The evolution of fire prevention procedures

The history of fire prevention procedures goes back to the 1960s when industrial development in Italy made it necessary to formulate a prevention and control policy for dangerous activities. Over time these procedures have been aligned with the Country’s cultural and social evolution, and they have been adapted to meet the changing needs indicated by the working and production world.
The law that laid down the first obligations in terms of fire prevention was Law n° 966 of 1965 (that instituted the fire prevention certificate), followed by DPR (Decree of the President of the Republic) n° 577 of 1982, which brought in the obligation for requesting that plans for activities that are subject to fire prevention checks be examined. Up to 1998 no significant changes were made, but from then on far-reaching changes have occurred in fire prevention procedures. With the issuing of DPR 37 (of 12th January 1998) and the Decree of 4th May, some questions were resolved that had proved to be ever more evident over the years.

The situation prior to 1998
The basic element on the regulatory scene prior to 1998 was that of procedural discipline. Even though the technical approach underwent a certain evolution, it was in the area of procedures that the most significant new features arose. In fact, Law 966 that had been in force since 1965 had brought in fire prevention certification for activities with a particular fire risk (the first list of 1995 was updated by means of the Decree of 16th February 1982). DRP 557, which has been in force since 1982, fully brought in examining of the plans and waiver procedures for activities that did not fully conform to the regulatory requirements.
Obviously, in approving DPR 577/82 reference had to be made to a situation in which the overall number of applications for fire prevention certification was limited and within the capacity of the normal operations of the Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters. Delays in expressing opinions were therefore unusual at the time while, on the other hand, the lack of any legal tie between the opinion expressed and authorisations to operate made it possible to avoid causing damages to those carrying out the operations due to delays with launching production activities. Over time these aspects became ever more important, specifically due to the increased sensitivity of Municipalities to questions of safety and, also as a result of Law 818/84 (that brought in the provisional authorisation and increased the number of files handled by the various headquarters to about 700,000), the Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters began to accumulate backlogs that became considerable in some cases.

In 1994 a second new feature changed the essential reference framework for the world of safety: Legislative Decree 626/94
Rather that calling to mind the contents of this decree that is characterised by the revolutionary line taken in relation to risk assessment, it may be useful to highlight the implications for the activities of the National Fire Brigade Corps. In fact, as the watchdog body, since 1994 this entity has been fully involved with documental deeds as well as checks that are mote closely related to implementation of safety measures (the identifying criteria for which were left up to a decree to be issued by the Interior Ministry). Among other things, the innovation brought about by this decree was such that it led to the need to train and inform the Corps’s personnel about new legislative provisions. In terms of outside training, in other words, that aimed at members of fire-fighting and emergency teams, the Corps’s involvement called for the involvement of significant human resources, which was then further emphasised by the obligations laid down in Law n° 609 of 1997.

In relation to the whole question of safety discipline in the workplace, one cannot but recall that, as from 1995 (DPR 547, with important amendments introduced by D. Lgs 626/94) there are various regulatory acts that impose compliance with specific safety measures, and if this is not done serious penal sanctions are applied among other things, and this has always been handled as part of the Fire Brigade’s institutional activities.

A third element that characterises the fire-prevention safety scene at the beginning of 1998 was the activities of the Corps as Judicial Officers and Police Agents. The institution of new procedures in relation to sanctions for work safety questions, approved by D. Lgs 758 of 1994, assigned all watchdog bodies (including the Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters) the task of launching and concluding procedures that lead to bringing the crime to an end. These procedures, simplified as the are, call for the involvement of significant human resources, suitably trained and, in this sector too, while the new obligations have certainly provided the opportunity for professional enrichment for the Fire Brigade structures, they have also called for an effort to adapt that is still in progress.

