Fire safety is still a major concern for buildings across the country. Matt Ryan, UK Country Manager at PlanRadar, explores how digital construction tools and technologies are helping overcome these challenges – marking a new era in safety and compliance.
Recent studies have uncovered an alarmingly high number of fire safety issues within many of our existing structures – particularly for those living in high rise buildings.
Only last month, the London Fire Brigade revealed that there are still more than 1,000 buildings in London that require residents to evacuate buildings in the event of a fire, rather than follow the standard advice to remain in their homes and await instructions from fire crews, due to issues such as flammable cladding.
A Grenfell campaign group has also urged Housing Secretary Michael Gove to take further action around fire safety, highlighting that many residents still remain unsafe.
With some major issues to overcome, the construction industry is responding and significant progress around fire safety is being made.
Spearheading these improvements are digital tools and technologies – marking a new era in safety and compliance.
Regulators with ‘teeth’
Following Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety back in May 2018, the government has proposed significant changes that will encourage better working practice – most notably the introduction of a new building safety regulator and new construction product regulator.
Once implemented, the regulations will be a landmark step in a new, more rigorous framework for higher-risk buildings. For those that fail to meet the legal requirements, it’s promised that repercussions will be severe, with serious financial and legal ramifications to follow.
“Companies that can get a handle on fire safety and compliance are sure to future-proof their business”
It means that contractors, designers, and building owners will have to legally demonstrate a building is safe, requiring regulator sign-off before projects can move forward. Whilst this may seem a daunting prospect, emerging tech and digital tools are streamlining this process, reducing the likelihood of mistakes from occurring.
It’s no secret that the profitability of building projects relies heavily on specific timelines – after all time is money. Yet a rush to the finish line can coincide with a drop in standards, with areas such as fire safety falling by the way side.
This approach not only puts end users at risk, but adds ambiguity in the event of an accident, muddying the waters around which contractor or subcontractor is responsible, exacerbated by an often inconsistent and unclear paper trail.
However, with the introduction of technology such as platforms and apps, on-site workers are now being given the means to provide evidence that essential work has been carried out to the proper standards.
With intuitive and easy-to-use design, often through a tablet or phone, individuals can quickly capture evidence of completed work, creating a digital, tamperproof audit trail, complete with dates and timestamps to match. Should this work ever be called into question, a digital timeline can be provided, be it from a large contractor or an individual tradesperson.
Another huge benefit of construction tech is its ability to improve work rate efficiency.
Digital replicas of worksheets and key forms, including EWS1 forms, can be uploaded, allowing information to be entered quickly and with greater accuracy by qualified experts while on-site.
The laborious task of entering written information into word processing or spreadsheet programmes, which can often result in human error when transcribing hand written notes, is removed, and reports can easily be generate without duplicating work.
This approach ensures that audit trails are reliable and that a timeline of actions can be easily produced.
QSHE Managers can even update inspection sheets from the office, rolling out new fields for site teams to complete seamlessly across multiple sites at once. When new guidance is published, it’s possible to start the journey towards compliance the very next day.
Working in the cloud
With the continuation of remote working, cloud-based technology is also giving site managers the freedom to access important documentation at the push of a button.
Should project managers need up-to-the-minute safety inspection information, with the right permissions in place, it can easily be accessed, allowing for greater visibility when working over multiple sites.
The added benefit of which, is improved information-sharing, in-line with Dame Judith Hackitt’s vision of the ‘Golden Thread of Information’.
Harnessing ‘unstructured’ data
Business performance and the role of ‘big data’ is now becoming integral to modern working practices. Companies want deeper insights and in-app tools are allowing organisations to harness ‘unstructured data’ – that is data that’s harder to quantify, such as emails, text messages and images.
Capturing and recording this type of information will be crucial as fire safety standards advance. With the ability to now send in-app images and video, data capture must extend to all forms, not just traditional numbers on a spreadsheet.
For in-team communication this also has huge benefits, providing visual proof and instant messaging, allowing everyone to remain informed, rather than running the risk of an email, which can be lost or deleted.
Staying one step ahead
With the Fire Safety Act due to come into effect in 2022 or 2023, companies that can get a handle on fire safety and compliance are sure to future-proof their business.
The era of digital is now taking hold in construction, raising overall standards and giving the sector the tools it so desperately needs to ensure that work is carried out to the highest of standards.
For individuals, digital technology provides something much more; peace of mind. With the risk of being personally accountable in the result of compliance failures, there’s no better feeling than knowing work has been carried out to the best of abilities, and that end-users can once again feel safe in their homes and workplaces.
Image: Matt Ryan, UK Country Manager at PlanRadar (Credit: PlanRadar)
A Build in Digital stakeholder, PlanRadar is a platform and device-independent, cloud-based solution that helps construction and real estate teams to increase quality, cut project costs and realise work faster.
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