Integrating Technical and Social Aspects of Fire Safety Engineering & Expertise
Principal Investigator:

Robin Williams


This project was funded by The University of Edinburgh, The Ove Arup Foundation and The Royal Academy of Engineering.


Fire safety is a product of complex interactions between the physical built environment and the social practices, perceptions and performance of people and organisations (occupiers, fire services, regulators and specialists etc.). While there have been significant technical advances in fire safety engineering, further progress will be limited unless we can overcome various cultural and institutional barriers and ensure these improvements are more widely adopted.

The University of Edinburgh, The Ove Arup Foundation and The Royal Academy of Engineering are therefore jointly supporting an interdisciplinary programme of social-science research geared towards improving fire safety and the quality of the built environment by better interaction and integration of social scientific and engineering research.

Prevailing fire safety cultures may privilege tackling fires over tackling fire-risks, reinforce the design of constructions for response rather than safety, and empower fire fighting over fire prevention. Fire safety engineering has progressed considerably over the past 50 years, evolving into a multifaceted field that now includes the detailed study of materials, fire behaviour, and structural dynamics that, when assessed, enhance decision-making before and after fires. As a discipline that has an established tradition of engagement with the technicalities of fire safety, fire safety engineering provides one of the most recognisable tools for designing the spaces for the future. However, for fire safety to reach its full public potential it requires to establish close collaborative links with other expert fields, including law and regulation, architecture, and the social sciences.

This initiative, entitled Integrating Technical and Social Aspects of Fire Safety Engineering & Expertise (IT-SAFE), seeks to identify novel ways of enhancing the achievements of fire safety engineering in creating a safe, equitable, sustainable and efficient future for Britain’s built environment. It will explore how current institutional and regulatory barriers may be overcome, for example, by changing legislation, enforcement and professional culture and practice in ways that could promote fire safety as an integral component of a more attractive built environment, also addressing for example sustainability and security goals. Drawing upon a wealth of social scientific research into the identification and governance of technological risk it will generate important insights that can inform and improve policy and practice.


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