New features of DPR 37/98
In the context dealt with, DPR 37/08 brought about some changes that, perhaps, did not satisfy all the needs that the world debate on prevention had highlighted, but it certainly provided the core of an attempt to resolve the problems according to a direction that subsequently gained in political and social appreciation. Having overcome the debate phase, once the new petitions by the subjects directly involved had been metabolised, opinions about DPR 37/98 were basically positive.
By analysing the details of the content of the new act, one can attempt to quickly list the most interesting points.
In essence, DPR 37/98:

  • Reduced the maximum time for completing procedures from 90 to 45 days for examining plans (with the exception of more complex activities) and from 365 to 90 days for issuing the fire prevention certificate.
  • Established the principle of silence meaning refusal for examining plans, in order to simplify the possibility for the subject involved to take legal action against the non-complying Fire Brigade Headquarters to hurry them up.
  • Instituted the declaration by the entity responsible for the activities, which allows provisional operation while awaiting the inspection / site inspection.
  • Allowed renewal of the fire prevention certificate without the need for a site inspection by the Fire Brigade.
  • Simplified the procedures for issuing waivers, delegating powers to grant these to regional or inter-regional Fire Brigade bodies.
  • Reduced the time allowed for concluding exception procedures from 365 days to 30 plus 60.
  • Allowed Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters to carry out the site inspection for issuing fire prevention certificates for activities already started.
  • Established the transitory norm for the changeover from a provisional approval to final approval of the fore prevention certificate.

The implications of these new features are significant. We will examine those that involved professionals and employers more, in light of the responsibilities connected with their work.

The Decree of 4th May 1998
In order to fully understand the extent of the innovation brought in by DPR 37 of 1998, it is useful to examine the Decree of 4th May 1998, that is, the Decree issued in terms of DPR 37 of 1998, in order to arrive at concrete implementation.
Having been issued in record time compared to the usual administrative periods (one need simply think that it was issued on the day DPR 37/98 came into effect), for the first time the Decree clarified some extremely relevant aspects for the activities of professionals, in order to bring uniformity to procedural problems nationwide that up the then had never been examined by the legislator, despite being of significant importance.
Equally important is the fact that it provided detailed content on the reports and the documentation to be submitted to the Fire Brigade. We wish to point out that this suspicion does not relate to the formal problem only, but goes into the substance of planning, since it calls for justification of the design choices made according to a scheme that must, clearly, be followed when planning safety as well.
In this case too, it is useful to provide an analytical list of the contents of the decree.
The principal points are:

  • The detailed definition of the form and content of applications (examination of plans, fore prevention certificate, waivers) to be submitted to the Fire Brigade Headquarters.
  • A definition of the content of the report to be enclosed with the application for the plans to be examined.
  • The introduction of safety goals into the Italian ordinance in case of fire, defined by interpretative document n° 2 of the construction products directive.
  • A definition of the documentation (certificates, declarations etc.) to be enclosed with the application for the plans to be examined.
  • Identification of the parameters (number of hours) to which the extent of the payments by private citizens must be related.

In this regard, it is also important to focus our attention on the contents of the report to be enclosed with the examination of the plans. In the case of activities not covered by technical fire safety provisions, there is a call for the report to take on a precise format.
The sequence of items added by the designer is as follows:

  • Description of the activity.
  • Identification of dangers.
  • Risk assessment.
  • Description of measures taken.
  • Indication of management choices able to eliminate residual risks.

There is no lack of an innovative aspect to this logical sequence, albeit simple. In fact, the scheme adopted is the same as that behind Legislative Decree 626. With this choice to opt for an important strategic profile, it is reasonable to hypothesise about the administration having done nothing more than to reiterate what had already been expressed, with a new feature that could be termed revolutionary, in the Decree of 10th March 1998.
This decree, the gestation period for which began the day after D. Lgs 626 was issued (which, in art 13 explicitly calls for it to be issued), called for a significant design effort to achieve goals as innovative as these, such as those related to users that are not specialists in the sector, in order to clarify the relationships that exist in the workplace between fire risk and the safety measures to be implemented.

The Decree of 10th March 1998
If you set about making an analytical list of the new features introduced by the Decree of 10th March 1998, this would not do justice to an act that is seen as being one of the most readable of the fire prevention technical provisions. We will therefore provide only a short list:

  • Criteria for carrying out a risk assessment.
  • Indication of preventive, protective and precautionary operating measures.
  • Indication of the manner for checking and maintaining fore-fighting equipment and systems.
  • Indication on managing emergency water in case of fire.
  • Indication on the manner of designating members of the fire-fighting team.
  • Indication about fire prevention, fire-fighting, and emergency plan management training for these members.

