About the author:
Starting out in the industry as an electrical engineer in the early 1980s, Neil Eves is Hochiki's Head of System Sales and an expert when it comes to fire industry regulations, best practice strategies and systems innovation. Having worked with some of the biggest players in the fire and security markets, Neil has spent the last decade at leading life safety manufacturer Hochiki Europe where he has delivered major multi-million-pound projects across multiple sectors as well as developing Hochiki's Systems Partnership program.
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