According to Home Office statistics, fire incidents have been on a downward trend since a peak in 2003/4. The latest figures available show there were still almost half a million incidents attended by the fire and rescue services in 2014/5; however, only 31 per cent of these were actually connected to fires. Compliance with fire regulations may be a day-to-day headache, but the regulations are certainly helping to minimise these incident figures – and long may they continue to do so.
But why is ensuring compliance such an operational challenge? It was certainly one of the major topics of discussion among visitors to the Drax stand at the recent Facilities Show in London at the end of June.
As most facilities managers (FMs) will know, buildings in the UK are covered by BS5839, the British standard for fire detection and alarm systems. Current legislation in the form of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires a managed risk approach and this includes constant monitoring.
Most FMs outsource the maintenance and testing of fire alarm systems to a specialised business. But they have to rely on the trustworthiness of their chosen partners as there are few ways to check on weekly testing and quarterly maintenance.
There is no doubt that the majority of fire maintenance and testing companies do a thorough job. However, everyone makes mistakes especially when under pressure or sometimes unexpected problems can arise. For example, when checking an old building, it’s not unknown for smoke detectors to be hidden in a ceiling void, in plant rooms or in a locked cupboard.
While testing records remain paper-based, with little uniformity the system is open to error and misinterpretation. The fact that there is also no permanent record of events and subsequent action also adds to the confusion.
The problem is amplified for those FMs looking after buildings such as a schools or offices which have evolved over the years to incorporate extensions, annexes and off-site outposts or just have multiple locations. Inevitably these have a complete jumble of fire alarm systems, all requiring different maintenance and parts. This can make it almost impossible to have an overall view of the status of all systems.
All these issues can threaten compliancy and increase the risk of fire. However, new technology on the market can help prove compliancy. Fire alarm management systems are now available that are compatible with all leading fire alarm control panels to provide a view of the status and performance of all connected fire alarm sensors.
The software enables users to verify operator response times to events and monitor that both weekly checks and routine maintenance have been carried out, generating consistent and easy to interpret reports which can be used specifically to demonstrate compliance. It also automatically generates notifications of any faults to help cut down on unwanted alarms and to ensure that a building is never without a fully-serviced alarm system. These reports can then be exported or customised (with logos, for example) and saved in different formats.
Even if the fire alarm systems aren’t connected to the internet, hand-held devices carried by the engineer can be temporarily connected to the control panel, recording activities as they carry out the maintenance and then downloaded when there’s an internet connection later in the day.
If the worst happens and a fire does break out, despite regular monitoring, other products using similar technology can provide a centralised view of all incidents. A PC based alarm management system can provide a centralised control area with listed instructions and specific vital information such as the location of hazardous materials. Plans and maps can be held electronically and instantly displayed rather than hidden away.
Providing the IT infrastructure remains intact, PCs can be networked together so that all key information can be viewed from an alternative location if a designated control room is out of action with the information viewed remotely on a smartphone or tablet. In this way, key staff can be alerted all the quicker and action taken to limit the damage.
But most FMs are doing all they can to ensure their buildings are protected anyway. It’s just the evidence of their activities that they lack. In today’s digital age, relying on inconsistent paper reports could appear unprofessional and outdated. Exploring what is now available could bring this aspect of an FM’s compliance responsibilities into the 21st century – and take a huge worry off their minds.
For more information, go to www.draxtechnology.com