Are you in charge of the maintenance and servicing of a smoke ventilation system in your building? Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 if you are the responsible person, you must ensure you’ve got this covered.
In this blog, we’ll help you to understand what’s involved. At first glance, servicing and maintenance contracts can look complicated. How do you know everything’s in order? Read on to find out what’s what and to stay on the right side of the law.
Why is a smoke ventilation system important?
First, let’s discuss why smoke ventilation systems are so important. Known as smoke control systems or automatic opening vents (AOVs), they protect people and property. System design varies from building to building, but they all do the same job: they vent smoke, heat and fumes out of a building during a fire.
Vents are placed in roof and wall spaces around the building; they need to be installed somewhere structurally sound. Heat and smoke detectors, which are part of the system, trigger the vents causing them to open automatically.
This allows smoke and fumes to escape and introduces fresh air into the building, increasing oxygen levels for inhabitants trapped inside.
Getting rid of smoke is important for several reasons:
- It’s the primary cause of death in a fire and is far deadlier than fire itself
- Smoke severely hampers visibility and evacuation efforts
- It incapacitates people quickly slowing them down as they evacuate
- Emergency services take longer to manage a fire when a building is filled with smoke
As this article states, smoke accounts for almost 80% of all fire-related deaths. We find this shocking and believe that smoke ventilation systems are vital to reducing this statistic.
In high-rise buildings over 18m, the government does recommend installing a smoke control system. That’s not to say this advice can’t be applied to other buildings as well, especially those where evacuation takes time or is complicated by the layout.
Smoke ventilation maintenance: things to consider
Arranging a service and maintenance contract which meets your needs can take some time to get right. Here are a few things to consider before you take the plunge.
Safety standards: what are they and what do they say?
We appreciate you may not feel comfortable tackling this yourself. Why not have a chat with us about these safety standards and what they mean for you and your building? Legislation may change in the future, but we can work with you to design a system which will still be fit for purpose many years down the line.
So, what are the current safety standards governing the maintenance of smoke control systems?
As is the case with standards, there can be several different documents governing the various stages of one project. This makes it complicated if you need guidance for the whole process, from design to installation to maintenance. Fortunately, the publication of BS 7346-8 brought together all previous safety advice under one roof. It also addressed gaps that existed making the industry safer. If you’re interested in a more detailed analysis of BS 7346-8, you can find one here.
BS 7346-8 recommends a maintenance check twice a year by suitably qualified engineers. However, it’s your responsibility to ensure your contractors are qualified to do this work. Review their qualifications, training and third-party accreditation. This is the best way to ensure you’ve met your legal obligations.
And remember, it’s not good enough to blame a supplier or contractor if something malfunctions during a fire. If disaster struck, you must be able to prove that the maintenance contractor you’d employed had demonstrated to you that they had complied with the relevant safety standard. Thereafter, they are responsible for the quality of their work.
Schedule ahead and you can’t fail
Regular, preventative maintenance prolongs the life of your equipment saving you time and money in the long run. If trouble is on the horizon, you won’t get caught out by something essential malfunctioning during an emergency. Forward planning means defects are detected before they become critical.
Choosing the right supplier
Smoke ventilation systems are such complex pieces of equipment that it’s not wise to trust the job of installing and maintaining them to someone unless you’re sure they’re qualified.
Some building managers assume that a fire safety supplier can offer AOV installation and servicing alongside other fire safety services. After all, the two systems work together, so surely a fire safety contractor knows what he’s doing? Wrong! Some suppliers do have experience in both areas but never assume that’s the case without checking.
We offer an end-to-end service, fully integrated and fully compliant. But this is relatively rare in the industry. It’s more common to have a fire safety expert and a different smoke ventilation expert. That makes it more complicated for the customer who has to deal with two suppliers, two sets of contracts, two maintenance schedules etc.
By choosing a supplier who has all the relevant expertise under one roof, you cut down the admin by half. And you can often end up saving money.
We have partnered with SE Controls, the UK’s leading manufacturer of smoke ventilation technology. All our systems are designed and produced by them and all servicing that we do meets their rigorous standards. What’s more, we can offer onsite or remote maintenance packages. Remote technology enables engineers to provide planned and corrective maintenance when needed using 4G communications to constantly monitor the system. If you’d like to reduce the cost and disruption of onsite visits, this service is ideal.
Is your contractor fully equipped to do the job?
Do they have access to the original cause and effect designs for the smoke ventilation system?
Do they have the correct equipment to test the system fully and in accordance with safety standards, as outlined in BS 7346-8?
Can they source original replacement parts, if needed? Be on alert for an engineer using parts which aren’t approved. They can compromise the effectiveness of your smoke ventilation system. They can also invalidate your warranties leaving you in a serious financial predicament when something goes wrong.
Don’t let your record keeping slip
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the responsible person must always keep accurate records. From experience, we know this is one area which can slip, even when you have the best of intentions.
In the event of a fire, investigators could ask to see maintenance records. If you make an insurance claim, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll be asked to produce them. If you’ve failed to keep them up to date, this will exacerbate an already stressful experience. We’re sure you’ll agree this is a scenario nobody wants to find themselves in.
All our site visits are followed up with comprehensive management reports. These comply with British standards and reassure you that your paperwork is all in order.
There’s a lot to consider, it’s true. But if you’re unsure about the fire safety of a building you manage, it’s not worth delaying further. Why not get in touch and have a chat with one of our consultants?