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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Jim Baker

The fire safety black box
Fire safety knowledge originates in the pre-construction design stage of a building.  It is made up of the solutions to problems thrown up by the design of the building, the imposition of regulations, and the compromise with the other disciplines of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and so on.  On completion of the building, the fire safety knowledge is packaged and transferred to those with responsibility for post-construction fire safety regulations.  The duty holders typically regard fire safety as a black box but the black box is dependent on receiving the correct attention and maintenance for its efficiency.

Research question 1: How successful is the process of writing, reading and performing the fire safety script of a building and to what extent does the fire safety black box depend on the script and its assimilation by the user? How successful is the regulatory system at making sure that the black box performs correctly and is sustained adequately?

Regulatory capture

Both pre-construction and post-construction fire safety regulations have changed to facilitate innovation in building design and to remove barriers to business and commerce.  Buildings can now be designed to calculated engineering principles rather than prescriptive regulations and occupied buildings are now self-regulated with an assessment of the risk of fire rather than compliance with a published document.

Research question 2: The regulation of fire safety in Britain, carried out by a pre-construction regulator and a post-construction regulator has altered because of deregulation. Has the deregulation increased the possibility of regulatory capture and, if either regulator has been captured, how has this manifested itself?

Fire safety expertise

The growth of fire safety engineering has supplemented the expertise in fire safety in the design of buildings but the design of the building is not refined by the experience of the user in the same way that other technology is.  If the design is unusual, innovative, and unique, the safety of the occupants depends upon the pursuance of an efficient, prescriptive maintenance schedule.  If that safety is supected to be at fault, the building is subjected to a fire safety audit, but the enforcement officer creates new fire safety knowledge rather than compare the findings of the audit against the existing knowledge.

Research question 3: How is the fire safety expertise distributed amongst the key actors and why is enforcement carried out using new expertise? What mechanisms exist to refine future expertise in the light of user experience?