Rather than providing a detailed analysis of the individual points, we believe it important to stress the aspect of the new approach to risk assessment. For the first time a fire prevention provision took the hardest but most far-sighted route of explaining the criteria, rather than imposing measures from above, as a forerunner to the principle that is the basis for the use of engineering analysis techniques for fire-fighting safety, which was also introduced by a Community Directive.
In order to clarify the content of this statement, one can add that the decree is part of a line of non-prescriptive norms, in which the choice of the individual measures to adopt is not left up to the trainer, but is left to the safety professional: and, in this case, it is up to the public authority to define the objectives to be attained and the minimum levels required.

By comparing the content of previous norms with this latest regulation, one understands how this choice can be seen as being revolutionary. In fact, there is no trace of previous provisions other than those of a prescriptive type, which we were all used to. It is worth remembering that norms of this type had been introduced in recent years in other sectors, such as that of overcoming architectural barriers, for example, as well as in the worker safety sector.
In fact, one can claim that this choice was a deed that was due, given the choices made in Italian legislation and approved by means of various acts, the most important and serious of which is D. Lgs. 626 of 1994. On the other hand, in implementing art 13 of this legislative decree, the D.M. (Ministerial Decree) of 10th March was issued and one cannot overlook the effort made in this regard by the Administration. One should also not forget that, in this regard, Italy has moved closer to what is sought in this field by the European Union.
Prior to the acts just referred to, with the range of basic directives (89/391/CEE and others), the European Parliament introduced the concept of risk assessment on the part of the employer. In Italy, as in Europe, a basic concept was accepted at an institutional level: the State cannot replace the employer in assessing specific risks. The variety and continuous evolution of the sector would, in fact, mean that public bodies would be forced to issue norms in the constant quest to keep up with technical innovations. These norms would always come out at a later date and, besides, one would run the risk of imposing safety measures that are not entirely compatible with operating needs. However, Europe’s choice is clear: the employer is responsible for guaranteeing the minimum safety level for workers and for illustrating the same as fully as possible to those that check the same.
This choice therefore implies that:

  • The State is responsible for setting the safety level.
  • The State is responsible for identifying minimum safety measures that are common to all working activities.
  • The State is responsible for identifying risk assessment criteria.
  • The extent of state remuneration for preventive and sample checking is higher.
  • No changes have been made to the employer’s obligations in relation to the measures laid down by the various acts still in force (DPR 547/55, DPR 689/59, Ministerial Decrees, etc.).
  • The employer’s freedom and responsibility have increased when it comes to choosing the measures to improve the level of safety.

Once the new arrangement had been identified (not without difficulty), the extremely vast make-up of those involved called for a text that was characterised by being extremely easy to read, in which, however, the basic criteria for assessing risks and for determining the measures necessary, were expressed with the due precision.
The time has not yet come for measuring how effective this has been and, besides, the fact that the activities covered by direct application of the decree are not subject to systematic fire prevention checks, makes it less easy to identify problems in terms of application.

New responsibilities of employers and professionals
On examining the aspects of the new actions in relation to the activities of professionals and the responsibilities of employers, one finds that the great freedom of choice when it comes to the measures to implement, certainly poses problematic aspects for employers. In fact, the lack of measures imposed from above, makes it impossible for the individuals responsible to see the work validated, as occurs in cases in which there is a technical regulation issued from above or a prior check by the Fire Brigade Headquarters (in other words, in the case of activities covered by the D.M. of 16th February 1982).
As provided for in the D.M. of 10th March 1998, this circumstance relieves employers and/or designers of this responsibility: the risk assessment is covered by the technical regulations or validated by the opinion (when favourable) expressed by the Fire Brigade. In the same way, responsible for choosing the measures to be implemented lies entirely with the designer / employer, excepting for the cases just referred to.

DPR 37/98 also introduced a significant innovation in this regard: both as regards the responsibility of the person that owns the activity, and the designer, the new acts give rise to a lot of questions.
As regards the owner of the activity, stress is laid on the burden imposed by the declaration that allows the activity to begin, while awaiting a site inspection by the Fire Brigade. According to the formula laid down in the Decree of 4th May, the owner declares that they have complied with all the requirements called for in the current standard (in terms of both measures and managerial and documentary procedures) and that the activity may therefore begin in full compliance with their obligations in terms of safety.
Even though, with or without a declaration, this obligation lies with the owners, and therefore the declaration adds nothing to their responsibilities, by means of the declaration these burdens are shown more clearly, also in light of the fact that a person who may not be trained in the technical field presents a declaration that summarises all the technical considerations that result in safety being attained.

