In our previous blog post, we analysed the RIBA plan of work for fire safety and discussed the issues it outlined. Here, we build on our previous analysis and examine the plan’s recommendations. More specifically, we will discuss the need for collaboration that is often overshadowed by the competitive nature of the construction industry.

Collaboration vs. Competition

One of the RIBA’s main recommendations is that preconstruction agreements are entered into with contractors to enable specialist design to progress before the formal appointment. However, the culture of lowest price tendering is so endemic in construction that it is hard to see how this can be achieved on the majority of projects.

The construction industry and the clients that rely on it are at a critical juncture and it is time to review the seriousness of the future outlook. Deep-seated problems have existed for many years and are well known and rehearsed, yet despite that, there appears to be a collective reluctance or inability to address these issues and set a course for modernisation.

– The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model, Mark Farmer

The reality is that many clients, especially in the real estate development sector, are simply conditioned to operate in an adversarial way within the construction industry. Due to this, they do not see a reason to move to more collaborative and integrated approaches. It is a common fear among parties that a lack of commercial tension will impact their own financial outcomes. In many instances, the unavoidable conclusion for both clients and industry is that in competitive tendering, whoever wins a project is often the party that has made the largest mistake in pricing it.

For fire-engineered smoke control solutions, this has very serious implications. There is a reticence in engaging with a specialist at Design Stage 2 where their input is needed. This is caused by the belief that the engagement will have a negative impact on cost as the appointed specialist will take advantage of the situation and inflate their price accordingly.

Instead, the detailed subcontractor design is left until sub-contractor appointment following a tender exercise and value engineering, usually late in Stage 4. This leads to frequent errors and omissions and the risk of rejection of proposals by the approving authority very late in the construction program. The cost of the smoke control system is on average less than 0.25% of the overall project cost and any likely saving from negotiation tends to be more than offset by the costs associated with late design.

Another strong recommendation is for the design team to fully design for fire safety through a traditional procurement route rather than the more common design and build. This would be a vast improvement on the current situation. However, for smoke control, as for many fire safety elements, the detailed design knowledge is within the industry and there is a lack of formal training and qualification commercially available. The Smoke Control Association and other trade organisations are making progress with developing assessments and training programs for all roles within the industry. However, there is a long way to go before we are able to articulate and demonstrate competence in the design of smoke control systems.

Achieving collaboration through standardised design

Group SCS has been pioneering more open and collaborative methods of developing safe buildings for over 20 years. We advocate a simplified modular approach to smoke control solutions, where value is added by offering high-quality products with enhanced end-user features available through a standardised design and specification process.

In reality, the majority of fire engineering for smoke control systems for HRRBs is extremely low-level and consists of producing a CFD model as a precursor to providing the same system over and over again. The situations modeled are so similar that they result in notionally the same output repeatedly. However, there has been an expectation created by the industry that a model will be required when it is often little more than a tick box exercise.

Our standardised approach to smoke control specifies the common parameters that affect the outcome of the model (for mechanical smoke extract systems the extract flow rate in m3/s) to suit around 80% of HRRBs (Higher-Risk Residential Buildings).

The modular approach also offers ADB compliant solutions so Fire Engineers, Architects, Consultants, and clients alike can have accurate guidance at the earliest stage eliminating all of the issues raised by the RIBA consultation.

If the design team can tailor their layout to fit the guidelines, then the final design of the system is available on day one:

  • Full plant details including BIM models
  • Builders work drawings
  • Electrical schematics

Fire Strategy

An example of how collaboration can be useful at a range of construction stages

Fire Engineers can specify the complete solution as part of the early-stage fire strategy and this can be built on by the design team.

Stages 2-4

Architect

The architect is able to develop the layout to ensure compliance with the standard template with full details of spatial requirements and setting out details of equipment.

M&E Engineer

The M&E engineer has all plant details available at the earliest stage including power and cabling requirements, acoustic details, etc. Our online System Selector Tool will generate a budget cost for cost planning

Building Control Approval

The standardised design report can be issued to the AHJ at the earliest stage to give assurance that the proposal is approved.

Specialist Appointment

The system can be delivered by a member of the Group SCS Approved Installer Network. Approved Installers are contractors that have met our high entry requirements and undertaken the Group SCS training courses. They are certified and equipped with all of the tools and knowledge required to operate and install our modular systems.

Cost Certainty

The Selector Tool is used to obtain an early-stage budget cost that is not to be exceeded. At the tender stage, any members of the Approved Installers network and the Group SCS Specialist Contracting team can be approached for a firm price ensuring high value and reduced risk.