Don’t Let A Lack of Knowledge Undermine Your Smoke and Fire Safety
As more maintenance and facilities managers are tasked with overseeing smoke and fire safety systems, the need for specialised technical support has never been greater.
If you were to imagine a building fire, I’m sure your mind would quickly summon images of the many number of safety systems that you would not only expect to be in place but would most likely take for granted that they would be. If you imagined a scene were fire alarms alerted you to the presence of danger, sprinkler systems activated automatically and fire extinguishers were readily available you wouldn’t be alone. Such are these expectations; even individuals with no fire safety training will know how these systems work and how integral they are to the safety of life.
But while these systems are indeed hugely significant in controlling the spread of a fire, they do very little to combat the number one cause of death in a building fire – smoke.
Death from smoke inhalation can occur in minutes or less. It is absolutely vital that smoke control systems are made just as much of a priority as other fire safety systems. Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of knowledge with regards to smoke control and worryingly, this lack of knowledge often extends to the individuals responsible for fire safety such as maintenance managers, building owners and FM contractors.
Since the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO ) in October 2006, responsibility for ensuring fire safety legislative compliance now rests solely with an assigned individual within the organisation who is legally required to carry out risk assessments – a role that entrusts them to identify, manage and reduce the risk of fire.
This ‘responsible’ person (as referred to in the legislation) has absolute responsibility for the safety of people who use the building, as well as asset protection. The importance of this order should not be underestimated as disregard for the RRO has led to fines of up to £240,000. Refusal to identify, manage and reduce risk of fire can lead to fires, injury and death as well as the prosecution of the individuals responsible.
To help ensure that this individual is fully aware of their responsibilities it is advisable that they are supported by a specialist contractor that has been registered and certified under the FIRAS scheme. The FIRAS scheme aims to set a minimum industry standard for the installation and maintenance of smoke control systems. Under the programme, certified companies are obliged to employ competent supervisors and technicians who have been assessed by FIRAS inspectors to ensure their technical and practical abilities remain in accordance with FIRAS standards. These competent employees are regularly reviewed, ensuring their technical and practical abilities remain in accordance with FIRAS requirements.
Smoke control ventilation systems are an integral and vital component of fire safety systems within many buildings, which is why it is essential to ensure that only suitably qualified and experienced experts are involved with their design, installation and ongoing service and maintenance. The FIRAS certification scheme makes it much easier to establish who these experts are.
As with any electrical or mechanical system, smoke control equipment and components (usually consisting of natural ventilators, extract fans, smoke curtains, smoke and fire dampers, control panels and more) require regular preventative maintenance to ensure optimum efficiency and successful operation with other fire safety systems. This preventative maintenance of smoke control systems is especially necessary in structures where there are a high number of people at any given time. Buildings such as shopping centres, high-rise offices, residential apartment buildings and schools often require smoke control systems to aid visibility during evacuation and fire fighting procedures and to increase the time any given individual has to leave an area safely in the event of a fire.
It is important not to over look the risks inherent in improper maintenance or a lack of maintenance altogether. For example, in buildings that are dependent on aged or outdated systems, it may prove difficult (if not impossible) to find replacement components if they haven’t already been upgraded since installation. This can lead to maintenance staff performing modifications of their own using equipment that is neither suitable nor rated for fire safety; such inexperience could potentially put lives at risk. When no maintenance is performed at all, apart from being in contravention of the RRO, issues with faulty equipment may not become apparent unless there is a fire which is usually too late.
Of course, these issues can be remedied with regular, on-going preventative maintenance procedures set in place by a specialist contractor with the necessary expertise and experience, as well as the introduction of, and compliance with, minimum industry standards and Government Legislation.
The ideal service provider should offer a full maintenance service – effectively supporting the client’s competent person by advising on and assessing smoke control systems and providing peace of mind with their broad expertise across fire and smoke safety. They do not have to be the original installer of the smoke control system, a qualified service provider will have expert knowledge to manage and maintain systems installed by any manufacturer to ensure a safe solution and the best value to the client.
“Smoke ventilation systems are installed to assist with life safety and the protection of assets in the event of an emergency fire situation,” explains Brakel Airvent Director Charles Hurdman. “This is why we feel it’s absolutely vital that the individuals who install or maintain this equipment are qualified and up-to-date when it comes to the latest products, technology, installation processes and ongoing service and support, (Brakel Airvent is the first Specialist Smoke Control Company to achieve FIRAS accreditation). The FIRAS scheme is the perfect tool to ensure a benchmark of quality and accountability within our industry.”