In a two-part article, Chris Peters, chief design manager, looks at how not to save cost on advanced glazing systems.
The new normal is already not the old normal. We’ve all had to change the way we do business.
Those changes will ripple their way through the construction sector supply chain as specifiers and main contractors look to do things differently.
How we specify and procure is already changing, as social distancing makes doing business less personal and more virtual.
Rules and regulations for safe working, and providing safe working environments, mean that we’re all now operating in new ways.
But, while there is no great impact from working to a more virtual business model, there is another and more insidious risk.
The effects of lockdown on turnover and profit has been immense for most companies. The priorities are now to rebuild turnover and, wherever possible, reduce cost.
While minimising cost has always been an important business consideration, the new normal makes it imperative. Cost reductions fall to the bottom line and, in uncertain times, a healthier bottom line is what it’s all about.
In a way, rethinking how we do business is no bad thing. Examining systems and processes and finding new and innovative ways to cost-effectively make changes.
But there is a consequent danger that cost reductions will involve compromise, not least on safety.
In the advanced glazing systems market, we’re already used to specifiers reducing fire-safety requirements. We’ve written before of contracts being tendered against 60 minutes of fire protection, only for that to be watered down to 30 minutes.
While that reduction may be entirely within regulations, it’s a compromise on absolute fire safety.
Thirty minutes may seem like more than enough time to evacuate a building. But the clear evidence is, and we’re written about it here, that what’s called start-up time delays evacuation.
People simply don’t always take a fire alarm seriously. After all, fires are rare and, maybe, the building has had false alarms before. Maybe, others will think, it’s the alarm being tested.
Evacuation can also be delayed for other reasons. Staff may look to their superiors for guidance. If he or she is making an important phone call, they may not immediately evacuate.
That’s particularly the case if there is no visible fire or smoke. The fact is that evacuating a building takes far longer than computer simulations suggest.
Human nature imposes delays that computer models can’t predict. Not to mention the delays in evacuating those who can’t self-evacuate – for example, the elderly or infirm.
It’s why we’re concerned that some contracts have been downgraded from 60 minutes to 30 minutes of fire protection. In some cases, it will be safe; in others, it’s a potentially dangerous compromise.
The reason why this is happening is, of course, nothing to do with appropriate fire safety levels. It’s all about making cost savings.
The new normal may make that insidious trend more noticeable. After all, if cutting cost is the only game in town, what price fire safety?