When it comes to the professionals, the same aspects come to light from the design stage for the works. In fact, in order to be carried out in the way that is most in line with the ethical obligations that arise from belonging to a professional order, any type of project must take safety needs into account at every stage. It is difficult, in fact, to imagine stages in the design process during which these references can be overlooked. And so, already at that stage the properties of the materials, and characteristics of the spaces, processes or activities carried out must be duly analysed.
Besides, this analysis will be essential when, once the work has been completed, the entire aspect must be summarised and the documentation must be produced to be attached to the application for a site inspection. At that stage the professional will be obliged to specify the products’ performance requirements, referring to the standards taken as a reference for the design. In addition, the professional must be able to collect the declarations (produced pursuant to Law 46/90 or by analogy, to the obligations imposed by that law), drawn up by the installers that were involved in the process.
How much the procedures and in-depth investigation required have increased compared to the previous set-up, appears to be evident, as they referred to a number of obligations for those that belonged to colleges or professional orders, and that, for that reason, had set up special professional roles (Law 818/84).

The one-stop-shop
Reflecting on the effects the introduction of what is commonly referred to as a one-stop-shop had on fore prevention procedures is not easy, both because the question is still evolving and because the end of providing local Administrations with a tool that is suitable for the needs of the individual territorial contexts, of necessity leads to breaking up of situations and prospects that it is difficult to include in a single vision. For the purposes of this contribution, which sets out to briefly illustrate how there has been a change in the approach between citizens that use a service and the State that provides that service, in just a few years, it is important to highlight the continuity that the introduction of the one-stop-shop has shown when it comes to the overall evolution of the procedures and technical norms.
Launching new procedures is certainly not without problems of various types, but certainly it provides a technical and procedural context that have the same goal of reducing timescales and making all those that are involved in the procedures take responsibility for their part.

Future prospects
To conclude the comments made above, one cannot but make quick reference to two aspects that should be the most important topics in the immediate future – overcoming the provisional fire prevention authorisation and new risk assessment techniques.
As regards the provisional authorisation, final closure of the matter was decreed by article 7 of DPR 37 of 1998, but as things currently stand it is not possible to predict which way the Interior Ministry will go. The only thing that is certain is the need to choose the provisions for overcoming the provisional situation within three years of issuing of DPR 37/98, that is, by the end of March 2001.
As regards the introduction of techniques for an engineering assessment in our Country as well, one must say that opening of the markets and possibly liberalising the professions will result in new professionals entering the Italian scene that, in this specific case, will speak what could be defined as the international language of fire prevention, that is, engineering protection against fires.
This discipline that, once passed by international bodies will make it possible to formulate quantitative assessments of levels of safety according to unified, recognised standards, must also be included in university curricula in Italy, as is already the case in a number of European countries. In this regard, one must remember that the fire safety discipline has now taken on the level of high-tech disciplines, such as fluid dynamics or meteorology for example, and that there are university degree courses entirely dedicated to fire sciences. In addition, one must remember that adopting these new techniques (that, as not everyone knows, are imposed by a community directive) is in line with the approach to fire safety implemented in Italy since 1998. In fact, these techniques are the best tool for implementing the performance method in concrete terms, which is already in force pursuant to D. Lgs 626/94 and DPR 37/98 and that constitute application of the same in a way that is not very explicit.

For the National Fire Brigade Corps, in addition to making it possible to more accurately assess safety measures, gaining familiarity with these tools will have interesting immediate repercussions for investigating the causes of a fire and for professional training of personnel to be assigned to emergency services. In fact, the possibility of simulating the evolution of a fire, using calculation tools, opens the way for a natural evolution of techniques for investigating fires and, for various ends, makes it possible to provide professional training for those involved in emergency services, to gain a more in-depth idea of how fires evolve, and allow the possibility of extinguishing fires in ways that are entirely new.

