The recent fire at the Auckland International Convention Centre is a stark reminder of the potential consequences of a fire occurring during construction, and the need to manage this risk.
For a fire to occur there needs to be four elements – fuel, heat (the ignition source), oxygen, all of which are common on construction sites, and a chain reaction. From a practical perspective, preventing fires from occurring focuses on managing and controlling potential ignition sources and the accumulation of fuel, and having a prompt response plan to deal with any incidents that do occur.
Managing fire risk should start during the initial design when decisions are being made on:
WHAT IS TO BE BUILT
· The selection of materials
· The type and location of the passive and active fire protection measures to be incorporated into the asset
· The size of individual fire cells1
· The expected fire load of the building’s contents
WHERE THE ASSET IS TO BE BUILT
· The effect the construction will have on existing assets
· The proximity of the new asset to utilities and firefighting resources
· The general accessibility of the site
HOW THE ASSET IS TO BE CONSTRUCTED
· Construction methods required
· Sequencing of activities
· When life-safety systems can be activated
Regulations correctly focus on the safety of occupants, but sometimes give little consideration to resilience of the asset itself.
We recommend that the design process should include a rigorous review of insurable risks during the concept design phase. This has the benefit of improving understanding of and addressing risks that influence insurers’ perceptions of risk during the project’s construction and operating phases.
Insurers’ perceptions of risk are generally based on losses they or the insurance industry have underwritten and paid claims on in the past for similar projects in similar circumstances.
Addressing the interests of insurers at the concept design phase will not only help reduce the insurance costs for the project, but can reduce the likelihood and extent of uninsured consequences that would arise in the event that an actual loss occurs.
1. A fire rated barrier or enclosure designed to contain and prevent spread of fire for a specified time duration. To be effective any penetrations of the enclosure (such as doors or services conduits) need to be designed and installed correctly to prevent the spread of fire.