The recent spate of high-profile building fires has highlighted the need for rational design of performance-based fire-safety systems.

This comes after three firefighters died attempting to extinguish the blaze at the Gauteng Health Department building in the Johannesburg CBD. The day prior to this, a devastating fire ripped through the Hilton Court apartments in Eastleigh, and the Heartfelt Arena in Thaba Tshwane in Pretoria was damaged extensively after a fire broke out.

Why rational design?

“Rational design takes into account the behaviour of a building during a fire, meaning the structure must be designed accordingly, thereby minimising any potentially devastating impact,” explains Michael van Niekerk, CEO of ASP Fire.

A rational design is the performance-based design of fire safety and prevention mechanisms and strategies in a building in order to provide the same or better fire safety levels as prescribed in the National Building Regulations.

All buildings in South Africa need to comply with the requirements of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, 1977 (Act No. 103 of 1977), Fire Protection, as set out in SANS 10400 Part T: 2011.

Undertaking a rational design

A rational design commences with a fire-risk consultant such as ASP Fire visiting the premises, or reviewing a set of new building plans, to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of all areas of the property to inspect all areas of fire safety and risk in detail.

Correct and proper fire-engineering principles are applied to ensure that the design complies with the life, building, fire behavioural, and environmental fire-safety objectives as required by law.

Upon completion of the fire-risk assessment and drafting the rational design report, the client is provided with practical actions to implement. The report comprises a detailed and documented objective fire-risk assessment, as well as fire-engineering calculations and analysis where required, covering all aspects of fire risk and safety.

“This guides the client in protecting its business, employees, and customers by providing prioritised recommendations for action, in order to rectify problem areas and strengthen existing fire-safety procedures. This also ensures that the client complies with fire-safety regulations for the protection of life, property, and the environment,” van Niekerk elaborates.

State of government buildings

The fire at the Gauteng Health Department building has highlighted the poor state of many of government’s buildings.

In response to the fire, the Gauteng provincial government has established a high-level provincial occupational health and safety steering to centralise safety functions for all buildings accommodating its employees.

The committee will be chaired by Gauteng Infrastructure Development MEC Jacob Mamabolo and will be constituted by heads of departments.