Safety, the Public and Buildings

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Thursday, November 21st, 2013
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Risk Management
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The feeling of safety and security has been a fundamental need for humans in all cultures and historical periods. The strategies by which this need is addressed, however, varies.

In recent times, natural disasters and the frequency at which they are now occurring has heightened public awareness and interest toward efforts to protect people, buildings and operations from their devastating effects.

Within Australia, safety and public liability of common and tenanted areas are covered by a variety of applicable health, safety & environmental legislation, Australian Standards, Codes of Practice and the National Construction Code (NCC).

The National Construction Code (NCC) defines types of building and structures and also contains technical provisions for the design and construction of buildings and other structures, covering such matters as structure, fire resistance, access and egress, services and equipment, and energy efficiency as well as certain aspects of health and amenity.

The goal of the NCC is to ensure there are nationally consistent, minimum necessary standards of relevant health, safety (including structural safety and safety from fire), and amenity and sustainability objectives efficiently. All buildings are required to have essential services fitted and maintained in an operational state to ensure adequate level of safety over the life of the building.

We take this as inherent safety mitigation and a minimum design standard. This level of safety mitigation alone, however, does not necessarily achieve what may be reasonably considered a safe building, though it does provide a suitable base level of design in developing safe and functional buildings for most users through all stages of the building life.

Facility and property managers are faced with many challenges in ensuring the health and safety of tenants, workers (including contractors) and the public within the buildings they manage. Further complicating the matter are additional inherent safety and environmental risks associated with older building stock, which were often built under or with design standards, fittings and fixtures that have been superseded. Recurrent fit outs and improvement undertaken by tenants over time add additional layers of complexity.

With the above in mind it seems fit to explore the relationship and continuum formed between safety, building design and property management and how risk management can influence the function and safety of a building.

Risk Management is defined in ISO 31000 as “the effect of uncertainty on objectives, whether positive or negative.”

The objective for applying a systematic risk management approach to facilities and property management is to prevent undesirable events proactively through responsible action, as well as a detailed and timely allocation of responsibilities in the event of a disruption or incident.

In simple terms, risk management is a process for identifying, assessing and systematically controlling events that may lead to a loss. In order to achieve the objective above, given that there are many tools and techniques that can be used, it can be helpful to consider the complexity of the problems, the nature and degree of undertenancy based on the information available, the extent of resources that are required, the desired output in terms of qualitative or quantitative data and the timing.

Although risk management processes can present a powerful tool, as with all tools, if it is not used with care and understanding, the outcomes may well be totally incorrect and lead to inappropriate decisions being made that are not practicable and ultimately not successfully implementable.

Examples of key safety risks in buildings include:

  • Slip, trip, fall hazards in building entrances, especially where rain is tracked inside
  • Contractors, staff and tenants working at height, confined spaces, plant and under exposure to  electromagnetic radiation
  • Inadequate lighting affecting building users’  ability to identify and negotiate hazards in their immediate environment
  • Security for both staff and the public
  • The analysis and management of the interaction between vehicles and pedestrian using the facility
  • Types and location of hazardous materials (e.g. asbestos, lead, PCBs)
  • Inadequate way finding signage
  • Poor siting and design of car parks can have a significant impact on the safety of buildings where sightlines, lighting requirements and direct access by pedestrians is affected
  • Inadequacy of emergency services and their communication preventing an effective response

With the use of both active and passive measures, the benefits of the risk management approach to managing safety within facility or a building provide both direct and indirect benefits that may include premium reductions, reputation, and increased savings. They can assist with meeting due diligence obligations as well as in providing a safe and healthy environment for tenants, employees, contractors and the public.

 

By: Andrew Angelides
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