Building design must incorporate effective disaster management

By: Michael van Niekerk, CEO ASP, Fire

All building designs must incorporate effective disaster- management systems to allow for safe escape and the control of fire and smoke. A minor design flaw could potentially place people, equipment, and property at risk of death and destruction.

All buildings in South Africa need to comply with the requirements of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, 1977 (Act No. 103 of 1977), Fire Protection, as set out in SANS 10400 Part T: 2011.

Effective fire-safety solutions take into account the dimensions and construction of the building, the materials used, and the occupancy and storage of items. These all fall within the prescriptive requirements set out in SANS 10400-T.

Any digression from the prescriptive requirements requires a rational design to be completed in accordance with the fire engineering methodology framework requirements of BS 7974. The Application of Fire Safety Engineering Principles to the Design of Buildings, supported by the published documents, form an integral part of the BS 7974 framework.

A rational design is the performance- based design of fire safety and prevention mechanisms and strategies in a building in order to provide the same or better fire safety levels of the National Building Regulations, where the prescriptive requirements cannot be applied. This process is not elective, in as much as that only certain parts of the framework may be used, or that the results of the process are subjective or optional.

NEED FOR A FIRE-RISK CONSULTANT

A rational design commences with a fire-risk consultant such as ASP Fire visiting the premises, or reviewing a set of new building plans, to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of all areas of the property to inspect all areas of fire safety and risk in detail.

Correct and proper fire-engineering principles are applied to ensure that the design complies with the life, building, fire behavioural, and environmental fire-safety objectives required by law. The three main causes of fire are electrical, arson and heating equipment.

In the event of a major fire that results in immense damage and the possible death of occupants, the fire engineer will be held liable. Rational design takes into account the behaviour of a building during a fire, meaning the structure must be designed accordingly, thereby minimising any potentially devastating impact.

Fires can be dealt with through three main actions. The first is controlling the growth of the fire to prevent it from spreading. The next is suppression, which involves cooling the fire rapidly. Finally, extinguishing the fire means that there is no heated substance remaining. Evacuation should also be safe and easy, while allowing unrestricted access for emergency services. The installed fire-detection system must be able to detect the fire as soon as possible, warn occupants, and allow them to escape in time.

The qualitative review under rational design includes an architectural review, fire-safety objectives, fire hazards and risks, trial fire- safety designs, and worst-case fire scenarios for analysis. For example, consultants often ignore the building roof’s geometry, and the required substitute rectangular volume used in smoke-fill formulae.

The next step is quantitative analysis according to BS7974. Here the main focus is on the development of fire within the enclosure of origin, the spread of smoke, structural response and fire spread beyond the enclosure of origin, detection of fire and activation of fire-protection systems, fire-services intervention, and evacuation of occupants.

Assessment against criteria is the final step, where the fire-safety designs developed during the engineering analysis are assessed to ensure that the objectives established at the beginning of the process are, in fact, met.

PRACTICAL ACTIONS PROPOSED

Upon the completion of the fire-risk assessment and drafting the rational design report, ASP Fire provides the client with practical actions to implement. The report comprises a detailed and documented objective fire-risk assessment, as well as fire- engineering calculations and analysis where required, covering all aspects of fire risk and safety.

This guides the client in protecting its business, employees, and customers by providing prioritised recommendations for action, in order to rectify problem areas and strengthen existing fire-safety procedures. This also ensures that the client complies with fire-safety regulations for the protection of life, property, and the environment.

As part of its value-added service, ASP Fire also works closely with insurance brokers and underwriters to address a client’s fire risk based on the outcomes of the fire-safety risk assessment report. This assists in preventing damage to property and products, loss of life, financial loss, consequential loss of profit, loss of productivity, and insurance repercussions.

We also provide flammable liquid store designs and certification, special-risk fire protection systems, visual safety awareness programs, SHEQ safety file drafting and implementation, emergency response and business continuity plans, emergency evacuation plan design, emergency evacuation drills, and fire equipment training.

ASP Fire also offers standardised and customised client training. The client has the option to select a standard fire risk and safety course, or have a customised training programme developed around individually specific needs, or the areas indicated in the fire safety risk assessment report.