As part 2 of the Grenfell Tower Public Enquiry gets underway, many members of the fire-safety community are asking themselves: How did this happen? And how can we prevent it from happening again?
Of course there are many technical aspects to this challenge, and we within the fire-engineering profession will expend many months on answering difficult, complex and ambiguous questions.
Whilst this is essential as a response to the tragedy, I think we must ‘disrupt’ the normal processes and shortcut to improvement. Moreover, we should engage with the one group of people who are not currently empowered – consumers. Members of the public can be galvanised to make real change when their consuming choices are influenced and informed by information and recommendation. Consider the power of social media recommendation sites such as TripAdvisor. A poor review can have a significant negative effect on a commercial business, whilst regular positive feedback will boost trade and bookings. To date, there has been no real effort to harness this consumer power to improve fire safety. Fire safety does not feature as a component of feedback reviews of building description on hotel sites. New accommodation booking sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway will advertise everything from a luxury villa to a caravan, and rarely is fire safety of the property mentioned – why?
Food hygiene in the UK has benefitted from an easily accessible information scheme that has been widely adopted in restaurants and food outlets. The Food Hygiene Rating system gives a visible indication of performance, and is clearly positioned at the entrance to the facility. Clearly those assessed as having a low hygiene rating will not be keen to use the system (adoption and posting of scores is voluntary). However, consumers can make an informed choice using the rating scheme. The system also provides a simple improvement process for those who achieve a low rating, i.e. improve certain aspects and increase your rating.
I believe that fire safety within buildings can be improved by application of this concept. Provisionally called the ‘Fire Safety Mark’ (FSM) it draws inspiration from the ‘Fire Marks’ located on buildings after the great fire of London to signify insurance coverage. The FSM will also perform the role of a ‘Boilerplate’ for the building, or visible statement of specification and information. Boilerplates are used on high-pressure systems to be a permanent indication of safety rating and limitations, along with contact information for the manufacturers.
The FSM would comprise three main pieces of information: fire-safety rating, competency of person conducting rating, location and access information for detailed building fire-safety information. The fire-safety rating would be based on an assessment of the following combining fire-safety tactics: prevention, detection and alarm, escape, containment, firefighting and resilience. To provide simple, accessible consumer interpretation the assessment would provide a rating in ‘triangles’, which would be analogous to stars as a rating system. The FSM would be completely voluntary for building owners and managers to use. In time, the FSM could form part of the consumer information provided by online resources such as Google maps and Booking.com. Competency to complete the assessment should be clear, with three levels: Level 1 – Fire Safety Professional, Level 2 – Fire Equipment Technician or Safety Professional, Level 3 – lay person working from guidance. To be part of the FSM, the building owner would need to make detailed information of the fire strategy for the building available, probably via a web-based information portal.
Consumers may still decide to stay in hotels and accommodation with unknown or poor safety records due to cost. However, I believe that given an easily understood rating system such as the FSM, many people will exercise their consumer power and go with a building with a good rating. If you agree with this idea, please register your support by emailing Russ Timpson.
The FSM will be officially launched at the High Rise Firefighting Conference taking place alongside FIREX at London’s Excel on Wednesday, 9 September 2020.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org