Raising the standard

Fire safetyIt was Kenneth Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, who in 1977 said: “The nicest thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.” Well, the Fire Industry Association disagrees with this statement! There may be a lot of different standards but for fire protection systems there is only one choice and that’s the highest possible standard.

With this in mind, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) has long chosen to set its sights on increasing the standard of fire protection installations in the UK, so that they are raised to the highest possible level and become the automatic choice for clients and specifiers.

Fire protection companies
So what does it take to be a fire protection company? Well, perhaps surprisingly, anybody can set themselves up as a supplier and installer of fire protection systems. Get yourself a white van, access to the job, a credit card to purchase products and you’re in business!

The one other thing that you will need, of course, is a computer so that you can print your own certificates that infer that your work is of the highest standard and these typically might read “We at Friendly Fire take a pride in our work at ‘I Curem Healthcare’, so much so that we stand behind it and the proof of its quality is evidenced by this piece of paper”. Some of these certificates may even have a legible signature on them.

The word irony is defined by the Little Oxford Dictionary as “expression of one’s meaning by language of opposite or different tendency” and the previous paragraph should be read with that in mind. That’s not to say, however, that the above scenario doesn’t happen.

Assuring high standards
So how do you assure that the fire protection systems in your hospital or medical centre are of the highest standard? In the UK there are Third Party Certification schemes for suppliers, installers and maintainers of fire protection systems.

The government acknowledges these and says in Approved Document B (the Fire Safety guidance document) of the Building Regulations of such schemes: “Building Control Bodies may accept the certification of products, components, materials or structures under such schemes as evidence of compliance with the relevant standard.
Similarly, Building Control Bodies may accept the certification of the installation or maintenance of products, components, materials or structures under such schemes as evidence of compliance with the relevant standard.”

Similarly within the government guidance documents for existing buildings published in support of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order they stipulate: “Third-party certification schemes for fire protection products and related services are an effective means of providing the fullest possible assurances, offering a level of quality, reliability and safety that non-certificated products may lack. This does not mean goods and services that are not third-party approved are less reliable, but there is no obvious way in which this can be demonstrated.

“Third-party quality assurance can offer great comfort to employers, both as a means of satisfying you that goods and services you have purchased are fit for purpose, and as a means of demonstrating that you have complied with the law.”

Under these schemes the competence of the companies and its operatives to supply, install, and maintain a particular type of fire protection system is assessed.

Certificate of Conformity
For new construction work at the end of the installation, the fire protection contractor supplies a ‘Certificate of Conformity’ to his client along with the specification and details of the work done. The FIA believes that any Certificate of Conformity that is not backed by a third party certification scheme where appropriate should be treated with some distrust. Since April 2007 this supply of information has been formalised in Building Regulation 16B, the rationale of this being that the information can then be used by the Responsible Person as designated in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order to operate and maintain the building in reasonable safety.

For routine maintenance work you as the hospital fire officer or medical centre manager should look carefully at the documentation that you are supplied by the fire protection company to see if it references a Third Party Certification Scheme. If it doesn’t, you should ask why not as without this you only have the word of the company that did the work that it is of the appropriate standard, and they would say that, wouldn’t they?

As a building gets older, occupiers will make changes and these may mean that the fire safety measures are weakened. A new tenant may, for example, increase the fire load in a certain part of the building or put in new offices that require extra smoke detectors. In theory all of these changes should be documented in the CDM (Construction, Design and Management) file. This provides a record of all matters to do with the health and safety of those concerned in the construction, management and use of a building.

In summary, the FIA believes that:
• The highest possible standard of fire protection is the only acceptable choice for all involved in the design, construction and maintenance of the UK’s healthcare premises
• To raise the standards in the UK, the industry should use only those companies that are third party certificated
• A complete CDM file will enable the building’s fire protection to be properly maintained to meet the requirements of the Building Regulations.

Back to Kenneth Olsen, who also said in 1977: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Well, he certainly got that one wrong.

Similarly the FIA strongly suggests that for your hospital or medical centre you will also get it wrong if you accept anything less than the highest standard of fire protection, and that this should be evidenced via third party certification.

For more information
Web: www.fia.uk.com

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