A fire engineer based in Arup's San Francisco office, I am an Associate Principal responsbile for the office's fire engineering group. My writings, musings and presentations often involve the subject of acceptable risk, regulations...
Health / Building designers should think more about risk
In the building design, review and construction process, little if any attention is given to the subject of risk. For example, risks of fire, falling, or earthquakes are rarely discussed or acknowledged, except in terms of code compliance.
Do owners, developers and design professionals understand that meeting the seismic requirements of the code with a focus on mitigating the risk to life safety might not mitigate the risk to property to a desirable level?
Traditionally risks of significant proportion (high-rise buildings) have received more attention than the risks of less significance (family homes). However, in the United States, data indicates that the fire risk is higher in single-family homes than in high-rise office buildings.
To date, seismic, fall protection, health, fire and other risks to occupants or property have been relegated to discussions and review of compliance with the prescriptive code. The rules generally negate the need for a designer or reviewer to understand or explicitly acknowledge risk.
Even in more progressive building regulatory environments, where performance design methods are welcome, little attention is given to the subject of risk. A likely cause is that few codes and standards and fewer building authorities explicitly recognise, characterise, or even refer to these building design challenges as risk problems. Perhaps it is time to consider risk more explicitly?
A risk analysis, be it qualitative or quantitative, can assist designers in a thought process that leads to better design. Risk analyses can also assist designers in recognising when prescriptive code implementation can lead to less safety at more cost. If the codes recognise risk, then alternate or performance-based designs, intended to increase design flexibility, become more transparent and easier for a building authority to accept.
To be better designers, we must cultivate a habit of seeing building design challenges as risk problems and cultivate the habit of seeing the code as the framework that helps us manage risk problems.
Most importantly, all design professionals should participate in the process of improving the codes such that they better addresses the risks.