After leaving school, I trained as a mechanical engineer working for seven years as a die sinker in the drop-forge industry. However, due to the decline of the industry and the closure of many heavy engineering companies at that time, I pursued a career with the local authority fire service and served for thirty years as a firefighter, fire officer, and fire safety enforcement officer. Following retirement, I have pursued a career in academia specialising in the study of fire safety.
BSc (Hons) in Fire Safety (University of Central Lancashire)
MPhil in Fire Safety (Loughborough University)
Graduate of the Institution of Fire Engineers
Chartered Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health
I am interested in the sociology of fire safety, principally concentrating on the post-construction regulation of fire safety in the UK.
Dr. Graham Spinardi
Prof. Luke Bisby
Building design and the black boxing of knowledge
Fire safety knowledge originates in the pre-construction design stage of a building. It consists of three items: 1) the solutions to problems thrown up when faciltating the design of the building; 2) the consequences of the imposition of regulations; and 3) the design compromises brought about by the application of fire engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and so on. On completion of the building, the fire safety knowledge on which safe occupation of the building is dependant is packaged and transferred to those with responsibility for post-construction fire safety regulations. However, those responsible, the self-regulating duty holders, typically regard the fire safety design as a black box. This can be problematic as the safe occupation of the building is dependent on those duty holders admnistering the correct attention and maintenance to the components of the fire safety design.
Research question 1: To what extent does the black-boxing of knowledge in fire safety designs hinder the maintenance and management of post-construction fire safety?
The Distribution and Application of Fire Safety Knowledge and Expertise
The growth of fire safety engineering has supplemented the expertise in fire safety in the design of buildings but the post-construction regulatory framework, though in need of an equal expertise in the assessment of fire risk and the management of fire safety, has not been supplemented in a similar way. The current trend in building design is to create a more unusual, innovative, and unique design of building but this means that the safe occupation of such buildings is increasingly more dependent on the expertise of the post-construction regulatory duty holders. Duty holders not only have to carry out suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments but they also have to produce a prescriptive, efficient, and well-managed maintenance schedule to maintain the safe environment envisaged by the building designers. A further complication is that the standard of management exercised by the duty holders has to be overseen by a sufficiently competent force of enforcement officers whose expertise is gradually being eroded as experienced officers retire to be replaced by less experienced ones.
Research question 2: How is fire safety expertise distributed amongst the key actors in post-construction fire safety and how is competence regulated?
Deregulation, Self-regulation, and Regulatory Capture
For credible as well as effective regulation, regulators need to be competent with the appropriate expertise but also need to be independent in their pursuit of maintaining the legal requirements of their regulatory role without being compromised by their relationship with the regulated industry. Current post-construction fire safety regulation requires self-regulation by those responsible for safe building occupation and minimum supervision by those overseeing them. Thus the potential for regulatory capture or the use of regulations for the benefit of the regulated industry rather than the occupants of buildings is easily accomplished.
Research question 3: Has deregulation of UK post-construction fire safety led to regulatory capture and, if so, to what extent, and in what form?