Last reviewed 16 February 2021

Mike Sopp reports on a new set of standards to protect people from fire in the built environment.

Nationally recognised standards are a valuable and common way to check that your organisation is meeting fire safety legislative requirements.

Useful standards include both technical standards for items such as fire detection and alarm systems, and procedural standards for the management of fire safety.

A new set of standards that aim to “prevent injury and death from fire in the built environment” were published in late 2020 by an international coalition of professional fire safety organisations.


July 2018 saw the inception of the International Fire Safety Standards Coalition (the Coalition). The aim of the Coalition is to “bring about universal and consistent fire safety for our shared built environment globally, given that fire safety is a very high societal concern”.

UK representatives include the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, the Fire Sector Federation and the Institution of Fire Engineers.

The Coalition established a committee, with objectives to:

  • research existing relevant fire safety principles and fire codes for buildings to identify current good practice and to evaluate deficiencies in markets

  • produce a conceptual framework to guide the drafting and understanding of international fire safety standards.

As a result of this work, the Coalition published its first edition of the International Fire Safety Standards: Common Principles (IFSS-CP) in late 2020.

Primarily aimed at the construction and real estate sectors, the IFSS-CP, as well as preventing death and injury from fire, aim to “improve transparency and shared understanding and reduce risk caused by a fragmentation of processes that can lead to safety gaps”. The principles can also be adopted if a wider fire risk management approach is required to protect assets and business continuity.

The Coalition addresses how this publication can be used alongside other codes. It states that “IFSS-CP is not intended or structured to supplant or replace existing fire safety related codes, standards and regulatory instruments (‘codes’). Rather, it is designed to provide a framework to contextualise and guide codification within each jurisdiction”.

It continues by noting that existing codes within a given jurisdiction may therefore be shown to meet and satisfy one or more of the IFSS-CP and that “any ‘gaps’ created by unmet IFSS-CP may be identified”.

Common Principles

The Common Principles are at the core of the IFSS-CP. They:

  • are primarily concerned with preservation of life from fire but, where practicable, also aim to limit or prevent the loss of buildings

  • establish a common set of internationally accepted, performance-based Common Principles for fire safety

  • create a framework that will allow comparisons to be made on a like-for-like basis across countries.

The Common Principles can be summarised as:

  • prevention: safeguarding against the outbreak of fire and/or limiting its effects

  • detection and communication: discovering and investigating a fire followed by informing occupants and the fire service

  • occupant protection: facilitating occupant avoidance of and escape from the effects of fire

  • containment: limiting the fire and all of its consequences to as small an area as possible

  • extinguishment: suppressing the fire and protecting the surrounding environment.

The Common Principles are intended to apply to all types of building, where this is possible, and have been developed so that they are universally applicable throughout the world, regardless of the existing codes, standards and guidance already in place.

The Coalition state that users of the IFSS-CP should, where applicable “incorporate facilities or procedures to address the Common Principle appropriate to the situation in accordance with a recognised code or principles” and “ensure that each Common Principle meets local regulatory requirements and is compatible with the code or principles selected”.

Framework application

The Common Principles detailed above are applied through the IFSS-CP Framework. This is based around the Building Life Cycle, which has the following stages.

  1. Design: the preconstruction stage, including the conceptualisation, planning, drawing and specification of the building

  2. Construct: the implementation stage, including every element of the building process from procurement to the final fit-out

  3. In use: the occupation stage

  4. Change: the alteration, adaptation, refurbishment and repurposing stage

  5. Demolish: the building being no longer fit for purpose in its current form and deconstructed and removed.

At each stage, all the Common Principles need to be assessed and determine whether or not they are being achieved (eg through local codes, measures and appropriate fire strategies).

The intention is to ensure that the objectives of each Common Principle are shown to be met by the most appropriate range of fire safety strategies and measures and that the fire safety strategies and measures which best meet the objectives of each Common Principle are identified.

As a simple example, the Common Principle of “prevention” has three goals:

  • life safety

  • preventing building damage

  • protecting operations.

At the design stage, the IFSS-CP details that users need to assess risks and evaluate appropriate fire prevention measures.

It lists aspects to consider, which include electrical safety, product safety, intentional acts (arson), products, processes and occupant behaviour. In the UK, this process could be completed by the application of requirements such as those contained in BS 9999:2017 Fire Safety in the Design, Management and Use of Buildings. Code of Practice utilised as part of the overall approach to designing the building.

Similarly, at the “in use” stage the prevention principle will need to consider measures and strategies for the education of occupants, electrical safety, smoking controls, etc. At this stage the user can refer to the requirements of national legislation (eg the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) and best practice such as official guidance on the requirements to provide information and training to relevant persons.

The same approach for detection and communication at the design stage would require the user to consider the measures and strategies necessary for the detection and warning of fire.

Again, there are specific legislative requirements that are often met through the application of appropriate standards such as BS 5839 Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems for Buildings, which can also achieve the Common Principle at the in-use stage for the inspection and maintenance of detection and warning systems.

The IFSS-CP follows this approach for all the Common Principles at each life-cycle stage. It also notes the need to ensure the collation of documentation and information for the whole life cycle.

It states that the purpose of information is to “enable current and future users to identify exactly what information was used and/or relied on to compile the assessment”.

Again, this requirement can be met by application of the requirements under the CDM Regulations (eg the Health and Safety File), Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations 2010 and application of a formal fire safety management system such as prescribed in BS 9997:2019 Fire Risk Management Systems.


Whether we will see widespread uptake of the IFSS-CP is open to question. Certainly with the backing of various notable UK fire professional institutions and organisations, there is likely to be a programme to promote its use in the UK.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has noted that adoption of the IFSS-CP “will provide a connected and more consistent approach that will yield considerable benefits”.

Further information

The International Fire Safety Standards: Common Principles can be found at the International Fire Standards Coalition website.