BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Decade of action to overhaul global fire safety

The International Fire Safety Standards Coalition has launched an initiative to ensure a globally consistent approach to building safety and management over the next decade and beyond

Author: Gary Strong

11 October 2021

High-rise building on fire

The International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) Coalition – a global body comprising more than 80 different organisations, initiated and chaired by RICS – has launched its Global Plan for a Decade of Action for Fire Safety 2022–2032, with the aim of saving lives, reducing injuries, and lowering costs, by decreasing risk and preventing devastating fires.

The global plan is set out in a UN-backed paper that builds on the International Fire Safety Standards: Common Principles (IFSS-CP), published by the coalition in October last year. It follows extensive work to foster public confidence in the regulation and control of fire safety measures.

Fire impact worldwide

The magnitude of the fire problem around the world is enormous. Annually, fires cause more than 150,000 deaths and in excess of 7m injuries, while tens of thousands of people are displaced. Costs in human, property and business terms amount to billions of dollars, a total that has been estimated to be as high as 1–2% of GDP in high-income countries. Concerted international action is needed to prevent this.

The IFSS represent an industry-led effort to reconcile differing or, in some cases, non-existent fire safety requirements in countries around the world. Contrasting approaches have resulted in significant variations in the design, approval, construction and operation of buildings and infrastructure, all of which increases fire risk.

The coalition has worked hard to produce globally applicable standards that will improve fire safety in buildings new and old, ensure consistent requirements, and reduce the risk to life. The new global plan advances that work, aiming to reduce the forecast fatalities, injuries, costs, and environmental impact from fire around the world by 2032, despite the predicted increase in population over this period.

Unprecedented initiative

This new initiative is unprecedented, being the first agreement about long-term actions in fire safety on an international scale, and it is supported by the UN in line with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The plan relates in particular to the following SDGs:

  • goal 3: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all
  • goal 9: build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation
  • goal 11: make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • goal 17: strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

The global plan is itself the outcome of three years of work, drawing on worldwide expertise in fire safety to offer public reassurance that the construction and management of buildings and infrastructure upholds appropriate safety standards, with improved training, education, and resources for a broad range of stakeholders.

The plan establishes a clear performance-based framework and common actions that can be taken at the levels of the individual, community, city, nation and region, as well as globally.

It identifies the following five pillars for fire safety:

  • people: actions to help individuals and groups understand fire – and what they can do to improve that understanding – as well as the need for awareness, training and competent professionals
  • products: actions to reduce fire hazards associated with appliances, building contents and construction components
  • structures: actions relating to planning, design and operation to reduce the fire hazards associated with structures
  • infrastructure: actions to enhance firefighting infrastructure
  • communities: actions to enable sustainable and fire-resilient communities.

The plan is intended to guide coordinated and concerted efforts on fire safety, explaining the context and rationale for the coalition's declaration of a decade of action.

Coordinating framework

The plan will support the development of regional, national and local plans of action, while simultaneously providing a framework to coordinate global activities. It is directed at a broad audience that includes representatives of regional unions, national and local governments, cities, civil society, NGOs, charities, international bodies such as the World Bank, professional organisations and private companies willing to align their activities over the next decade with the global framework.

The benefits of decreased fire risk are significant, including reduced human suffering, limiting losses to property and economies, lower environmental impacts, and improved social equity. This translates into safer and more resilient people, buildings and communities.

The decade of action provides a timeframe for action to encourage political and resource commitments to fire safety both globally and nationally. Progress against the actions annually will be monitored by the coalition, working with the UN.

Gary Strong FRICS is RICS global building standards director and chair of the IFSS Coalition
Contact Gary: Email

Related competencies include: Fire safety

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