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We must not skimpon safety to sell steel



THE COMMENTS by Jeff Robinson ( marketing development manager for sections at British Steel), to the International Steel Construction Conference (Construction News, September 30) show that a narrow view of fire building safety is being urged on steel fabricators and regulators.

To say that the regulators must change their thinking is to suggest that the use of steel is the only thing to be considered. Why must we change a regime that has been proved to give good results?

Mr Robinson is trying to move the cost of fire safety away from the 'per tonne' cost of steel structures, reducing the apparent cost of a steel frame compared with a concrete frame and thus selling more steel.

But fire safety in buildings must be looked at as an overall discipline involving active and passive measures and the fire brigades to produce a total fire strategy. The stability of the structure, compartmentation, alarm systems and suppression systems all contribute to a successful fire strategy.

In the event of a fire, staff training, evacuation plans and fire-fighting activities must function safely. In this way the client's objective to reduce 'whole-life costs' as required by the Egan report and the Home Office's Safety In The Workplace requirements can be met efficiently.

These objectives will not be met by moving cost from one pocket to another. Many of the proposals in Mr Robinson's paper to cut protection costs actually increase the cost of steel.

Some ways of eliminating beam protection that have been suggested propose the use of more expensive asymmetric beams, additional fabrication costs of shelf angles, or extra calculations to BS 5950 part 8 or EC3 that may conclude that heavier sections would notrequire added fire protection.

Such recommendations increase the amount of steel used and increase the complexity of the work but it is doubtful if they actually reduce the overall cost.

The more we remove the safety margins of elements of the system, the more we rely on other elements to perform perfectly. Tinkering with a system to benefit sectoral interests, however powerful, is dangerous and outdated.

D P Sugden

Chief executive, Association forSpecialist Fire Protection