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How building extensions and re-designs impact fire and safety regulations

Usually, when companies make changes to the external or interior structure of their commercial buildings this usually involves an architect and also a builder who should have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the fire and safety regulations the works will need to comply with. These will usually be considered in the architectural drawings and recommendations.

However, there are occasions when works may be considered minor, and their impact on the fire risk may be underestimated. For this reason, if you are considering any changes to the design or layout of your building, including the installation of new furniture, fixtures and fittings our advice is to always err on the side of caution and carry out a new fire risk assessment. This is the only way to be absolutely certain all regulations will be met and that people, processes and property are being not being put at risk. It also protects company directors and the responsible individual from prosecution should an incident occur and will help to ensure the ongoing validity of insurance cover.

If you have altered building layouts or changed how you use a building there is an onus on company directors and anyone with a responsibility for fire safety and security (often called the responsible individual) to ensure a fire risk assessment has been carried out.

There could be a risk that these new layouts may impact the early identification of the signs of fire or unauthorised access. Particularly if the positioning of fire detection and intruder devices and other equipment such as fire extinguishers, manual call points and CCTV cameras has not been factored into the redesign.

Alterations to building layouts

Implementing changes to accommodate new hybrid working policies is a key area of current concern. Open-plan offices with rows of desks might now include work booths, partitioning, sofa-style seating, additional recreational facilities and the inclusion of workplace kitchens and gyms.

Other examples we have come across include an online retailer that had moved from a warehouse unit with an upstairs office to a high street shop that had a large stock room. We had to remind our client that being located adjacent to other shops may place stock and the ability to trade at risk of fire were to spread from adjacent premises.

Another example we have encountered was a busy warehousing operation that had extended its racking area into an area that had previously been an open space and used as a loading bay. The most common fire alarm systems installed in these environments are either an aspiration detection system (VESDA ®) or open area smoke imaging detection system (OSID). These highly sensitive systems can detect a fire at an early stage. However, the VESDA system is calibrated to take samples of the air and tests them for the presence of smoke and the OSID System is based on the patented use of digital imaging, dual-frequency beams, and smart algorithms. We found that the new racking was impeding the operation of the fire alarm system.

If you have made changes to your building structure or layout, or how your company operates it is highly advisable to carry out a new fire risk assessment as this action will be noted in your fire safety logbook as evidence you have taken a proactive stance towards minimising fire risk in light of each specific change.

Posted on: 22 October 2021
Posted in: Advice