Product, people, process: taking responsibility for fire safety

Nigel Morrey, Technical Director at Etex Building Performance, discusses the need for cultural change in the industry to deliver safer homes.



he launch of the Government’s consultation on the findings of the Hackitt review of fire safety regulations is expected imminently. While some may argue that this should have come sooner, it is an important first step in introducing new legislation and ensuring that homes are delivered in a safe and responsible way.

Alongside legislation, however, Dame Judith Hackitt’s report highlighted the need for cultural change. The spirit of regulation must be followed, not just paid lip service to, and the industry should be proactively self-imposing fire safety best practice across the design, specification and construction process.

There are many across the supply chain who, driven by the memory of Grenfell, will already be exceeding current regulatory requirements. However, there are also undoubtedly those who are waiting for a legislative steer or further guidance before adapting practices.

Guidance developed by the FIS (Finishes and Interiors Sector), which represents manufacturers, distributers and contractors in the fit-out sector including drylining contractors, is a good place to start. The FIS has developed a concept called Product, Process, People (PPP): installers must use accredited products and systems, document their process to provide clear evidence for third-party inspection and install systems in a competent and safe manner.

The premise is simple but, if followed, it will ensure the homes we deliver are fit for purpose and provide peace of mind for residents. While this three-step concept is principally for drylining contractors, it is applicable to the wider supply chain and has been adopted by several Grenfell working groups.

So, what does it look like in practice? In respect of products, independent test evidence and third-party accreditation is essential. Although seen by some as time consuming and costly, checking test data and accreditation can bring long-term savings by avoiding the need to rectify the results of installing inappropriate systems down the line.

Hackitt’s call for the ‘golden thread’ of project information to be documented informs the process element. Installers and sub-contractors should keep digital records of specification, test evidence, purchase orders and delivery notes, along with dated installation images, particularly of elements that will be concealed in the final build. Upcoming legislation is likely to prescribe three-yearly checks of buildings to ensure continued fire safety compliance. The documentation of process is key to building an evidence database to satisfy such inspections and support ongoing maintenance, giving facilities teams all the detail they need.

Finally, any system is only as good as the people who installed it. Only appropriately accredited contractors should be appointed, with evidence of CSCS skilled worker cards a minimum to ensure competency.

As new legislation comes in, there will undoubtedly be a period of readjustment. By following the product, process and people principle, project teams can ensure they are already meeting fire safety best practice, fulfilling their duty of compliance and care to building users.

How innovation in facades can help change the face of high-rise developments

Paulius Gurkšnys is CEO of Staticus UK Limited

The vibrant high-rise market provides an opportunity for innovation, not just for architects but also for facade contractors as they provide the finishing touches which play such a big part in the overall look and feel of a project.

Facades are becoming an increasingly important part of the design process, not only ensuring a development looks good but also by using ‘smart’ technology to add further benefits.

Staticus, one of the largest facade contractors in Northern Europe, has worked on high-profile buildings across Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and the UK, where it has already played a part in the look of Manchester’s iconic Media City towers and London’s Royal Mint Gardens.

The company recently installed facades for Orkla’s new headquarters in Oslo, Norway, using liquid crystal glass which can be programmed to change opacity to reduce glare.

This is just one example of how embracing technology can help the facade industry add greater value to a project. But innovation can also play a major part in the manufacturing process, too.

Paulius Gurkšnys, CEO of Staticus UK Limited, said: “Creativity from architects and design engineers will always be necessary to deliver truly innovative and unique facades, so while AI will have its place, human skills will always be needed in our sector.

“The construction industry hasn’t innovated enough in the last few decades and we want to change that. We expect AI and robotics to change the face of the industry, and we have launched a digital lab at our factory in Vilnius, staffed by a team of 12, to streamline our whole process. This uses digital techniques, including brand new software, to make processes more efficient.”

Privately owned, Staticus has been in business for more than 20 years and typically specialises in buildings over 10 floors.

With offices in Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, London, and now Austria, Staticus is growing its presence in the UK, with recent projects including the X1 Media City towers in Manchester, the Tottenham Hale tower in London and the upcoming The Lexington in Liverpool.

“We believe the future of the facade industry will be shaped by digitalisation, creativity and technology,” said Paulius.

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