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As the person responsible for fire safety within a building, it is crucial to ensure that you are using competent subcontractors. Most people outside the fire industry will not have had the appropriate training to enable them to understand what competency and knowledge is required to complete this work. However, in the fire sector there are industry specific certification schemes that can give purchasers confidence in the ability of the companies and individuals that they are employing to do work on their behalf.
Whether employing people to carry out installation and servicing work on your fire equipment or to provide a fire risk assessment, there are appropriate certifications for the type of work. The schemes available are written and administered by different bodies (two key scheme providers in the fire industry are BAFE and LPCB) but they all effectively show that an independent audit has taken place to assess technical capability as well as the fire company’s quality management system. A subcontractor will be able to provide evidence of their certificate but it is important to also go to the scheme provider or certification body’s website to authenticate that certificate.
The FIA has a white paper on Third Party Certification, available to download from www.fia.uk.com, which explains this subject in an easy to understand way.
Fire Risk Assessments
Still on the subject of Certification, the International Fire Consultants Certification (IFCC) is expected to launch their fire risk assessment certification scheme very soon. Like the existing BAFE SP205 scheme it will be UKAS accredited but this scheme classifies the assessor and the assessor’s company according to the nature of the premises they are able to assess.
Now two months old, PAS 7 is in effect a performance code for fire safety management and the fire safety industry is looking into making this a certification scheme. A premises owner/operator whose fire safety management was certificated to PAS 7 would obviate the need for fire brigade inspections as a PAS 7 audit would go far deeper than a fire officer’s inspection. The whole fire safety industry is watching these developments with interest.
Time for Evacuation
If you get an alarm sounding on your fire detection system what do you do? Evacuate? Whilst in a small retail premises the plan of everyone out is probably right, that won’t work for a complex site like a hospital. Here you will have people of varying levels of mobility and some that can’t be moved at all. If you’re in the middle of surgery do you drop everything the moment the bell rings? Of course not.
That’s where the evacuation strategy comes into play. Horizontal, vertical or stay put, you need to have this planned. Remember, when the Fire & Rescue Services (FRS) arrive they are there to fight the fire and not to evacuate the patients; that’s your job. The NHS internal reports show that if you have a well-planned and well-rehearsed plan then everyone gets out alive if you do have a real fire.
Note the ‘if’. Fire detection systems are designed to detect ‘fire like phenomena’ so when the alarm goes it may not necessarily be a fire. FRS’ across the country are changing how they respond to automatic fire alarms and in many cases unless there is a confirmation of a ‘real’ fire they will not attend. Many FRS’ recognise that hospitals are the worst offenders in terms of unwanted fire signals so this needs to be factored into your plan. You need to know what the policy is for your FRS and, if you manage multiple‑site facilities, what the policy for all the facilities is. It will differ from FRS to FRS!
Consider an investigation time before the signal is transmitted; look at what detection type you use and modify it to your situation; or modify what you do, for example the simplest way to reduce false alarms in hospitals is to make sure ward toasters are nowhere near a fire detector. Advice on managing false alarms and the FRS response to automatic fire alarms can be found on the FIA website: www.fia.uk.com/en/cut-false-alarm-cost.
What else can you do to reduce the chance of a fire or an unwanted fire signal? Well, if any maintenance or building work is carried out on the hospital make sure that any hot work is managed on a permit system and, if necessary, isolate the fire alarm or cover the detectors in that area (remembering to uncover the heads once the work is done). This also applies if the work is liable cause a large amount of dust.
Arson can also be a problem so ensure that access to areas with large amount of flammable/explosive liquids, gases or solid is strictly controlled. Don’t just leave waste lying around; bag it and store it securely.
For those of you that have multiple sites that overlap several Fire & Rescue Services then you might want to consider a Primary Authority Scheme. These are being extended to cover enforcement under the Fire Safety Order. Through such schemes businesses have access to reliable information from one source based on a detailed understanding of their operations.
Primary Authority Schemes for fire will be covered by the new Regulators’ Code which is due to come into effect next April and will replace the Compliance Code and Enforcement Concordat that came before.
The revised code has been changed to improve regulation in areas such as the Focus on Enforcement review of appeals, the Accountability for Regulator Impact measure and the planned Growth Duty for non-economic regulators.
In addition, the new code, based upon a beneficial relationship between regulators and the companies they work with, should reduce burdens and help to boost business growth.
For more information on managing your fire safety download a copy of the FIA’s Best Practice Guide to Fire Safety at the web address below.