Written by Paul Compton, Technical Director for Colt International 2009.By not complying with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, companies risk their own insurance and more worryingly people's lives. Paul Compton Technical Director for Colt International, explains the implications of RRO in relation to smoke control systems and how calling in the professionals will help safeguard your business.
By not complying with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, companies risk their own insurance and more worryingly people's lives. Paul Compton Technical Director for Colt International, explains the implications of RRO in relation to smoke control systems and how calling in the professionals will help safeguard your business.
Smoke control systems, like any piece of electrical or mechanical equipment require servicing and maintenance. Systems that incorporate controls are often complex, requiring expert knowledge to ensure they're working properly. Some smoke control systems are also used for day-to-day ventilation and this additional operation and constant usage can take its toll - as smoke control equipment can be a matter of life or death, ensuring it works at optimum performance is imperative.
4% of all building fires occur in retail premises which equates to over 4000 fires per year. The main cause of deaths and casualties is often not the fire itself but the smoke.
Shopping centres attract over 100,000 visitors a day and are becoming increasingly complicated buildings, often including a number of different uses within the complex - offices, leisure areas, hotels even apartments, therefore it is vital that the fire safety system is maintained in good working order.
Even a small fire in a shopping centre can fill a whole mall with smoke in less than three minutes. Compare this to the average evacuation time of 30 minutes and the importance of an effective, working smoke ventilation system becomes clear.
Smoke control systems provide smoke free escape conditions at low level to allow the building to be evacuated with minimum risk of smoke inhalation, injury or death. This is vital in a retail outlet as often the alarm is not heard. When it is people often ignore it or misunderstand the situation. Parents with young children, the elderly and disabled are at particular risk in a fire situation and it is therefore important that a clear escape route is provided for as long as possible.
Fires not only put lives at risk they also have a financial impact, resulting in over £5million of damages every year. Smoke control systems ensure fire-fighters have a safe and clear access route, enabling the fire to be controlled faster and reducing damages to the building.
Maintenance of a smoke control system is essential. Regular maintenance and servicing protects your investment and brings piece of mind that the system will operate effectively in an emergency.
The Regulatory Reform Order (RRO) states: "The responsible person must ensure that the premises and any facilities, equipment and devices provided in respect of the premises under this Order are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair." So, if you are the responsible person under the RRO, defined as the person who has control of the premises - usually the employer, occupier or the owner, then you are committing an offence and may be liable to a fine and imprisonment if you fail to ensure sufficient and correct maintenance is carried out.
There is guidance available for implementing a risk assessment, necessary to determine which systems and equipment are required under the RRO and what levels of testing and maintenance are appropriate. There are also many consultants who will happily carry this out on your behalf should you be unable or unwilling to do this yourself. The important thing to note is that if you do use the services of an external expert, you still retain responsibility, and therefore liability.
The Department of Communities and Local Government, communities.gov.uk, has published a series of guides to fire safety risk assessment for common building types to support the RRO. Within these guides there are a number of references to smoke control systems, recommendations include ensuring that you understand how your system operates, that it is in full working order and maintained by a competent person who is familiar with the fire engineering performance specifications of the system.
The guides contain an example fire safety maintenance checklist to help those responsible. This recommends a weekly check for operation of all fire protection systems linked to the fire alarm, which usually includes smoke control systems. The guides also state that a system should be routinely checked by a competent person and while there is no specific time frame stipulated, an annual review is recommended.
Regulations provide clarity
BS9999 supports these recommendations; clause V.3.5 recommending a weekly operational test of smoke control systems for means of escape and clause V.5 suggesting a full operational simulation every 3 months. Clause V.7 recommends annual inspections, tests, repairs if necessary, and certification of testing by competent persons.
While the regulations provide great clarity and guidance, they also require a level of knowledge and understanding in order to comply, so unless you have in-house maintenance staff competent to maintain and certify your smoke control system; you may require the support of a suitable specialist service and maintenance company.
There are specialist companies in the UK providing service and maintenance contracts based on a sound level of expertise and industry knowledge, assisting those responsible for building control with their legal obligations under the RRO. These specialist service and maintenance companies offer a range of services, which in most cases can be tailored to individual requirements, including emergency call out, spares support, repair and refurbishment. Preventative maintenance programmes ensure equipment is in optimum running order. A fire safety certificate will satisfy all local fire authorities and will assist in demonstrating to insurance inspectors that buildings have appropriate cover in place.
Economising, by not ensuring that your smoke control system undergoes proper service and maintenance, is a dangerous option to take, which at best may compromise insurance cover and at worst result in fatal accidents. All those responsible for fire safety must ensure their compliance to RRO and BS9999, by having staff on-site with the necessary expertise to carry out the appropriate assessments, or enlisting the support of a trusted service and maintenance supplier.
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