This year’s RISCAuthority seminar explored some of the latest issues affecting insurers and fire stakeholders – from the Government ruling out any fire safety changes to the Building Regulations, to ongoing concerns over timber-frame construction.

THE GROWING influence of RISCAuthority in linking up the fire safety aspirations and activities of insurers with the broader fire sector was demonstrated at its 2011 annual seminar in March. 
Some 130 delegates – a mix of RISCAuthority members and others from the insurance and fire sectors – heard about its latest work to promote safe and sustainable buildings, in a day of discussion that also covered the Fire Futures review, government policy, business continuity, arson prevention and timber-framed construction risks.
 
RISCAuthority update
 
To set the scene was Chris Hanks, chair of RISCAuthority, who gave an update on its activities in 2010 and its aims this year.
He emphasised the role of RISCAuthority in carrying out independent research and developing technical understanding and best practice guidance in fire and security risk management. Set up and funded by the majority of UK insurers, the scheme is a portal for communication between the insurance and fire sectors, and also has a lobbying role.
Under the banner, ‘insurers protecting the future’, Mr Hanks explained that RISCAuthority’s mission is to promote business and property protection. Central to this is its six working groups:
  • Active: this group covers property protection, fire protection and extinguishing systems
  • Passive: building design, construction and occupation is the focus of this group
  • Risk control: this group produces loss prevention guides for insurers and consumers
  • Intervention and monitoring: statistics, government policy, and fire and rescue services fall under the remit of this group
  • Security: property crime prevention and technical issues is the focus here
  • Business continuity: this group develops best practice and free tools, such as the Resilient Business Software Toolkit
The need for all RISCAuthority members to get involved was stressed by Mr Hanks, who said that the working groups only operate through the continued support and contribution 
of members.
 
Key concerns
 
He went on to outline some of the key aims of RISCAuthority this year, including:
  • scrutinising and providing input into Fire Futures, the strategic review of the fire sector that looks set to shake up the delivery of fire services and enhance best practice in building safety
  • producing guidance to support the mitigation of insurance risks introduced on the back of the sustainability agenda
  • improving insurance statistics to support lobbying activities
  • continued scrutiny of timber-frame construction projects and modern methods of construction – which were heavily debated at RISCAuthority’s annual seminar last year (see ‘Risk matters’, FRM, April 2010, p.19)
  • addressing other concerns, such as arson risks, the escalating costs of large loss commercial fires, and the impact of European standards
In addition, Mr Hanks said that RISCAuthority would be implementing a new governance model, which will ensure better engagement with its members, improved collaboration with other stakeholders, and a stronger market profile.
 
Building Regulations
 
Next up was Brian Martin from the Department of Comm-unities and Local Government’s Sustainable Buildings Division, who outlined plans to update the Building Regulations in England and Wales.
Last year, the Government carried out a consultation exercise, seeking ideas on how the regulations could be improved or slimmed down. One of the drivers behind the review is the need to reduce the regulatory burden on the building industry, particularly the house-building sector, during the fragile economic recovery, while also making it easier for duty-holders to comply with the regulations.
There were several hundred responses, which provided valuable information for the Government to consider. 
However, there were not that many unexpected issues or suggestions. Indeed, the key theme to emerge, said Mr Martin, is that stakeholders generally think the existing Building Regulations regime is fit for purpose, although there are things that can be improved.
The plan now is to examine a number of areas and develop detailed proposals for consultation – with a particular focus on deregulation and streamlining the technical and procedural aspects of the regulations.
It is understood that there will be no changes to Part B of the regulations and the supporting guidance in Approved Document B (ADB), which deal with fire safety – despite calls for the existing regulations to be amended to require the greater provision of sprinklers and address concerns over timber-frame construction (see p.10).
However, the Government has pledged to:
  • evaluate the contribution that Part P (covering electrical safety in dwellings) has made, and consider ways of reducing the costs of compliance
  • explore how rationalisation of Parts M, K and N (access to and use of buildings, protection from falling, collision and impact, and glazing, respectively) might address areas of potential conflict and overlap
  • examine changes to the building control system, seeking means of improving compliance and considering ways of reducing the burden of compliance
Fire Futures
 
The future protection of the built environment was also explored by Mike Wood, who examined the challenges and opportunities posed by the Fire Futures review (see ‘Fire Futures’,  FRM, March 2011, p.9).
Mr Wood, head of fire protection at Pilkington and chair of the Fire Safety Development Group, said the strategic review, which proposed a wide-ranging overhaul of the fire sector in England, could be a new dawn.
However, he warned that, as the fire sector works with the Government to reshape fire service delivery and enhance building risk management, a critical issue must be addressed: the fire community must take sufficient steps to identify and analyse the trends happening now in construction, to see how they affect the basic resilience of the built environment to fire.
Expanding his argument, Mr Wood illustrated how construction practice and technology is advancing rapidly. 
Taller and more complex buildings are being designed, often involving innovative construction methods. There are also larger and more mixed occupancies. And yet, he said, the robustness of these buildings against fire is not being analysed in detail.
He outlined the proposals within Fire Futures to improve fire safety in the built environment – including better guidance and skills development to improve competency, moves to eliminate the current ‘disconnect’ between the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and the Building Regulations, and more collaboration and knowledge sharing. Mr Wood also suggested that a sector-owned fire safety national building code could be created, to form the basis for a coherent set of practical standards and benchmarks.
 
