20 years spent protecting people from fire risk gives our new Director of Fire a unique perspective. Hear why the future lies in transforming clients’ operations to build compliance into their digital DNA.
Our new Director of Fire got where he is today by asking the right questions and acting on the answers. Graham Oliphant served in the London Fire Brigade for 14 years, where he saw it all firsthand. From rescuing pet snakes to saving colleagues (and himself) from falling off an exploded building, frontline experience shaped his approach.
We sat down with Graham to talk about the journey from firefighting to safety management leadership. What are his plans at Oakleaf, and what kind of changes does he want to drive in the industry?
A career forged on the frontlines
During his final years with the Fire Brigade, Graham’s duties had evolved towards policy analysis. He’d look at trends and decipher how they could improve future responses or inform training. It was during this period that the tragedy at Grenfell claimed 72 lives.
This, one of the emergency services’ biggest challenges, taught bitter lessons about handling the risk of fire. Taking those lessons with him, Graham stepped into risk consultancy to help businesses do more for those in their care.
London’s Fire Brigade covers a similar number of people to New York’s, about eight million. But it does so with a third of the resources. Coming from this background, he’s able to help organisations do more with less.
At one job, he created an equation to remotely calculate the number of communal fire doors in a building. At another, he set up a building safety team from scratch that got 2,600 buildings (including 152 high rises) compliant with HRV regulations.
During lockdown, Graham’s team saved a £2 million contract by implementing measures which proved to be months ahead of their time. Widespread testing and online booking implementation achieved a 95% access rate, compared to an industry norm of about 60%.
These kinds of efficiencies are needed because there’s still plenty to do. In Graham’s own words, “Nearly seven years after Grenfell, what’s really changed? There’s new legislation, but cladding is still on the buildings. Now people are struggling for money and developers are ring-fencing funds for remediation. There’s a storm still brewing for housing.
We need a culture shift, a different mentality. One that views handling risk as managing a continual process rather than chasing one completed outcome. Fire doesn’t sleep, neither should fire safety management.”
Guiding clients to a better future
This is the core of Graham’s mission here at Oakleaf: Championing a move from demonstrating compliance to being compliant. The key to achieving that is to focus on building relationships. That means thinking carefully about how we align with our clients’ needs.
Our future lies in transforming clients’ operations. Racing to the bottom to offer the lowest price and fastest delivery on risk assessments is not sustainable. Worse, it risks a transactional state of mind where practical safety isn’t always necessarily top priority. Instead, we’re taking the time to learn and create what organisations really need. Putting the consultancy back into consultancy, if you like.
Digitisation is key. The job of demonstrating the value of secure, scalable digital solutions isn’t a quick or easy one. Resistance to change is inevitable, but Graham is clear: The right systemic response to risk can only come from embedding the right tools and best practice into an organisation.
“First priority is to make a building’s occupants tangibly safer. Then we protect the building itself. Only then is it time to focus on proving compliance, once we’re authentically compliant. That three-step process is interlinked, but you still can’t leap straight to step three.
Looking ahead, the next phase of the Building Safety Act goes live on April 1st. Soon, it’ll be a criminal matter if you can’t produce a safety case report on request for all of your high rise buildings, often referred to as HRBs. People need something in place fast, but they’ll make life better for themselves if they get the right advice on how to approach this.
Then there’s a General Election coming up. People are unsure what legislation they’ll manage to get out, what’s going to get pushed back on developers. There’s a serious need for certainty, and that’s what we can give them. A way of working that’s compliant from the ground up, with life safety considerations as the bedrock.”
Talk to Oakleaf about getting that kind of certainty across your whole portfolio.