Fire safety and design  

How do we define fire safety?

Fire safety can be defined as ensuring adherence to building codes and designing infrastructure to reduce the risk and spread of fire. Fire safety precautions include incorporating specific architectural strategies into a building’s design, fire safety education and the development of an effective plan to undertake if a fire was to start, ensuring occupants’ safety.

Fire design strategy focuses on evaluation, early detection, suppression, and protection. A fire risk assessment can identify the potential threats of a fire and the precautions that need to be addressed. Each assessment must be regularly reviewed and changes made when necessary.

An early comprehensive consultation with a fire safety advisor is key to achieving fire safety standards compliant with legislation.  According to the HM Government’s publication ‘A short guide to making a building safe from fire’ fire risk assessments involve: identifying fire hazards (e.g. sources of fuel),  identifying the individuals at risk (e.g. vulnerable people, children and the elderly), evaluate and reduce the risk (e.g. removing fire hazards), and training occupants to react to a fire (e.g. knowledge of where the nearest escape routes are). 

Each building should be evaluated individually, and fire safety strategies should be designed around the building's history, materials, architecture and environment. In all buildings, compartmentation is a key architectural strategy to reduce the probability of a fire becoming large. By separating rooms within a building, this helps contain a fire, increasing the amount of time taken for a fire to encompass a building.

Areas which have high risk include kitchens, labs (or areas with chemicals), plant-filled rooms, workshops, stairwells, and walls connecting two buildings. Architects also need to ensure that a building maintains its load-bearing capacity, and is resistant to heat transfer and fire penetration. In addition, the use of fire-resistant materials and fire-retardants and built-in fire safety systems (e.g. sprinklers and fire extinguishers) are important as are safe working practices. 

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Image credit: Gorodenkoff