Performance-Based Approach to Fire Safety Design
- Will the present waiver mechanism be abolished with the introduction of the performance-based system?
The current waiver mechanism will still be available for cases of fire safety design that deviate from the prescriptive requirements which would not require a fire safety engineering approach to address the deviation. However, the Waiver Committee can, in its waiver decision, warrant a performance-based study to evaluate the feasibility of the waiver application.
- How will I know if a building has some performance-based design elements?
The SCDF file references associated with the building can give an indication as to whether the building has performance-based design elements. Performance-based submission plans will be given references with the 3rd letter as a capital F e.g. RBF/xxxxxxxxx/04, CBF/xxxxxxxxx/04, DBF/xxxxxxxxx/04, RFF/xxxxxxxxx/04, CFF/xxxxxxxxx/04, DFF/xxxxxxxxx/04. Apart from the file reference, the approved submission plans would also have declaration endorsements from both the QP and the FSE.
- Who is responsible to engage the FSE, Peer Reviewer, RI?
The building owner is responsible to engage the FSE, Peer Reviewer, RI.
- Is it mandatory to engage a Registered Inspector who is an FSE for performance-based submissions?
Yes, it is mandatory to engage a Registered Inspector who is an FSE for inspection of performance-based submissions. These RIs are qualified fire safety engineers are in a better position to highlight any irregularities in the fire safety engineering works that is being implemented on-site for a building.
- At which stage does the FSE, Peer Reviewer and the RI come into the picture for plan submission?
The Building Owner should engage the FSE on the onset of building project involving performance-based works, at the conceptual design stage, and not as a remedial solution to resolve deadlocks in the approval process.
The Building Owner is to engage the Peer Reviewer only after the FSE has completed his Fire Safety Engineering Report (FSER), detailed specifications and drawings, Building Operations and Maintenance manual (O&M). It is important that the Peer Reviewer does not participate or interfere with the design process prior to this stage. The Peer Reviewer will make his comments in his Peer Reviewer's Report. In the event that the Peer Reviewer has disagreeable comments on the documents reviewed, the FSE and the Peer Reviewer will need to discuss objectively to resolve the outstanding issues.
The Project QP is responsible to submit all the mentioned documents to SCDF for final plan approval.
The Building Owner will need to engage an RI who is an FSE to inspect the performance-based aspects of the project. The RI may also inspect prescriptive aspects related to his professional discipline. E.g. A RI(M&E) who is also an FSE can inspect works relating to the performance-based solution for both building plan and M&E aspects as well as the prescriptive M&E works. The owner will still need to engage an RI(Architectural) for inspection of building works constructed based on prescriptive requirements.
- Will it be necessary to engage a Fire Safety Engineer to re-evaluate addition & alteration works to a performance-based designed building?
The building management can refer to O&M manual as stipulated by the original FSE. The O&M manual spells out the extent of the performance-based solution in the building. Based on the information provided in the O&M manual, the building management has the responsibility in determining whether to engage an FSE for subsequent additions and alteration works.
- Can a building be entirely designed to performance-based requirements?
Theoretically, it is possible to design a building entirely to performance-based requirements. Practically, most performance-based submissions will be a hybrid of performance-based and prescriptive requirements.
- What is the rationale of allowing developers/QPs to choose the type of approach (i.e. prescriptive or performance-based) to fire safety design?
The introduction of a performance-based approach to fire safety design offers building designers greater flexibility in design and possible cost optimisation. The prescriptive approach is more restrictive in the sense that the building designers have to adhere strictly to the requirements stipulated in the fire codes. The performance-based approach, however, provides a platform for customised building designs so long as fire safety standards are maintained.
- Is the performance-based approach less stringent as compared to the prescriptive approach?
The performance-based approach should not be viewed as less stringent, but it is definitely less restrictive. The use of the performance-based approach to complement the prescriptive approach is widely accepted in many countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, Sweden and Japan. Hong Kong is also moving towards this direction, thus attesting to its growing acceptance. In Singapore, there are several buildings where the performance-based approach has been successfully used, such as the Changi International Airport, the Esplanade and the Singapore Expo.
- Between the prescriptive and the performance-based approach, how would people know which to choose?
Only registered FSEs are qualified to assess a performance-based design approach. It is a norm in the industry that the prescriptive approach is used for standard-design buildings whereas the performance-based approach is for more complex buildings. This is not new. The SCDF already receives building plans where the fire safety design is based on the performance approach (e.g. Singapore Expo and the Esplanade). If there are cost savings to be reaped, or design constraints faced when using the prescriptive method, the decision may then be made to use the performance approach. Ultimately, it is a decision to be made by the stakeholders.
- Who administers the registration of FSEs and what are the criteria?
The registration of FSE is administered by the SCDF. To be qualified as a FSE, the applicant needs to have a Bachelor or Masters degree in Fire Safety Engineering, have at least five years of practical experience in the field of fire safety design (may be prescriptive or performance-based fire safety engineering designs or both), and also pass an interview conducted by the FSE Selection Panel. The panel is chaired by the Director of Fire Safety & Shelter Department (FSSD), two other SCDF senior officers and an appointed representative from each of the professional institutions (SIA, IES and ACES).
It should be noted that the requirement of five-year practical experience in the field of fire safety design will only be applicable during the initial registration period. This requirement will be changed to 3-5 years of practical experience in the field of performance-based fire safety engineering once it becomes more established and there is a ready pool of such expertise.
- There is no peer reviewer in the current system. Would it not raise costs if this is now mandatory under the performance-based system?
The current system of complying with prescriptive requirements is relatively straightforward compared to performance requirements. The QP just have to follow stipulated rules in the fire codes, so having a third-party check on prescriptive requirements is not necessary as it will inflate costs. However, fire safety engineering is a relatively new discipline and besides applying engineering principles, design of fire safety works based on this approach usually require a certain degree of sound engineering judgement. Hence, it is necessary to have a peer review for such works as a counter-check. The Peer Reviewer scheme is akin to the Accredited Checker scheme for the submission of structural plans to the BCA. Though engaging a peer reviewer would increase cost, it offers building designers greater design flexibility and the increased cost may be offset by cost optimisation from the performance-based design