Neil Budd and Robert Thilthorpe, Technical Managers at the Fire Industry Association (FIA), explain the core responsibilities involved in fire protection management
Among facilities managers’ many responsibilities, fire protection is one of the most important. All non-domestic buildings are required to have fire protection in place, and a failure to keep these properly maintained and managed can result in fines and prosecution. Even more important is the need to keep a building’s occupants safe from the risk of fire.
Fire protection involves many factors: the fire risk assessment, the fire detection and alarm system, the extinguishing system (such as sprinklers and fire extinguishers) – it’s a lot to manage, and keeping on top of it all should be a regular scheduled task to ensure that nothing is overlooked.
FIRE RISK ASSESSMENTS
The fire risk assessment should be reviewed at regular intervals, and whenever there are any changes in the building – if renovation work is carried out, for example, or if a new extension is built or a room repurposed. Although the assessment is a legal requirement, there is no set legal template – it will depend on the building itself. Guidance notes are available on the gov.uk website.
At a basic level, all fire risk assessments should identify the key fire hazards; identify the people at risk; evaluate, remove or reduce the risks; record findings, and help prepare an emergency plan and training. They are easy to do – but hard to do well.
Professional help is available if required, but it’s important to be aware that almost anyone with a background in the fire industry can set themselves up as a ‘professional’ fire risk assessor. Hundreds of ‘experts’ visit premises around the country giving advice to building
owners and businesses, not always with the appropriate qualifications or experience.
The situation is changing now that the number of certified (independently verified to be fully trained and reliable) risk assessment companies is rising. In 2012 there were none – now there are 42. While this may not sound like a particularly high number, the figure is likely to snowball over the next few years as a more educated public demands verification of the skills of the people they are hiring to carry out fire risk assessments. (It’s encouraging that the trend for certification is spreading. More and more installers of fire alarm systems are certified, for instance – over 800 companies and counting.)
How many fire extinguishers should a building have?
It all depends on the size of the premises and the type of risk. British Standard 5306 part 8 gives recommendations for the number and type of extinguisher needed in a building. By classifying risk by the type of material that could burn (class A, for example, refers to fires involving wood or paper), the standard provides a method of calculating the number and types of extinguishers required.
In some cases, it sets a minimum level of coverage – for class A it sets a minimum of two class A extinguishers per floor, for example. By working out the floor area, and setting that against the area a particular extinguisher covers by its fire rating, you can calculate how many extinguishers are required. The fire risk assessment should also mention if extinguishers are required for first-aid firefighting.
A third-party certificated portable extinguishing company will be able to recommend the correct course of action and determine if your building has the correct number and type of extinguishers.
FIRE DETECTION AND ALARMS
Fire detection and alarm systems need careful management. A weekly test should be performed and regular fire drills carried out. These should be recorded in the log book.
In order to ensure a good quality of service, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) recommends that facilities managers requiring expert assistance choose fire detection and alarm service companies with third-party certification. Maintaining an accurate log book helps the external technicians to study events that have occurred and resolve any issues, such as by altering the type or siting of equipment.
Third-party certificated installers understand the importance of proven products that are correctly designed, installed and maintained. These companies are generally members of a trade association with an enforceable code of practice; this extra level of cover means the client can be confident the work will be carried out to the highest standard. Skilled third-party certificated installers aim to get it right first time – with the added bonus that product traceability is assured.
Third-party certification breeds good practice and means worthwhile certificates of conformity are issued. This will give confidence to the specifier, client and enforcer that the job has been carried out to the highest standard. Additionally, in the event of a disaster, lawyers will come looking for the person with the biggest pockets. The involvement of a third-party certificated company helps to establish a sound defence in the event of a lawsuit.
In the worst case, where somebody is killed in a fire, the possibility of a breach of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act arises. Once again, the use of a third-party certificated company is beneficial to the organisation defending the action.
FIRE INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
Fire detection and alarm systems, portable fire extinguishers and sprinklers all need regular maintenance. The FIA (the UK’s largest non-profit trade association for fire protection) recommends that suppliers should hold third-party certification for their area of operation.
FIA members are all third-party certificated and some may have staff specially qualified in fire detection and alarms. They may also have undergone FIA training in a range of other areas, meaning they are able to provide expert advice as required. To find an FIA member, visit the FIA website and click the ‘find a member’ button.