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FIGHTING FIRE WITH COMPETENCE

Author : David Strydom

16 November 2015

What competencies should FMs expect from a contractor undertaking fire protection work in their building?

With so much responsibility on his hands, an FM has to be on top of every eventuality, which isn't always as easy as it sounds. One area which causes headaches is the competencies required of those who do contract work in the building.

We asked several experts what competencies they thought FMs should look for when a contractor undertakes fire protection work in their buildings.

ASFP CEO Wilf Butcher said passive fire protection is critically important in ensuring safety in buildings. It does this by ensuring the building don’t collapse and by subdividing them to prevent the spread of smoke and fire, using elements such as fire-doors, walls, protection to the structural frame and protection to services passing through walls/floors which are specifically engineered to fulfil this function.

“It’s vital all passive fire protection measures are correctly designed, specified, installed and maintained if a building is to behave as expected should fire break out,” says Butcher. So what do FMs need to do to meet the legal duties placed on them and ensure the safety of their buildings and what competencies should they look for in those appointed to undertake work?

Butcher lists these as follows:

* Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations requires that when construction is complete the main contractor must hand over to the client/occupier the relevant fire safety information, including certificates of conformity from passive fire protection subcontractors. FMs should always ask for Regulation 38 information when they move into a building or on completion of any large refurbishment or extension project.

* It’s strongly recommended that, wherever possible, passive fire protection products should be supported by third party certification, which links the tested/assessed product to the actual factory production and ensures traceability from raw material to finished product.

* The installation of such products or systems should be undertaken by competent installers who have gained third party certification via a UKAS accredited Certification Body, as is the case for members of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP).

* The fire provision of the building as a whole must be maintained adequately throughout its entire working life by ensuring that all activities within the building that might affect its fire performance are monitored and responded to where necessary.   It should not be assumed that follow on trades are competent in terms of how to breach and reinstate the fire compartmentation provision. Such areas should be checked when work is complete and, where required, any reinstatement work undertaken by competent third party certificated installers.

Jim Spowart, technical support manager at Eaton, says incorporating an effective and compliant fire system into a building is one of the most important steps to safety a FM can oversee. “The protection of occupants’ safety is not only a legal but also a moral responsibility, and a suitable fire system can have a vital role in identifying a potential hazard and alerting people to the danger, assisting in safe and swift evacuations where necessary.

“However, the legal and regulatory landscape around fire safety isn't always easy to negotiate and FMs are strongly advised to seek advice and guidance from qualified experts,” says Spowart.

“The requirement for a fire detection and notification system in any specific building will normally be determined by an authority or person responsible for enforcing fire safety legislation in that building or by a fire risk assessment carried out by the owner, landlord or occupier(s).

“The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 provides additional guidance on the risk assessment process that should be followed, and highlights the duties of people responsible for fire safety within the premises.”

However, this piece of legislation only defines the responsible person and outlines the factors that would determine where a fire detection and alarm system is required, Spowart points out. “The onus is on the responsible person, typically the owner or manager of the building, to prove it is fit for purpose. Moreover, the responsible person cannot be considered in all circumstances to be the expert, so is given the option of appointing a competent person, such as a FM, to assist.

“To ensure the responsible person fulfils his or her duties in complying with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, the FM must be fastidious in choosing the right and proper people to carry out works on the safety systems within the premises. Therefore, by definition, the FM must ensure the contractors are competent to carry out any such works.”

There are a small number of professional and trade bodies that carry out training and certification of maintenance engineers, commissioning engineers and installers. These third-party programmes are acknowledged by the fire and rescue services, the Government, the insurance industry and the fire industry, in helping those companies involved in fire protection to provide proof of competence.

These initiatives aim to provide responsible people and FMs with proof of competence through training and assessment, and regular audits to recognised industry standards such as ISO 9001 and BAFE SP 101 and 203, which would also include customer site visits to verify design or installation work.

