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Steel structure design ‘needs enforcement’

Those involved in the supply chain of modern complex structures should work together to clarify confusion in the marketplace emerging in the issue of fire protection, experts were told at a recent event in London.

Neal Butterworth, Associate Fire Engineering Arup, highlighted the potential for “fragmentation” between design and construction at a seminar attended by architects, fire engineers, consultants and manufacturers held at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London organised by global coatings leader Sherwin-Williams.

He said: “As the complexity of buildings increases so too should the minimum competency of all of those involved. When buildings become very tall or the structure is particularly complex, the pool of structural engineers competent to design these structures shrinks. Those structural engineers may still need specialist input in terms of structural dynamics.”

Left to right are Neal Butterworth, Wilf Butcher and Peter Buckley at the steel structures seminar

Left to right are Neal Butterworth, Wilf Butcher and Peter Buckley at the steel structures seminar

He argued that this is no different for structural fire engineering and that more complex structures require the involvement of competent structural fire engineers. “Legislation is sufficient but we need a consistent thread of responsibility from design, through to manufacture, construction and operation. People often don’t even know they’re responsible, or what they are responsible for. It’s up to us as an industry to look at this issue and improve guidance,” he added.

Bob Glendenning, manager fire engineering for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Coatings said the ‘responsible person’ under current legislation is placed in a difficult position, and can be prosecuted if he or she ends up with inadequate fire safety engineering measures in place.

He added: “Why would we, as professionals, take the kind of risks we are seeing on major projects? Ultimately, we are talking about people’s lives at risk as they move about in these buildings.

There is also the issue of the properties themselves. Insurers may be wholly unaware of some of these issues. We want to have solutions and a design process that everyone can trust with total peace of mind.”

Event chairman Roger Williams, global director fire engineering of Sherwin-Williams, said a small industry group could be formed to examine how current legislation and guidance can be more effectively applied, even considering a Code of Practice for Steel Structures.

Making his point...Bob Glendenning of Sherwin-Williams

Danny Hopkin, of the Institution of Fire Engineers, highlighted how modern building design is evolving and that 263 tall buildings are being developed which will be more than 20 storeys high in London alone in the foreseeable future, many with unusual features sensitive to fire.

On behalf of the Association of Specialist Fire Protection, Wilf Butcher focused on the guidance available around testing, understanding what ‘competent’ really means and support for the responsible person.

And Peter Buckley, fire engineering manager Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service, said he wanted to see more use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), with a professional handover of relevant information between the supply chain.

Representing Local Authority Building Control, Richard Twine, Head of Guidance, said expectations are often difficult to meet, building control “can’t see every aspect of the job” and said they wanted to be part of the wider decision-making fire engineering community.

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