Fire Safety First: Making Premises Fire Safety Compliant
10 June 2022
WHEN IT comes to investments, fire suppression is the one we hope to never use. All-too-often, it acts like a safety blanket, unseen yet always there: hidden investment policy we hope never to have to cash in. With systems we manage daily, such as heating, air conditioning and lighting, a fault is often noticeable and easy to identify but how do you quickly ascertain an issue with fire safety infrastructure? Adrian Kay investigates.
The introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 took the responsibility for fire safety away from Fire and Rescue Services and placed the obligation solely on the building owner or occupier. To align, every commercial or industrial property must have a designated individual who’s responsible for fire safety. The onus is on them to make their premises compliant. Failing this, fines, prosecution and even custodial sentences can be implemented.
Fire suppression systems can generally be forgotten, trivialised or otherwise taken for granted, when in reality they are the unsung hero of commercial, industrial and residential properties. A recent study commissioned by the US National Fire Protection Association shows that sprinklers were found to reduce civilian deaths by 89% and firefighter injuries by 60%, thereby proving their ability to simultaneously control fires and protect property and commodities, all the while keeping members of the public safe.
Having served in the realms of fire safety and compliance for over 35 years’, I work to accurately advise building owners, occupiers and property managers on their fire suppression infrastructure and the importance of care and maintenance every day.
Approaching fire safety
Here are some top tips on how to approach fire safety and protect property, commodities and building occupiers.
A change in sprinkler servicing and maintenance guidelines
To increase awareness of fire safety compliance and ensure that all buildings meet industry approved standards, the RISC Authority and the Fire Protection Association have teamed up to support those with limited experience or knowledge. The new Sprinkler System Service and Maintenance Guide affords building managers, owners and occupiers the confidence to manage this element of fire safety, with easy-t0-follow guidance, templates and checklists.
When assessing and planning for fire safety, watch out for common pitfalls to make a premises fully compliant.
Ensure the product supplier, installer or servicing contractor is third party accredited so that the fire protection systems are fully compliant. It’s a delicate balancing act between cost and compliance, but there’s no guarantee the cheapest option meets national compliance standards if they are not accredited. A higher cost can mean an increased Duty of Care, better call-out times and an emergency service.
Check the age of your sprinkler system, as the water storage should be drained and its condition assessed every ten years. Failure to do so could result in the tank collapsing and perhaps flooding of the premises if not checked regularly.
Age is also important for the sprinkler heads themselves and these should be inspected and tested every 25 years. To ensure that they can still operate as intended in a fire condition and distribute water as they should, a sample selection is required to be removed from service and sent to an independent laboratory for inspection and testing.
Carry out regular ‘Hazard Reviews’ of fire safety infrastructure. An expert will visually inspect the systems in place to ensure they meet the industry standard and advise of any updates that are required.
From my own experiences, a ‘Hazard Review’ is an essential way in which to reveal ‘blind spots’ in fire safety and suppression systems. When conducting inspections over the years, I’ve discovered sprinklers that are not connected to system pipework and identified ill-fitting fire doors that are not fit for purpose, all of which can pose a major danger in the event of a fire.
Particularly relevant post-COVID with the development of hybrid buildings and flexible workspaces, it’s important to monitor change of use. When the purpose of a space changes, so do the fire safety requirements. Sprinkler systems may have been originally designed and installed for one particular hazard, so if the use of that area or building changes, its risk classification may also become more onerous.
For example, if a factory wanted to store products in a specific location rather than use the space solely for manufacturing as it has done previously, the new use of the space may render the current fire safety systems unfit for purpose.
Three key questions
The three most important questions to ask when choosing a supplier
How punctual is the organisation in the event of an issue? It’s imperative that the supplier offers 24/7 responses to rectify and resolve urgent issues and ensure that your premises are safe and secure.
Is the supplier and contractor third party accredited? Ensuring that a supplier and contractor is approved by an independent body like the Loss Prevention Certification Board is vital. This helps to provide assurance that all fire safety foundations such as fire doors, sprinklers and other methods of fire suppression are suitably compliant and maintained as well as being serviced in accordance with current safety standards.
Does the supplier have a reliable reputation? It’s worth asking how long they have they been running. The reputation of a supplier is also crucial. Although a more reputable supplier may charge higher costs up front, the long-term benefits will prevail, and it guarantees no work to be redone in the future.
It’s vital to ensure premises are always fully compliant. Alongside adhering to commercial and industrial building insurance standards, well-implemented fire safety provisions are necessary for legal compliance, inspiring the confidence of occupiers and providing overall comfort and safety.
Stick with these useful suggestions and download the Sprinkler System Service and Maintenance Guide to safeguard your building(s) and occupants.
Adrian Kay is Head of Technical Compliance and Quality at Johnson Controls UK and Ireland (www.johnsoncontrols.com/en_gb)