THE CHARRED hulk of Grenfell Tower loomed over the deliberations of specifiers, building owners and suppliers at the Emergency Lighting Conference in London last week.
The tragedy – in which at least 80 Londoners died – cast into sharp relief the chain of responsibility for those tasked with specifying, installing, testing and monitoring fire safety equipment.
Much of the discussions at the event – sponsored by leading UK emergency lighting manufacturer P4 – centred on accreditation.
Paul Meenan of Transport for London made a distinction between companies and individuals receiving accreditation under the various schemes. ‘As far as the emergency lighting is concerned, you can have as many badges and accreditation as you like and still end up with a rubbish job. Personally, I would far rather have a registered competent person [to oversee projects]’.
These individuals would be on-site but working directly for the client, and would have the knowledge to sign off that the standards and regulations were being complied with. On a minority of TfL projects, this was the case.
David Mooney of Atkins bemoaned the demise of the clerk of works, the traditional arbiter of quality: ‘It seems to be a dead profession’.
A post-handover inspection was, says Mooney, unsatisfactory. ‘There is no point checking the fire protection at completion as you can see half of what you need to see. Most fire protection is hidden in risers and behind walls.’
Mooney was also concerned about subsequent amendments to standards and procedures after handover. ‘Buildings need to be fit for purpose for their whole lifetimes. So, for instance, if there is a regulation change over the life of the building we would need to talk to the client about that change’.
Chris Auger of BAFE (British Approvals for Fire Equipment) agreed. ‘After handover, it’s the maintenance that is causing us more concern than anything else’.
He drew a parallel with our personal attitude to fire safety at home. ‘How many people test the electrical installation in their house every five years? Very few’.
Peter Wasmuth of Network Rail said: ‘I think it’s important that the designer designs the complete [emergency lighting and fire safety] system, including good wiring, battery systems and light fittings. I have had problems with LEDs in fire situations as they hate heat. LEDs perform at 25 degrees C but most fires generate [ambient] heat of up to 100 degrees C. It’s about making the building work in an emergency situation’.
Alan Daniels of P4 explored the issue of what’s termed ‘stay put’ emergency lighting and made the important distinction that it is not directly linked to the controversial ‘stay put’ fire evacuation policy implemented during the Grenfell Tower blaze. ‘Emergency lighting standards traditionally assume that it’s required only in an emergency situation, when everybody is evacuated,’ Daniels told the London audience. ‘Evacuation in an emergency is fortunately rare. Failure of the normal lighting supply is more likely, particularly since we face increasing likelihood of demand exceeding generating supply capacity.
‘In premises for the elderly or very young it’s safer to keep the occupants in the premises in the event of simple failure of the normal lighting supply but they must remain safe with adequate emergency lighting to circulate and use the facilities.
‘In workplaces, depending on circumstances, in the event of only a failure of the normal lighting supply, it may be appropriate to evacuate the public whilst staff remain ready to reopen the premises when mains lighting is restored.