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Fire ahead

FMJ talks to Harrison Briggs, Solutions Manager at Churchill Group, and Nick Fox, FM consultant and Chair of IWFM UK Members Council on the growing need to adopt the latest fire safety and compliance technology within the hospitality sector

As recently reported by a leading real estate consultancy, there has been a 35 per cent increase in new-build hotels in the UK market in recent years, making up 66 per cent of all new hotel rooms. With this in mind, the conversation around safety, compliance and regulatory standards should be at the forefront of discussion, not only for construction teams, but also for the facilities management service providers who are tasked with keeping the buildings running.

Within one month last year, three hotels in London, Bristol and Lewes suffered minor-to-major damage from fires which broke out in the buildings. The most serious fire was at a Premier Inn hotel in Bristol , which was almost entirely destroyed in a devastating blaze (thankfully no one was hurt). Although the cause of this incident remains unclear, it is a painful reminder of the importance of fire safety and compliance, and the need to ensure fire safety maintenance and compliance is well managed.

FMJ: Can you describe the current state of fire safety regulations?

Harrison Briggs (HB): It goes without saying that fire safety has always played a pivotal role in the construction and maintenance of buildings, especially in high-rise buildings and densely populated areas. But the awareness, scrutiny and focus on the topic has been growing recently within the sector and society, particularly in the wake of the Grenfell fire in June 2017.

Nick Fox (NF): The government is taking steps towards safeguarding from such events with the production of the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report by Dame Judith Hackett, which gives considerable insight on the issue. However, there is still a lot to be done before the regulatory standards catch-up to the rapidly developing world of construction and the growing use of technology within the sector.

How would you define the term compliance within your sector?

NF: Within the facilities management industry, the term ‘compliance’ can be interpreted in different ways and so measurement standards can vary depending on the type of building, sector or management. Hard FM compliance, for example, can be split into two sections. Statutory and mandatory compliance relates to carrying out the right maintenance, to the right assets, at the right frequency, abiding to the relevant legislation and guidance. Sector compliance is about ensuring you have the appropriate sub-contractor management, permit to work systems, COSHH assessments, DSE assessments, working at height procedures, relevant and up to date policies and risk assessments, relevant to your specific field of work.

HB: While Nick’s examples stress the need for compliance solutions with regards to fire particularly, this of course applies to other areas of buildings. Water, gas, electric, pressure levels, and lifts, to name a few, all need the same level of attention to ensure they meet relevant regulatory standards. This is where a compliance management system can come into play, by offering businesses critical compliance support across property portfolios. The management of building maintenance is no easy task and will consume a vast amount of time for any facilities manager. Having a system in place to act as a one-stop solution for all maintenance needs can help FMs work more effectively, bettering any existing efforts by streamlining processes, alerts and standards.

How can facilities managers embrace this new shift to tech-focused compliance?

NF: The varying nature of FMs work often attracts very different skillsets, dependent on various factors including the building type and age, quantity of people in said space, and any existing support in place. The debate between outsourcing and carrying out FM services in-house is an ongoing one, which will likely never have a definitive answer more in favour of one or the other. So, the role of the FM will forever need to be involved in H&S and compliance in at least some capacity.

HB: The work of facilities management varies greatly between different organisations, so businesses must ensure their FMs have the necessary skills and the required resources available to support any challenges that may crop up. Whether this is in the form of training courses, software solutions or other staff around them, it is down to the company to ensure that all necessary support is in place. For all maintenance related activities in facilities management, there are certain processes that should unquestionably be put in place to ensure safe and effective results.

Investing in a compliance system will streamline and digitise the entire compliance process and provide accurate real-time compliance status across the entire property portfolio. FMs can easily manage their statutory building (and other business critical) requirements in one central online location using smart and dynamic dashboards, evidence-based reporting, automated reminders and notifications, along with many other bespoke features.

Compliance applies to all areas of managing a building. There is no end to the list of tasks that comprises the role of the facility manager; and with this, of course, comes the possibility of error. Building maintenance is no easy suit, and whether you are working in risk assessment, procedures, management, or any other area of FM, the most important piece of advice I can provide is to invest in a suitable compliance management system. FM service providers are here to make your day-to-day easier and more effective, so invest in the offerings on the market to see the benefits in your role and those around you.

About Sarah OBeirne

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