A holistic approach towards fire safety

Key insights from #EUFSW22 session on performance-based design and fire safety engineering

The European Fire Safety 2022 is a wrap! On Wednesday 16 November, the European Fire Safety Alliance (EuroFSA) and a large range of stakeholders joined forces and welcomed powerful European voices to take a holistic look at fire safety approaches during a full-day workshop. The Modern Building Alliance led the session related to performance-based design (PBD) methodologies and fire safety engineering (FSE).

‘Fire safety is not a party-political issue but a European one.’ Theresa Griffin (FEEDS)

Experts and political participants echoed Theresa Griffin’s (FEEDS) powerful opening by discussing the various issues linked to fire safety in Europe. The seven speakers provided key recommendations to ensure fire safety to be holistically considered as part of the renovation wave.

The session led by Diane Daems, Chair of the Technical Working group of the Modern Building Alliance, started with Silvia Dimova from the European Commission’ Joint Research Centre. Ms Dimova made a presentation on the recent report on the use of PBD and FSE methods in Members States. John Barry from the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage in Ireland provided a very good example on the Irish performance-based regulatory system, and Professor Patrick van Hees (Lund University) covered the key challenges that are needed to be addressed to ensure having qualitative workforces and training on this field.

Act for Fire Safety in each building life cycle

The speakers emphasised the need to ‘Act for Fire Safety’ at each level of the building life cycle phases through a holistic approach that includes two critical elements: ‘performance-based design’ and ‘fire safety engineering’. A building’s fire safety strategy designed using the performance-based method ensures the processes needed to detect possible risks at an early stage and seeks to maintain safety throughout the entire lifecycle of the building. Fire safety engineering demonstrates the use of engineering principles to protect people and property from fire. The latter may be the only viable means of achieving a satisfactory standard in some large buildings, complex buildings, and works in existing buildings. Although both elements of this holistic approach are encouraged by a vast majority of EU Member States, the speakers during EUFSW22 stressed that there is still a need for education, research, and standardisation on fire safety engineering in the EU.

Prioritising fire safety engineering

With, on the one hand, the green transition and, on the other hand, its increased number of high-rise buildings, urban density, and reduced mobility for the growing and ageing population, Europe is facing a transformation of its building stock that could put people’s safety at risk. History shows us that implementing a robust legal framework for fire safety engineering is crucial in preventing the same mistakes from happening twice. A prime example of such legal initiatives is Ireland, whose reaction to the Stardust fire in 1981 resulted in making fire safety engineering a priority.

A performance-based regulatory system encourages flexible solutions

Performance-based building regulatory systems could open the doors for an effective approach to fire safety. This means a regulatory system based on clear objectives, allowing more room for flexible, effective, cost-efficient solutions and, most importantly, based on knowledge from a scientific investigation into fire and its consequences. These flexible solutions are especially needed for complex facilities which are impossible to tackle through the prescriptive method, e.g., high risks (health care facilities), high rise or industrial facilities, and renovation projects. Additionally, this covers all fire safety goals, such as safety of life, property protection, continuity of operation, and environmental protection, including the growing complexity and need for quality. As underlined by Prof. van Hees and John Barry: “Performance-based design offers a comprehensive way to reach the highest fire safety standards while coping with the challenges brought by the evolution of the building stock.”

Key recommendations

Performance-based design is an important tool for replacing detailed regulations for design in different facilities. The EUFSW22 workshop highlighted the complexities of fire safety, not only from an engineering perspective but also from an educational level. Facilitating technical guidance, education, research, and standardisation on Fire Safety Engineering related topics is crucial for all stakeholders in building and construction, particularly engineers and PHD’s. These educational challenges, as emphasised by Prof. van Hees, need to be tackled on an international level and should be a joint effort between regulators and industry.


To know more:
About the European Fire Safety Week 2022
About the workshop on 16 November 2022
About the Session IV. Performance-based design: the need for fire safety engineers and role of standards