Don’t overlook fire safety when planning a build

By Garry Kwok, national manager, Technical Services Group, Wormald Australia

Planning a new building is a complex task regardless of how big or small the project.  Architects, building planners and designers are tasked with creating safe working and living environments for the future tenants of that building.

Fire protection should be an important consideration at the planning stage of any building.  However, in our experience, we find that we’re often contacted about a building’s fire protection requirements after the initial design and plans are finalised.  I could compare this to being asked to paint a house once all the furniture is in place – it can make it difficult to achieve the optimum result at the most efficient cost.

Many people simply don’t realise the importance and value of involving the fire safety expert early in the design planning stage.  If a fire engineer or fire protection specialist has input in project planning they can help ensure all necessary considerations are factored and the most suitable fire protection solution is recommended.  This consultation stage will help identify what is required, not only to suit the needs of the client, but also to meet all relevant building codes and regulations.

For a new building some of the fire safety considerations include how particular building materials will respond to fire, how smoke and fire will spread throughout the building in the event of a fire, and the number of emergency exits required.  Other considerations include the size and type of building, materials being handled on the premises and what the building will be used for, such as offices or materials storage.

A fire protection specialist will evaluate which systems will be most suitable for protecting against particular fire risks expected within a building and its application.  For example, a facility containing high value equipment such as a data centre would need a very different fire protection solution than a cold storage facility.

To be adequately prepared, you need to forward plan and consider the loss which could be caused if a fire was to occur.  Consulting a fire protection specialist will help you to design a solution which meets the building’s specific needs.  There are also building design advantages from specifying fire protection systems at an early stage including reduced egress requirements and increased fire compartment sizes.

A building’s fire protection provisions must be in accordance with the relevant building codes and Standards.  If you’re planning a new build or renovation, it may be a good idea to consult the Building Code of Australia 2011 which can be purchased from the Australian Building Codes Board at www.abcb.gov.au.  You should also contact a fire protection specialist so they can advise on the best approach.

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