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UL Helps Develop New Global Fire Safety Common Principles

With building fires a global concern, the application global standards development, code setting, and education efforts could help improve safety.

Panoramic and perspective view of high-rise buildings, where greenery and trees are reflected in the glass windows

December 4, 2020

For decades, UL has recognized that building fires are a global concern. For this reason, we have increasingly participated in global standards development, code setting and education efforts. Following the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in London, the UK‘s Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors  organized the International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) Coalition. The purpose of this coalition was to develop an “internationally consistent approach to the safety, and management of buildings, with the aim of saving more lives by reducing risk and preventing devastating fires.” The first gathering at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 2018 had modest participation, but has since grown to include more than 80 fire safety leadership organizations. UL is proud to have been a part of this effort since its inception. In October 2020, the first of its kind International Fire Safety Standards: Common Principles (IFSS-CP) was published and was then formally adopted as a UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) Standard on Nov. 13, 2020.

The coalition formed “to address differing or, in some cases, non-existent (fire safety) requirements in countries across the world.”   Significant variations exist globally in building design, approval, construction methods, operation and fire service response. These differences and gaps can significantly impact overall fire risk. To address this circumstance, coalition members appointed a standard setting committee composed of 22 independent experts from different countries to draft and advise on the common principles of fire safety. 

As a subject matter expert with extensive technical knowledge of fire safety, Dwayne Sloan, technical director for UL’s Building and Life Safety Technologies division, was one of the key contributors on the common principles. Sloan was a member of various sub-teams focused on drafting the common principles, releasing an open consultation document, responding to comments on the document and reporting to the broader coalition. UL Standards Program Manager Diane Haithcock represented Underwriters Laboratories on the IFSS Coalition.

“Our coalition has worked hard to produce this globally applicable way to bring consistency in fire safety to buildings new and old, and reduce the risk to lives,” said Gary Strong of RICS and chair of the IFSS Coalition. “The new standard is unprecedented, being the first agreement on fire safety principles on this international scale, with its development supported by the United Nations in line with its own sustainable development goals. It is the outcome from two years of work and worldwide expertise on fire safety from over 80 coalition organizations and will bring reassurance that the construction and management of buildings upholds appropriate fire safety standards.”

This document delivers a performance-based framework rooted in the following common principles: 

  • Prevention – Safeguarding against the outbreak of fire and/or limiting its effects
  • Detection and communication – Investigating and discovery of fire followed by informing occupants and the fire service
  • Occupant protection – Facilitating occupant avoidance of and escape from the effects of fire
  • Containment – Limiting fire and all its consequences to as small an area as possible
  • Extinguishment – Suppressing fire and protecting the surrounding environment

The common principles intended to apply to each of the following stages of a building’s life cycle include design, construction, in-use, changes and demolition.

The common principles become actionable through a defined framework that empowers evidence-based assessment to achieve fire safety engineering design, construction, occupation and ongoing management. These common principles can either be used at the government/regulatory level for developing laws, codes/regulations and standards, or at an individual level for evaluating the  fire safety measures within a specific building project at each stage of the building life cycle. 

The IFSS-CP is not intended to substitute or replace existing fire safety related codes, standards and regulatory instruments. Rather, it provides a framework to contextualize and guide codification within local jurisdictions around the world. Existing codes within a given jurisdiction may therefore be shown to meet and satisfy one or more of the common principles. Conversely, any gaps created by unmet principles may be identified. As a result, the IFSS-CP will aid jurisdictions by helping to ensure that their current regulatory framework provides a comprehensive basis for fire safety and by guiding future code development toward achieving that goal. IFSS-CP is intended to be flexible and nonprescriptive so that it can be adopted incrementally and advance good practices.

“We are honored to be involved in such an important first of its kind effort to bring standardization to international fire and life safety codes around the world” said Chris Hasbrook, UL vice president and general manager for the Building and Life Safety Technologies division.

The IFSS-CP document is published and available via

Press Release: UL Helps Develop New Global Fire Safety Common Principles

Underwriters Laboratories and UL recently participated in the International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) Coalition comprised of over 80 fire safety leadership organizations.