In the current climate of site support for multiple system types and multiple disciplines it is vitally important that the client come end user is fully aware of the responsibilities of their incumbent contractor(s) who service and support the life safety systems within their building.
The cost of this support must not be the principal factor around the appointment or retention of the incumbent, indeed the RRO makes a clear requirement that the selection of contractor must be based around their demonstration of competence and skills and not cost, thus choosing a contractor because they are “cheap” will undoubtedly turn out to be a mistake and a false economy.
The various standards under which life safety systems are controlled and under which your incumbent contractor is expected to operate make for specific works, these are not subject to interpretation nor optional and must be completed within the currency of a 12 month cycle.
These will include – but are not limited to the following:
- Fire alarms BS 5839 Part 1 2017
- Emergency lighting BS 5266 2018
- Fire risk assessments Fire Safety Order 2006
- Electrical testing BS 7671 2018
- Sprinklers BS/EN 8469
- Sprinklers residential BS 9251
- Disability and Refuge systems BS 5839 Part 8
- PAS/VA BS 5839 Part 9
- AOV systems BS/EN12101
- Directional signage BS5499/ISO 7010
- Fire Doors BS476-22
Your choice of contractor must consider your appreciations of their certification and accreditation bodies to give full third party review and sign off of their work on your site and these would usually follow the following pattern BAFE, NICEIC or LPS 1014/1048.
Using non accredited or third party approved contractors may cause other complications for you in respect of both the delivery of the support you require and their knowledge and expertise to delivery what are mandatory requirements under the various British Standards.
In addition to the above there are now additional considerations in that any appreciations of non-compliance within the systems running within the building that remain uncorrected now become a mandatory disclosure issue to your insurance provider under changes to the 2015 insurance act.
Therefore any such non-compliance issues that are missed by a contractor not fully conversant with the standards and changes to these may leave you very seriously compromised even after a relatively small fire if your insurance provider is not fully conversant with your situation and thus repudiates liability.
At each service of your system(s) your incumbent provider is required to provide (in writing) a full list of ALL of the non-compliant elements within your system(s) even if these were provided previously at an earlier service.
Your buildings manager or RP must make an appreciation of these issues and in discussions within the business and based upon their impact on the performance of the system(s) plan to rectify these.
Your annual fire risk assessment will also need to be appraised of all of these issues and the findings and action plan from the assessment will include further reference to these.
The following periods of service intervals are laid down in the standards as the minimum expectations for the service and support of your system(s), and, in some cases but not all the minimum will be sufficient, however in a large number of cases due to operational or occupancy issues the minimum requirements are deemed insufficient and additional service programs will be required.
You should also be appreciative of the fact that short cuts in the servicing of your equipment is both a false economy and likely to increase both the frequency and cost of false/spurious alarm issues and again, long term false alarm problems will disqualify the systems compliance and thus potentially render it non-complaint which again then requires this to be disclosed to your commercial insurance provider.
- Fire alarms – minimum bi-annual
- Emergency lighting annual
- Fire risk assessment annual – unless structural or occupancy changes within the building
- ECR electrical test – 5 year cycle
- Sprinklers residential annual
- Sprinklers commercial annual
- Disability and refuge systems annual
- PA/VA annual
- AOV systems annual
- Directional signage annual
- Fire Doors – service provision based on use and location
These periods must not be taken as a fixed policy as all sites will have differing issues and are very likely to need additional support.
In respect of a change of incumbent contractor the BAFE requirement is for a full 100% test of all of the systems to be provided (this is not to replace the ongoing mandatory service provision) and must be undertaken within an agreed period under whatever SLA is provided but it must not stretch fully across the year and must include a full report on all of the non-compliance issues and deficiencies uncovered.
This must include a full acoustics test with a calibrated meter to qualify the decibel (DB) level to a minimum of 65db with the doors closed, anywhere that has a level below this by more than 2db must be flagged for a supplementary additional sounder which might be a detector base or a wall mounted unit but additional devices will both affect the capacity of the system and the overall performance of the equipment installed.
Furthermore, your incumbent must undertake on an annual basis a full cause and effect test to be able to validate that any and all third party services linked to the fire alarm are all working as intended, this may include the following, access control, lifts, HVAC and other services, it may also be necessary for the service engineers to actually attend to witness sign these verifications.
There are now a number of cloud based service platforms that allow you to monitor the service provision for the assets within your building thus allowing you to manage the service partners activity and ensure that all you need is undertaken.
When some of the service works are not undertaken (rooms locked or occupied etc) these need to be qualified and you may then be asked to pay a supplement to cover a return visit for these as it is your responsibility to ensure that the service engineer has unhindered access to the site, this may in some cases mean attendance out of hours.
Your fire alarm system must have zone charts, a fully up to date specification and details of the service work, false alarms and changes since commissioning, it should have a log book, hard copy or cloud based (or both).
The emergency lighting needs to have a full discharge test at least annually to ensure that the fittings will last 3hrs in the event of total mains loss, however the battery reserve in these fittings takes 24hrs for a full recharge so in the event of a fire or evacuation shortly after a full test you will not have a fully charged system – as a result on larger sites the EL tests are recommended 6 monthly with the odd numbers tested on one test and the even numbers tested on the second test thus giving you 50% redundancy at all times in respect of the emergency provision.
The fire alarm and emergency lighting provision need to take account of those within your building with special needs or movement impairments, especially with regards to those with photosensitive epilepsy, colour blindness and vertigo which are separately qualified under EN54 Part 23 and have been part of the fire alarm requirements since July 2013.
Travel distances for call points may also be shortened where an SN issue prevails and thus the travel distance in a straight line may reduce from 45m to 25m and where there is a change of level or a change of direction from 30m to 15m.
Call point locations also need to consider wheel chair users and thus their height can be lowered from 1.4m to 1.2m from the centre of the element to the floor.
Within emergency lighting provision the lux levels required in identified SN areas are 5lux and this will include disabled WC areas, refuge areas on stairways and other identified SN areas of the building.
There is a knock on effect for directional signage and the potential use of photoluminescent tape on the floor, on stairways, around fire doors etc.
In summary therefore the relationship between the clients RP and their incumbent service partner for the life safety systems within the building, and indeed their fire risk assessor must be one of both full disclosure and education to thus ensure that the business is fully appraised of the issues, deficiencies and problems and by so allow them to keep their insurance provider appraised of their action plan.
Liaison with your insurance partner is also advised to confirm they are fully informed of the compliance (or not) of your systems.
ALL of the service partners should be fully third party certified and subject to audit and peer review.
ALL of the site information should be freely available to those that need to see it, FRS, HSE and risk assessor.
Thus in the event of a serious situation everyone is fully aware and the risk to life is known and controlled and the business has a greater chance of emerging from the situation able to continue to trade, more than 70% of businesses do not survive larger fires due to a variety of issues, mostly insurance related (consequential loss or repudiation of indemnity) so it is vital everything is reviewed regularly and this includes the FRA which should provide the map for all of the other elements – choosing the cheapest, like most things in life will turn out to be a false economy.
A top quality service partner/competent person (CP) should be providing both support and training to the client, guidance and direction on changes to the standards and the levels of protection may be required and in doing so ensure that the RP is at all times aware of the issues facing him or her.
This will include all of the mandatory testing, log book completion (paperwork and cloud based) so that all times the RP knows what the system can provide, what it may need and what forward planning is required.
The relationship between the RP and CP and the fire risk assessor should be such that the 3 elements are all pushing to ensure best practice, due diligence and thus compliance at all times.