How to develop simple tools for effective fire safety system maintenance

by FM Media
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WILL MARSHALL from AECOM shares how information from fire engineers can be used to develop simple tools to provide knowledge on effective fire safety system maintenance.

Maintaining a building effectively requires both intent and knowledge. The documentation provided as part of a building development will include a list of essential safety systems. For many buildings, the essential fire safety measures list refers to a fire engineering report (FER).
The essential fire safety systems list, while not particularly useful for someone unfamiliar with the systems, forms a clear checklist of systems to be maintained and serviced. A FER is, however, quite a different document.
The intention of a FER is to provide technical justification to support non-compliances with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) Deemed to Satisfy (DtS) provisions. The DtS provisions of the BCA are blanket solutions that can be applied across all buildings. These provisions work well for small, simple buildings, but can be inflexible and inefficient in larger and more complex buildings. The alternative option is to develop alternative fire engineering solutions to demonstrate that the proposals meet the functional requirements of the BCA through performance-based analyses.
A FER, which includes details of technical analysis, such as smoke and people movement, toxicity analyses, as well as human behaviour elements, is often formulated for the approval process and isn’t structured to be easy for facilities managers to digest and use during a building’s life. A FER isn’t designed for facilities managers; however, by considering the level of complexity in the fire engineering solutions and building, fire engineers can develop simple tools to provide facilities managers with sufficient knowledge to allow them to effectively maintain the required fire safety systems.

FIRE SAFETY REQUIREMENTS SUMMARISED
The sections that need to be included within a FER are described in the International Fire Engineering Guidelines (IFEG). For simpler projects, it is possible to clearly identify the fire safety systems within the executive summary, which is over and above the IFEG’s minimum.
The use of a simple table has been very successful in achieving this. Although the groupings of the table by fire engineering solution are not intuitive for facilities managers, it ensures that the executive summary works with the rest of the report.
The list of fire safety measures needed to support the fire engineering solutions are listed in a bullet point format in the right-hand column, making it easy for facilities mangers and other non-technical readers of the reports, such as clients and agents, to correctly understand the requirements of the FER.
The use of a good executive summary for simple projects avoids the need for facilities managers to read the main report, which is of no relevance to their needs. When it comes to larger or more complex problems, however, a more sophisticated approach can be beneficial. An area where this has been used successfully is detailed requirements that aren’t easily described.
The old adage that a picture paints a thousand words holds true for fire engineering solutions. It can often be difficult, however, to describe detailed technical requirements in diagrams and pictures. Of course, these technical details are important to ensure effective maintenance of the fire safety measures.
Using these diagrams as part of the commissioning process provides knowledge that all the fire safety systems were installed and correctly operating at the time of handover. It is, therefore, possible for the facilities manager to easily use the information to carry out effective maintenance of the fire safety systems.

USER GUIDE PROVISION
In relatively simple cases, there are no variations in the fire safety measures. However, this is not often the case in shopping centres, for example, where there are limitations that need to be made to mall activities. Mall activities include kiosks, barrows, food outlets, seating areas, vending machines and massage chairs.
The limitations and restrictions needed vary based on the centre’s base building features, but can include limitations on size, height, location and uses. To describe all of these possibilities and restrictions in a report to meet the regularity requirements and also be easy for facilities managers to use is not achievable. Instead, developing both a FER and a separate management user guide has proven to be particularly useful.
More than just providing a checklist of measures in graphical format, a management user guide sets out a simple assessment method. This assessment method can be used when assessing new kiosks, or to check tenants are keeping within the requirements. By asking some simple questions, the fire safety measures can be adequately managed without needing a detailed technical understanding of the analysis or further input from a fire engineer.

Will Marshall is the NSW/ACT fire engineering and code consulting team leader at AECOM.

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