The BAFE approval schemes have provided the industry standard for several years. As a general rule, Spowart says, FMs should look for contractors who have BAFE accreditation in areas such as fire system design, fire system installation, commissioning and maintenance.

Emergency lighting, fire extinguisher maintenance, fire risk assessments and gas release systems are all included in the BAFE accreditation programme, Spowart says.

Stephen Bennett, UK business general manager at Tyco says anyone with a FM role is expected to assimilate an enormous amount of legislative information as well as codes of practice to ensure the building they’re responsible for is adequately protected in the event of a fire. Therefore, it’s essential a knowledgeable, trusted and independently accredited service provider be brought in at the earliest possible stages of a system design to ensure the fire prevention and detection strategy is both robust and compliant, says Bennett.

“Working closely with a reputable service provider that can design, install and maintain fire detection and suppression technologies from the outset is crucial,” Bennett explains. “By being involved at the earliest stages of design alongside architects, structural engineers, and other building professionals, an experienced specialist fire organisation can ensure bespoke systems are in place to safeguard the property and life safety assets, and that systems are designed and installed to meet legislative standards.”

Partnering with an expert in fire code standards can also provide invaluable advice to those responsible for carrying out the appropriate risk assessments, required under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. “When it comes to identifying solutions to protect against potential fire hazards within the building and selecting systems that are relevant to the buildings’ design and requirements – then it can also be beneficial to look for a partner that can offer a comprehensive product and solutions portfolio.” 

On request, FMs should expect any service provider to produce an overview of the techniques and methods employed when it comes to monitoring and testing, and be able to outline and provide evidence of carrying out a detailed on-going maintenance plan to ensure the long-term efficiency and operability of systems.

“Furthermore,” says Bennett, it can be crucial to look for specialist partners that can demonstrate previous experience when it comes to a phased approach to fire detection system upgrades - particularly for more complex estates and buildings. “Many older buildings still have conventional or analogue systems installed. Therefore the pressure is on to provide a cost-effective approach to upgrading to newer digital technology. These newer systems will offer far superior performance when it comes to fire safety, including real-time visibility and improved operator response times in the event of a genuine fire, and a much higher level of false alarm rejection.”

Working collaboratively with a reputable and experienced provider of life safety systems can reap rewards for FMs, Bennett notes. “The aim of the partnership should always be to ensure the eventual fire detection system is compliant, fit for purpose, and offers the highest level of fire safety. From an ongoing management and maintenance perspective it should also be easy to monitor and report from – and carry all the necessary legislative approvals.”

Tony Fitzpatrick, door and hardware federation doorset development manager at DHF, says the contractor should demonstrate membership of an independent third party accredited installer scheme for the fire protection products to be installed or enhanced. “For instance for fire doors and doorsets it should be installation schemes such FIRAS and Q Mark, which maintain a register of fire door products installed at project locations,” he says.

“Installation operatives should be fully trained and hold a certificate of installation competency for the fire protection product type. Supervisors should be fully trained under the scheme and hold a certificate of competency for supervision of the installation of the fire protection product type.”

Supervisors and installers should have an understanding of, and be familiar with, the Building Regulations and legislation relating to fire safety in the workplace, Fitzpatrick says. “Only third party tested and certified fire protection products should be installed. For fire doors or doorsets such product certification schemes are operated by BRE, CERTIFIRE, IFC and TRADA. Installation, or enhancement modification, should only be carried out strictly in accordance with the fire protection product manufacturer’s instructions.”

The DHF represents the key players in the following sectors: metal and timber doorsets, industrial/commercial doors, garage doors, locks and architectural hardware and powered gates. “With the ultimate aim of maintaining and raising quality standards throughout the industry, all DHF members must meet minimum standards of competence and customer service,” says Fitzpatrick. “They all operate within a Code of Conduct governing standards of workmanship, quality assurance, training, safety, business integrity and CE marking compliance.”


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