Fire safety may not fall directly under the purview of a facilities manager, but knowledge of fire safety is essential for anyone involved in running a building.
This need came into sharp focus in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, reminding everyone of the interconnectivity of fire safety and building management, and the importance of communication and collaboration between different individuals when making a safe, secure environment for occupants.
Enter the golden thread
Dame Judith Hackitt, who led the enquiry into the disaster, proposed a ‘golden thread’ of information to prevent future tragedies. Noting the swamp of regulations in which so many safety officers and building managers become stuck, she called for a new approach to record keeping and information sharing to make it easier for managers to keep their buildings compliant and to better understand how they can respond to a fire incident in their property.
This golden thread would extend fire safety best practice through a chain of relevant individuals, relaying information through architects, building managers, property owners and tenants, ultimately “arming” end-users with the knowledge they need to follow safety procedures.
This would take the form of a single, digital repository of building information from design and construction to current occupancy. There would be a kind of ‘changelog’ detailing any upgrades, renovations and repairs made to the building, so that everyone along the thread could see anything that might affect fire safety. It would also ensure accountability, with every change linked to an individual.
Another of Hackitt’s recommendations—for every building to have a designated ‘building safety manager’—ties into this.
What needs to be done?
Newer buildings are beginning to adopt something resembling the best practice proposed by Hackitt, but there’s much more to be done before it becomes an industry norm. Companies are understandably worried about committing large funds towards the enforcement of a golden thread approach.
Training is a key expense. Everyone involved in building management must receive some level of education, or at least given the means to communicate with people who understand fire safety practice. It’s something that ought to start at the very beginning of a building’s lifespan, with engineers and architects handing over plans and documents to facilities managers on day one of use.
It’s easy for new buildings to implement the strategy, but owners and managers of existing properties may find it difficult to include architects, designers and builders in their golden thread.
How will this affect FM
FMs are a vital link in the chain, but they can also be proactive in gathering those missing links of information. A lack of information could be catastrophic in large arenas, conference centres and public buildings that host a lot of people at once.
But the golden thread has other implications. With all building information stored digitally, FMs can draw up data about building usage and past occupancy, as well as any changes, repairs and renovations it has undergone. They can gain a holistic picture of a building using the information shared by all the links on the golden thread, allowing them to make the right improvements—and not just for fire safety!
The idea of a single repository for building information has implications well beyond fire safety. It can be used to make a building a safer, healthier, more secure and more comfortable place.