Fire safety in Hospitals - taking a pragmatic approach.
It is very easy to over-specify fire safety and protection in Hospitals and other healthcare buildings. The risks are potentially high and the issues are diverse in nature. Furthermore, the consequences of getting it wrong are often unthinkable. That being said, sometimes we can find solutions that could vary from standards, that do not require huge expense - both initially and into the future. A thoughtfully reasoned and pragmatic approach could be the key.
British Standard Specification PAS 911 identifies that one aspect for consideration when preparing a fire strategy is consideration of "practical issues". Even if following the letter of a standard, there may be an operational, logistical or economic reason why the requirement cannot be applied. However, this is where experienced fire safety engineers can use their expertise by coming up with solutions that may provide for an equivalent level of protection. Sometimes by thinking out of the box, much more effective strategies may be found.
Many countries have fire standards and codes specific to hospitals and related building profiles. These are often based upon national codes but may be enhanced to deal with the added complexity of hospital buildings and the range of occupancy profiles. In the UK for instance, there are the HTM 05 suite of standards. Even though they are designed to cater for the specific issues affecting such premises, as with all standards, there may be justifiable reasons to vary from the relevant requirements. Furthermore, these documents are mostly written as complete documents - where all parts need to be understood. Taking the requirements from a single paragraph without fully considering the context, could lead to erroneous specification.
Given this, the following three point process could assist to find other ways, where expensive fire protection solutions (that may also include installation, maintenance and operational issues) are deemed required:
Identify the relevant parts of the relevant standards that refer to the issue. Make sure that there are no other relevant parts in the standard in other sections. Check if the standard allows for variations based upon the provision of other fire safety or fire protection measures. And, of course, make sure you properly understand what the standard is telling you.
Now consider at least two fire scenarios, one using the required solution and at least one other using an alternative solution. Note that more scenarios may be required if the area to be protected changes over the course of its lifetime (e.g. retail unit is open or closed). Also consider how the solutions could vary from typical compliance factors.
Write the scenarios down with sufficient levels of detail to allow others to understand your thought process. Make clear your recommendations and identify what assumptions you have made. Review this justification document with peers before issuing the proposal to relevant stakeholders.
By adopting the above process, a more strategic, cost effective and objective solution may be found. With the healthcare industries around the world facing ever increasing costs and tightening budgets, let us make sure that the fire protection systems in place provide the most optimum value for money and remain compliant and effective.