Fire engineering services witness growing demand

17th April 2009 By: Fatima Gabru

A growing demand for the services of the fire engineering division of multidisciplinary engineering group WSP Consulting Engineers SA has been bolstered by the employment of fire technician Steve Newman.

WSP senior design technician, Simon Kemsley, says that Newman's 30 years of experience in the UK add to the diversity of WSP's offerings on the company's significant projects in Africa.

Newman says, "Many African countries do not have a national fire safety code of practice or set of standards. In most instances the British codes and standards are referred to on building projects. My knowledge and experience of British standards is extensive and adds a useful dimension on WSP's African and Indian Ocean projects."

Meanwhile, he says that there is a strong enforcement policy for fire safety codes in buildings in the UK. This policy, combined with the UK's established codes of practices and standards, makes UK developers and home owners, generally, more proactive than their counterparts in South Africa.

Kemsley adds, that in South Africa the local authorities are sometimes understaffed and in some instances lack the capacity to police contraventions of the Building Fire Safety regulations. This lack of enforcement could lead to a more relaxed attitude by developers in projects where a competent fire consultant has not been employed, he says.

Rational fire design is the detailed design of fire safety and prevention mechanisms and strategies in a building in order to comply with the National Building Fire Safety regulations, where prescriptive deemed-to-satisfy rules cannot be applied. Further detail specifications are outlined in the different codes of practices published by the South African Bureau of Standards 0400.

Kemsley explains that in South Africa, where deemed-to-satisfy regulations cannot be applied, a rational fire design together with the relevant calculations is carried out and presented to the local authorities for approval. "The use of rational fire design enables the developer to build innovative fire-safe buildings, which comply with the requirements of the National Building regulations," he adds.

Newman says, "Many South African developers want to install only what is required in the codes of practice, without adding anything further." In the UK it is quite common for legal representation to be available on a no-win no-fee basis. This practice is growing in South Africa, bringing robust legal representation within the grasp of all sectors of the community. It is thus easy for people in the UK to sue building owners or developers if a fire occurs in a building. He says that with the possibility of litigation costs hanging over a developer or building owner in South Africa, rational fire designs will be given much weightier considerations. This, he believes, will bring about changes in attitudes towards fire safety in buildings.

Newman does comment, however, that there appears to be growing organic process, whereby more internationally accepted standards are being incorporated into rational fire designs. He adds that he sees a proactive mindset slowly starting to grow in South Africa. This trend could lead to developers giving more consideration to internationally accepted designs, which could become more common in future South African developments.

WSP has a number of significant fire engineering projects in South Africa, Indian Ocean islands and other African states.

In South Africa the company is busy with three stations on the Gautrain project, as well as a number of developments in the retail, industrial and commercial sectors. The company also currently involved in the completion of the International Pier Development Project at OR Tambo International Airport for the Airports Company of South Africa.