A fire can threaten not only life safety but also an organisation’s assets and ability to operate normally, thereby disrupting business functionality. To comprehensively manage fire risks, many organisations now utilise a more holistic approach to fire safety management by adopting an appropriate policy, setting objectives and developing an all-embracing fire strategy. Mike Sopp explains further.
The primary aim of a fire strategy is to design, manage, plan and co-ordinate appropriate fire safety procedures that reflect the organisation’s policy and objectives in relation to fire. Typically, these will be aimed at not only reducing the life risk but also to ensure the protection of business functions, buildings and other assets.
According to the British Standards Institution document PAS 911: Fire Strategies-Guidance and Framework for Their Formulation, a fire strategy is “an all-encompassing document designed to overview how fire can impact on a building and a business”.
The fire strategy should set a clear framework for fire safety throughout an organisation, and ensure that any specific objectives set by the organisation to meet policy principles are implemented and met. The strategy can also reflect and assist in the delivery of any wider corporate plans or objectives set by the organisation. This can be done by:
prompting consideration of the fire safety requirements of the premises in question and of its occupants
widening the consideration of fire precautions with respect to broader objectives including life safety, property protection, business protection and environmental considerations
assisting in the review of fire system design criteria prior to the preparation of the designs
providing a framework for all future fire safety and protection works and for the integration of fire protection measures in multi-occupancy premises.
In this sense, a fire strategy may prove invaluable to senior managers for due diligence purposes and where requirements for a strategic approach to managing fire risk has to be considered in a wider business context.
Typically, a fire strategy represents the focus of attention over a defined period of time and determines much of the practical fire safety management requirements. The objectives that drive the strategy will clearly vary for each organisation, but in general terms will be based on the fire safety management aspirations contained in the relevant policy, as well as more strategic business objectives.
Clearly, some form of input will be required so as to identify objectives and the actions necessary to turn objectives into reality. There are no set criteria for how to develop a strategy but it will involve the identification of internal and external factors that have an impact on fire safety, including resources available to implement strategy, key drivers (such as legislation and insurance) and future trends within the organisation (such as changes to work activities).
PAS 911 recommends that a number of “inputs” should be given consideration when developing a fire strategy. They include:
management and system auditing to identify any shortfalls in good practice or breech of legislative requirements
a mandatory framework that incorporates the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, Building Regulations, Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) and other related statutory instruments and Acts
setting objectives to meet the principles set out in the policy and ensuring the management system requirements are met
hazard identification and risk assessment to identify and prioritise any particular risks and the action deemed necessary
building characteristics that may impact on the manner in which a fire develops and behaves
occupant characteristics that may increase risks (eg familiarity with the premises).
Having considered the inputs into a fire risk strategy, it is then necessary to actually develop the objectives and actions necessary to fulfil those objectives.
The objectives to be achieved (and the procedures to achieve them) will clearly be organisational-specific. PAS 911 guidance suggests a number of headings that can be used when developing a strategy: fire safety management, evacuation, fire and smoke control strategy, fire fighting and fire protection.
For the wider risk management approach, additional headings can be used, such as environmental protection and business continuity, depending on the organisations own priorities.
As an example of developing a strategy, a business/strategic objective of the organisation may be to ensure that it continues to grow its market share and increase profits. A fire risk strategy will support this by taking steps to prevent the interruption of business through unwanted fire events. To achieve this aim, the organisation may have to identify certain elements that need addressing. An objective may be as follows:
“To develop fire safety awareness amongst managers and staff so as to meet legal requirements and to ensure business assets and interests are protected from unwanted fire related events.”
To achieve this objective the strategy may include a number of actions, including:
developing a formal programme of education, training and awareness for staff based upon training needs analysis
developing a communications programme that highlights the need for good fire prevention at the workplace
ensuring that fire safety responsibilities are built into managers’ roles and responsibilities.
Implementation and review
In a holistic approach to the strategy, it should be remembered that the actions taken to meet objectives might include a combination of:
preventative controls (eg maintenance of electrical equipment)
corrective controls (eg the installation of sprinklers or compartmentation)
directive controls (eg education, training and awareness)
detective controls (eg fire detection and alarm systems).
Where further improvements are required to these controls, an action plan for the implementation of the improvements should be drawn up. A project management approach to this will enable timescales indicating the completion dates for any action required to be set, budgets to be agreed and responsibilities for action made known.
To be successful, the strategy will require the support and buy-in from senior management and will require them to “sign-off” acceptance of the objectives and principles of the strategy.
Gaining acceptance of the strategy within the organisation’s culture is dependent on its integration with the organisation’s strategic, and day-to-day, management and alignment with its business priorities. The key is to highlight that the strategy will assist in the delivery of the overall objectives of the organisation in a cost-effective way.
It is therefore essential to ensure that the strategy is effectively communicated to stakeholders by planning an appropriate campaign.
A review of the fire risk strategy should be carried out regularly. This could be driven by the review of risk assessments. Such changes that might prompt a review are:
a change in the number of people present or the characteristics of the occupants
changes to work procedures, including the introduction of new equipment
alterations to the building, including the internal layout
significant changes to assets within the premises
the introduction or increase in the storage of hazardous substances.
The potential risk of any proposed change should be considered before the change is introduced. It is usually more effective to minimise a risk before introducing it. If a change introduces new hazards, consideration must be given to the fire risk strategy and, if significant, the measures required to keep the risks under control. In any case the strategy should be kept under review to make sure that the fire safety measures remain adequate.
The following publications are available from BSI.
BS 9999: Code of Practice for Fire Safety in the Design, Management and Use of Buildings
PAS 911: Fire Strategies — Guidance and Framework for Their Formulation
BS 25999: Business Continuity Management. Part 1: Code of Practice
Last reviewed 6 February 2013