Timber-frame analysis
 
Perhaps the issue of the moment – fire risks on timber-frame construction sites – was under the spotlight too.
Dr Jim Glockling, the director of RISCAuthority and technical director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), explained how a number of fires in recent years have high-lighted the significant risks posed by timber-frame building sites. These fires are characterised by rapid fire spread, enormous radiated heat and the large spread of embers, often leading to the total loss of the structure, including completed parts, and causing fires in adjacent properties (see ‘Timber-framed concerns’, FRM, April 2010, p.10).
He went on to outline recent moves to address timber-frame concerns. For example, the SiteSafe initiative ensures that manufacturing member companies of the UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA) working on large projects (four storeys or more and/or with an aggregate floor area of more than 2,500m2) give clear and concise information and assistance to the principal contractor regarding fire safety on construction sites.
In addition, UKTFA and the Chief Fire Officers Assoc-iation (CFOA) have formed a Timber Frame Working Party. 
It is working to improve security and site housekeeping, ensure that local fire services are notified of timber projects, and examine panel preparations to reduce timber exposure. 
However, said Dr Glockling, the working party will probably not consider the full range of risks and mitigation options, because many of the solutions could curtail design options or negate the cost-benefits of the timber construction technique.
Various other measures are being considered, including the installation of temporary sprinklers on large timber-frame sites, increased surveillance during non-work hours to counter the threat of arson, and a more rigorous building inspection process to check the quality of workmanship (see ‘Capital growth’, FRM, February 2011, p.7).
Dr Glockling also set out the results of a statistical analysis of timber-frame fires in the USA and the UK, carried out by RISCAuthority’s passive working group. This found that timber fire risks in the UK are greater than in America, where its use as a construction material is more established. 
He called for more research and investigation of the risks.
Concerns over timber can primarily be resolved by amending ADB, he argued, but the guidance only seems to be updated following incidents involving loss of life, rather than property damage. Mr Martin’s earlier comments – that ADB will not be amended in the upcoming Building Regulations review – appeared to endorse this view.
 
House building
 
Moving on, the role of the UK National House-Building Council (NHBC) in raising standards to protect home buyers was outlined by its head of engineering policy, George Fordyce.
NHBC is the UK’s leading warranty and insurance provider for new homes, and its 10-year Buildmark warranty covers more than 80% of new homes built each year. 
The Council also carries out work to check modern methods of construction, to ensure long-term durability and satisfactory performance for the design life of the building.
Discussing the growing use of timber-frame, Mr Fordyce said the NHBC does not favour one construction type above another, but all have to be suitable for their intended purpose. If properly designed and constructed, timber frame can be used successfully for many years, he added.
He also provided an update on the work of the NHBC Foundation, which supports research and development on, for example, low- or zero-carbon technologies, flooding and fire safety. NHBC’s technical requirements for workmanship, structural design, etc, were described. Mr Fordyce added that the Council will be publishing a new research report on the fire performance of residential buildings in the next 
few months.
 
Arson reduction
 
The vice-president of CFOA, Lee Howell, took the stage next, discussing the ongoing threat of arson. He described the scale of the problem. UK statistics for 2008 show that arson resulted in 18,000 major fires, 64 deaths and 2,000 injuries, mainly in dwellings. There were also 27,000 deliberate vehicle fires. Most people prosecuted or cautioned for arson offences are teenagers. The costs to the public, 
insurers, emergency services and society continue to be huge.
Mr Howell, also the chief fire officer of Devon and Somerset, outlined the fire and rescue service’s role in tackling arson – from involvement in multi-agency arson task forces and data sharing, to helping local business to carry out arson risk assessments and mounting prosecutions.
He examined the different approaches to arson taken by insurers, fire services and police forces, questioning whether commercial sensitivity about losses might be reducing the amount of information being shared. He also said the broad range of intervention schemes that fire services and partners run for disaffected youngsters should be better evaluated, to ensure they are effectively targeting those most at risk of offending and to measure the success of these schemes.
With fire services facing major budget cuts that could limit their ability to run arson prevention schemes and analyse deliberate fire trends, Mr Howell said that RISCAuthority could provide valuable assistance to CFOA and the Arson Control Forum, particularly through research.
 
Business continuity
 
Finally, the subject of business continuity management (BCM) – a core issue for RISCAuthority – was examined by Peter Wilkinson, the FPA’s associate director of fire and risk services. He talked about moves to develop a new standard to address business resilience in fire engineering design.
Mr Wilkinson, who chairs the new Panel 7 of BSI committee FSH/24, described the group’s endeavours to produce PD 7974-8: Application of fire safety engineering principles to the design of buildings. Property protection, mission continuity and resilience.
This was followed by Dan Occhini of Kent Police, who outlined an initiative to improve the uptake of BCM among local businesses in Kent. Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the police and other local authorities are required to provide advice and assistance to businesses and voluntary organisations about BCM. He explained how RISCAuthority’s Resilient Business Software Toolkit  (ROBUST) – developed in 2009 to help small and medium-sized firms to produce effective business continuity plans and recover from incidents in a timely fashion – played an important role in the initiative. 
 
More information on RISCAuthority and the ROBUST business continuity toolkit is available at www.riscauthority.co.uk
 

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