Maintain to contain: the importance of servicing fire protection equipment

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Ensuring your fire equipment meets compliance standards is critical 
writes GARRY KWOK, national manager Technical Services, Wormald Australia.

For facility managers, ensuring the life safety
of building occupants is a top priority. This includes protecting occupants and the building from fire.

A fire incident can have catastrophic consequences for a business. At worst, it can result in loss of life and destroy the building and equipment. It can also result in costly downtime until the building is declared safe.

Unfortunately, with the competing pressures of building management, fire protection can slip down the priority list, exposing building occupants and the property to a high risk of fire and fire damage.

The Fire Protection Association of Australia recently estimated that up to 40 percent of buildings in New South Wales do not meet basic safety standards. This alarming statistic is a timely reminder of the importance of having the correct fire protection equipment on-site and ensuring it is kept in proper working order.

The importance of selecting the correct
fire protection solution
A recent report from the New South Wales Building Professionals Board, developed in consultation with the fire protection industry, identified that the fire protection systems in many buildings are not installed in compliance with relevant standards. It also found that in some buildings, a deliberate decision was made to install a substandard system to reduce costs, creating potential firetraps.

Installing the correct fire protection solution can mean the difference between a small fire and a devastating blaze. Selecting a fire protection solution is a significant decision for a facility manager and cutting corners to save on costs is not recommended.

The first step in selecting a fire protection solution is to consult a fire protection specialist to conduct a fire safety audit of the property. This will highlight potential fire risks around the premises and help to determine the best fire protection solution for the building. Hazards will vary depending on the nature of the business or property, but may include electrical equipment, kitchen or heating appliances, stored combustible assets/materials and even combustible waste material.

A broad range of fire protection equipment is available, from basic fire extinguishers or hose reels, to passive fire solutions or advanced fire detection and suppression systems. When it comes to making a decision, facility managers should consider all relevant legislative requirements and standards, the size of the building, the materials being stored on premises and the purpose of the building. A downtown office building will have vastly different fire protection requirements to a high racking storage facility site, for example.

It is recommended that facility managers undertake regular fire safety audits of their premises. This will help identify gaps in fire protection as the business, or premises, changes and grows. For example, if a business expanded its premises and added machinery, electronic devices or kitchen appliances, additional fire extinguishing equipment may be required.

Maintain to contain

While most building managers understand their obligation to install fire protection equipment and systems on their premises, Wormald’s technicians across Australia and New Zealand find that service and maintenance requirements are often overlooked or not fully understood.

A well-maintained fire protection solution is critical to protect people and property from fire, so it is vital that facility managers devise a regular inspection, testing and maintenance program.

A comprehensive maintenance program will better ensure that a building’s fire protection systems and equipment perform to the standard to which they were originally designed and installed. Regular maintenance and servicing can validate the functionality of the systems and equipment, and help to uncover any faults or issues that may prevent them from working correctly at the time of greatest need.

There are strict requirements for the servicing of fire suppression systems and it is the responsibility of a facility manager to be aware of regulations and relevant standards applicable to their state.

The Australian Standard AS1851-2012 ‘Routine Service of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment’ provides prescribed servicing activities for the majority of fire protection systems and equipment. This includes inspection, testing, preventative maintenance and survey activities, and helps to ensure that the systems and equipment are in proper working order.

The AS1851-2012 was recently updated as a result of extensive consultation between industry experts, regulators, government and fire service providers. While many of the core elements of AS1851 remain the same, there have been some clarifications, updates and improvements.

There is now greater emphasis on the records and evidence required by the building owner to demonstrate regulatory compliance. The updated standard introduced
the requirement for ‘baseline data’ to be provided for any fire protection systems and equipment installed. This provides
a benchmark for subsequent periodic servicing activities, so results can be compared. Requirements relating to passive fire protection were also substantially revised.

Consult the experts: how to choose
a fire protection solution provider

The myriad legislative requirements and standards, coupled with the complex nature of fire protection equipment, can make it difficult for facility managers to keep up with their legal and ethical responsibilities. Consulting a fire protection specialist can help to reduce the stress of selecting and maintaining a fire protection solution.

A fire protection specialist can provide professional advice, assistance with mandatory fire audits and a comprehensive maintenance and testing service. They can also ensure the building complies with the strict standards, regulations and reporting requirements surrounding fire protection.

Facility managers are reminded of the importance of working with a reputable fire protection company. At present, many of the fire protection specialists who design and install fire protection solutions are permitted to self-certify their work and sign compliance certificates themselves, which
can give rise to problems down the track.

It is important that a fire protection provider adheres
to stringent and rigorous codes of practice, has a high level of public and product liability insurances, and holds necessary state and federal licences or certificates. The Fire Protection Association of Australia identifies such providers through its Providers of Choice program, which is a good starting point for facility managers seeking a qualified
and trusted fire protection provider. If you engage with a fire protection specialist, make sure the service provider is performing their obligations as per the service contract and in accordance with applicable standards and legislation.

When selecting a fire protection provider, enquire about their systems and processes. A reputable fire protection specialist will have technologies and processes in place to streamline the process of keeping buildings safe and ensure equipment is serviced regularly.

Wormald Connect

Wormald recently launched the web-based Wormald Connect portal, which gives customers 24-hour access to fire service calls and inspections data.
The portal enables customers to review servicing schedules and data online at any time. Data can be stored on the portal for analysis or easily exported via an internet connection to enable further analysis or record keeping. If required, inspection summaries can be filtered to suit a customer’s individual needs.

Wormald Connect is ideal for businesses of any size, whether a single building or multiple sites and systems across Australia or New Zealand. Each customer is provided with
a unique user name and password, so they can easily and securely access their fire inspection information online.

Providing quality customer service is an integral part of the Wormald business and we are always looking for ways
to improve. The Wormald Connect solution is convenient, easy-to-use and offers comprehensive access, which ensures customers are kept up-to-date. They can closely monitor their site’s fire safety products and systems, and identify if there are any outstanding issues. This in turn facilitates more effective communication with the Wormald team.

Wormald Connect has been adopted by many of our clients and the feedback has been very positive. As the Wormald Connect service is entirely web-based, there is no requirement for customers to invest in proprietary software or hardware.

Wormald offers inspection and testing services to businesses of all types and sizes and we are constantly advancing the way technicians service client sites.

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