Managing fire safety in a sustainable world

Lauren Lee

Lauren Lee
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
8th November 2022

Although possible, it’s not easy, and some sustainability initiatives can compromise fire safety standards.

The summer of 2022 was the hottest on record, and wildfires were breaking out across the UK. Many of our customers have green roofs or walls on their buildings, installed as a means to attract insects, bees and other wildlife. However, this summer, it became scarily apparent that if you don’t have a built-in irrigation system for the green roof, then there is an increased risk of fire on the external linings of your building. The introduction of the hosepipe ban injected further fear, and due to demand, there were extensive lead times for bringing forward maintenance regimes and cutting back the foliage. 

Another initiative that comes with an increased fire risk is the introduction of electric vehicles, bikes and scooters. I think we’ve all seen the videos of electric scooters that are on charge and suddenly spontaneously combust. The use of high voltage lithium ion batteries needs to be carefully considered due to the likelihood of these batteries shorting and breaking down in a process known as thermal runaway. The government is imposing that all new builds will need to have these chargers installed. So we must ask ourselves, what are the fire safety considerations for if underground car parks are full of EV vehicles on fire? What is the max temperature of the fire, and how will the building’s structure react to this in comparison to a diesel/petrol fire?

Our Fire and Rescue Services are most likely also asking questions as to how new technologies will impact their role in suppressing a building or vehicle fire. For instance, when attending a lorry that’s on fire on the motorway in 2025 - will the engine be a battery? How will use of water impact sustainability goals etc.? Also, what are the fire safety considerations for hydrogen powered transport i.e. buses and trains that are already in use, especially in tunnels and under bridges etc.? 

When risk assessing a property that has photovoltaic cells (solar panels) installed, it concerns me how many buildings do not have isolation switches installed at the fire panel. These solar panels carry thousands of volts which could endanger the lives of our firefighters, so what use is an isolation switch if it’s located in the roof plant room?

Sustainable projects do not seem to consider fire safety precautions. Are we introducing more hazards into our buildings? We’re removing combustible cladding, but are we just replacing it with green living walls and solar panels? 

If you need any help or support with your fire safety management, get in touch