Ray Turner explains why it’s vitally important for building owners and security/fire safety/risk managers to seek fire safety equipment for their premises that originates from a robust and transparent supply chain.
Building owners rely on the use of high-performance fire safety and emergency lighting technology to ensure their property offers a safe environment for occupants in which to work, but even the most reliable and robust of system solutions will fail to function if they haven’t been manufactured in the correct manner.
To ensure optimum safety, building owners need to fully understand the product development process of their shortlisted life safety systems before installing them. This is vital both in terms of safeguarding compliance with local regulations for the building in question and when it comes to addressing the long-term performance and maintenance requirements of the solutions once installed.
Failure to do so may lead to the selection of equipment that needs additional aftercare over its lifetime, subsequently resulting in a higher total cost of ownership (TCO) and the risk of impaired product function.
Due to the necessary complexity of the fire safety production process, and given the need for systems manufacturers to comply with multiple local and international standards, it can sometimes be a challenge for buyers to identify the solutions with the most reliable supply chain. However, there are a number of factors businesses can consider to help them overcome these issues and ensure they do select the most appropriate products for their building(s).
Identify the correct category
To optimise safety for occupants, building owners need to assess the suitability of the fire safety system being considered for the development and its intended location by determining the system category to which it belongs.
To meet the requirements of the British Standard BS 5839 Part One, fire alarm equipment is split into categories M, P1, P2, L1, L2, L3, L4 and L5 which correspond to the building applications for which they’re suitable and the functionality they offer when it comes to maintenance and aftercare.
To select the most appropriate product category for the building, it’s crucial that owners consider the particular locations at which they intend to install the equipment as each point in the structure will have its own performance and operational needs.
Building owners may readily obtain guidance on BS 5839 from fire safety system manufacturers and their system installer partners.
Often, it can be tempting to select what appear to be the most advanced technologies on the market. However, no two buildings are alike. What’s more, it’s not always the case that the newest products are the most appropriate for the building(s) in question.
Building owners and managers need to think about the individual requirements of their development such that they choose the systems with the most suitable features and benefits.
Particular attention should be paid to issues such as the approvals the system has received, the type of protocol used and whether it’s flexible, the regulations the system meets, the quality of the components sourced, whether the system can withstand typical environmental conditions present inside the building and the system’s life expectancy.
Put simply, all of these areas can act as markers of both quality and reliability.
Determining the aftercare requirements and life expectancy of each product under consideration to minimise TCO is also essential.
To comply with the UK’s Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, building owners must check their life safety systems every six months by way of ensuring they offer optimal performance to minimise the risk of unwanted alerts.
Recent Government statistics* show that, over the last couple of years, the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services have attended nearly a quarter of a million false alarms caused by faulty fire safety systems. This doesn’t only realise significant business disruption for building occupants but can also divert Fire and Rescue Services from attending real emergencies.
Every technology is different, and some will require maintenance and monitoring more regularly than once every six months as stipulated by the regulations. Other life safety systems may also be susceptible to unexpected issues that can lead to downtime for emergency repairs. All of this extra care will cost time and money, potentially increasing the life safety system’s TCO.
These operational processes can be streamlined – and the cost of equipment over its lifetime minimised – by selecting solutions that have minimal maintenance needs. There are now self-testing fire safety and emergency lighting technologies, for example, that can considerably reduce monitoring needs. A number of manufacturers also offer a comprehensive warranty which can help in offsetting the impact of unplanned repairs.
Building owners should also look at the energy efficiency of the emergency lighting solutions they intend to install as some require considerably more power than others, again costing extra money. Technologies that feature low-voltage cabling and LEDs, for example, consume only 5% of the electricity used by standard fluorescent tubes**, in turn cutting operating costs throughout their lifetime.
To help simplify the monitoring process and ensure compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, as well as similar legislation, those responsible for the maintenance of the life safety system should also use logbooks. These are comprehensive documents that can record all performance monitoring and maintenance data. Logbooks should be kept in a single location so that they can be easily produced for an audit if required.
Choosing logbooks compiled in consultation with independent fire safety registration organisations such as British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) can ensure regulatory compliance while also streamlining the inspection process (and thus further enhancing operational efficiencies).
Support from the experts
There’s plenty of guidance available from fire safety and emergency lighting experts to help building owners select the most appropriate technologies for their developments.
Many fire safety system manufacturers, for example, offer on-site technical experts who can support owners and managers in choosing products that comply with both local and European safety standards, as well as identifying solutions for their particular application.
A number also offer tools to help businesses better understand the long-term performance and TCO of their shortlisted solutions.
Owners should also look to receive advice from their installers. Many have established partnerships with a particular manufacturer, in turn giving them insight that can help during the product selection process.
The Fire Industry Association and similar industry bodies can provide up-to-date information on European standards and regulations to help building owners ensure they comply with the latest legislation.
Reliability in the supply chain
At the end of the day, a given building is only as safe as the fire safety system(s) installed within it. On that basis, it’s imperative that business owners do all they can to gain the information they need in order to choose the most appropriate life safety technology for their requirements.
Understanding the supply chain supporting fire safety and emergency lighting equipment is vital for determining how that equipment will perform throughout its lifetime. More and more manufacturers are realising this and, as such, seeking to make their supply chains as transparent as possible for their customer base.
However, until this state of openness is achieved, building owners should talk to their suppliers to gain the information they require that enables them to make an informed decision and balance cost and operational efficiencies with the safety and well-being of occupants.
Ray Turner is General Manager of Operations at Hochiki Europe
*Department for Communities and Local Government: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/fire-statistics-monitor-april-2013-to-march-2014
**Based on a maintained system of 100 LED luminaires compared to 100 traditional fluorescent tube light fittings