THE SHADOW of Grenfell Tower continues to influence any discussion concerning people’s safety in buildings and it was impossible to imagine that our Emergency Lighting conference could – or should – avoid that discussion.
Publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety a few days earlier simply provided an additional focus for our attention.
From the very outset it was clear that one word would dominate the day’s programme: competence.
Dame Judith had set the scene in her own words in the foreword to the report when she pointed the finger directly at bad practice. She said:
‘Ignorance – regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted.’
Time and again, the conference delegates and speakers provided support for that view; emergency installations are being delivered and managed by people who simply do not know what’s required of them . . . nor are they aware of the possible consequences of getting it wrong.
You would think that there is sufficient evidence, in the shape of prison sentences and heavy fines, to focus minds. But there is scant evidence of that as the list of prosecutions continues to grow.
Competence is a word that is being aired broadly across the emergency lighting sector. Manufacturers of good quality, fully-certified equipment want to put clear space between themselves and the importers of cheap, untested, product that is appearing on wholesaler counters. They see proper documentation as being the best way to achieve this.
But what they need is for specifiers and building managers to acknowledge their own competence role in the specification and installation of that equipment.
Competence is what is needed in the way that emergency lighting schemes are designed and installed. At the moment there is no generally recognised certification for designers and engineers and many schemes are produced that bear only a passing resemblance to a compliant scheme. Building managers have to learn to demand evidence that the companies that they are engaging to product emergency lighting schemes for them are actually capable of doing that.
Competence is what is required of those same building managers to ensure that the emergency lighting installations under their control are properly managed.
When the fire safety inspectors come calling, it’s these same building managers in their designated role as a ‘responsible person’ who are likely to feel the full force of the law – and that doesn’t have to come as a result of an actual fire; these guys can come for you just because you’re not doing your job properly and, in their opinion, a fire is a possible event.
And I’ll throw one more word for everyone on ponder on: engagement.
Emergency lighting design has always been the poor relation when it comes to the lighting design process. It sits at the end of a lighting brief and often doesn’t get a mention at all. Many designers leave it to the electrical engineers, and I’d suggest that’s more to do with their own lack of interest and knowledge than the idea that electrical engineers are the natural experts in this discipline.
But it was clear from everything that was said during the day that project managers need to have a fire safety strategy in mind from the very outset and that strategy should sit at the heart of the broader design process. One designer in the audience suggested it’s time to turn everything on its head and bring emergency lighting to the very front of the design process.
So there we are. At the end of an exciting and challenging day, a lot of people – your writer among them – went away to google for what ‘emergency lighting design’ courses are available. The good news is that there are lots of courses out there.