Some of the legal acts in force in relation to fire prevention, applied to safety in the workplace:

  • Legislative Decree n° 626 of 19th September 1994: Implementation of Directives 89/391/CEE, 89/654/CEE, 89/655/CEE, 89/656/CEE, 90/269/CEE, 90/270/CEE, 90/394/CEE and 90/679/CEE in relation to improving the health and safety of workers in the workplace.
  • Ministerial Decree of 10th March 1998: General criteria for fire safety and for managing emergencies in the workplace.
  • Ministerial Decree of 4th May 1998: Provisions related to the manner of presentation and content of applications to launch fire prevention proceedings, as well as uniformity of related services provided by the Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters.
  • Legislative Decree n° 758 of 19th December 1994: Amendments to sanctionative discipline in labour matters.

The current provisions in relation to the procedures to be followed for fire prevention proceedings:

  • Law 966 of 26/7/1965: Discipline on tariffs, means of payment, and remuneration of personnel of the National Fire brigade Corps, for services that are charged for.
  • Circ. 25 MI.SA. (82) 9 of 02/06/82 D.M. 16th February 1982. Amendments to the Ministerial Decree of 27th September 1965 concerning the determination of activities subject to fire prevention inspections. Clarifications and application criteria.
  • D.P.R. 577 of 29/07/82: Approval of the regulation concerning providing pervention services and fire-fighting surveillance.
  • Circ. 52 of 20/11/82 D.M. 12th February 1982 and D.P.R. n° 577 of 29th July 1982: Clarifications.
  • D.M. 30/11/83: Terms, general definitions and graphic symbols for fire prevention.
  • D.M. 27/03/85: Amendments to D.M. 16th February 1982, containing a list of dangerous warehouses and industries subject to fore preventions inspections and checks.
  • Circ. 36 11/12/85: Fire prevention, interpretative clarification of current provisions and opinions expressed by the C.C.T.S. for fire prevention, on fore prevention questions and problems.
  • D.M. 30/10/86: Amendments to D.M. 25th March 1985 containing amendments to D.M. 16th February 1982, containing a list of dangerous warehouses and industries subject to fore preventions inspections and checks.
  • Circ. 42 of 17/12/86: Interpretative clarifications on fore prevention questions and problems.
  • Circular letter P541/4118/1 01/04/1995: Services charged for by the National Fire Brigade Corps. Clarifications on art 1, 2nd comma of Law n° 966 of 26th July 1965.
  • D.P.R. 37 12/01/98: Regulation containing discipline for fire prevention related proceedings, according to art. 20, 8th comma of Law n° 59 of 15th March 1997.
  • Decree of 04/05/98: Provisions related to the manner of presentation and content of applications to launch fire prevention proceedings, as well as uniformity of related services provided by the Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters.
  • Circular 9 05/05/98 D.P.R. n° 37 of 12th January 1998: Regulation for discipline for fire prevention related proceedings; Application clarifications.
  • Circular letter P966/4101 sub. 72/C.1 11/06/9: Application of Legislative Decree n° 758 of 19th December 1994, in relation to the new fire prevention procedures in terms of D.P.R. n° 37 of 12th January 1998.
  • Circular letter P968/4101 12/06/98: Legislative Decree n° 758 of 19th December 1994: Means of payment of fines in terms of Legislative Decree n° 237 of 9th July 1997.
  • Circular letter P1113/4101 sub. 72/E 31/07/98: Owner of the activity – the subject at risk according to the fire prevention certificate, not the same as whoever manages it. Clarifications on fire prevention procedural requirements.
  • Decree of 21/09/1998: Updating of the hourly tariffs for services charged for by the National Fire Brigade Corps.
  • Circular letter P1434/4101 sub. 72/E 19/10/98 Article 4 of D.P.R. n° 37/1998: Renewal of fire prevention certificates – Clarifications.
  • Circular letter P116/4118 sub. 20 of 02/02/99: Fire prevention and surveillance service.
  • Circular of 15 02/06/1999, D.P.R. n° 447 of 20th October 1998: Regulation for the one-stop-shop for productive activities.
  • Circular P2914/6104 31/5/00: Directives concerning relations between Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters and municipal administrations that have one-stop-shops for all productive activities.