The time for change is now!

7 March 2019

Dale Kinnersley, principal consultant at the FPA, shares his views on compliance, qualifications, experience, training and third party certification.

"For those involved in the requirements for fire protection of buildings, such as writing the fire strategy or specification and meeting current codes, implementing European or British Standards means ensuring that these are met, as they are essential to the success of the building’s protection against fire. Yet it has become increasingly apparent in my last few years in the sprinkler contracting industry that so many buildings are having fire protection systems compromised, as they are installed as an ‘engineering solution’, or more alarmingly to meet budget and programme.

A significant increase in residential and domestic markets was seen in 2018, due mainly to the fallout from Grenfell, with interest in sprinkler protection of high rise residential buildings the number one discussion point for many local authorities. However, full implementation of sprinkler protection in such buildings has seemed a slow burner, with many authorities waiting on Brexit, funding, and updating of legislation (the review of Approved Document B of the Building Regulations finally having been announced); all following the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt.

It is hoped that the sprinkler market remains buoyant and we see the implementation of more systems in all sectors, especially the residential and domestic market, which leads me nicely onto my grievance regarding compliance, qualifications, experience, training and third party certification.

Buildings require a fire strategy and, where sprinkler systems are specified within the document, should meet current legislation, insurance requirements, or both. To ensure reliability, a system should be designed, manufactured, installed, tested, commissioned and maintained in accordance with the standard or codes to which it is specified – namely the LPC Sprinkler Rules, incorporating BS EN 12845 (commercial and industrial) or BS 9251 (residential and domestic), by a company certified by an independent, UKAS accredited third party certification body.

Third party certification provides confidence to regulators, specifiers, industry and the public that the manufacturer or contractor has been subjected to assessment of their competence to recognised product or industry standards, and they are also subject to regular surveillance auditing. Within third party certification schemes, companies demonstrate commitment to recognised industry qualifications through structured training and certified courses, which allows them to show professionalism, experience and competence in their field of expertise.

In most fire strategies and specifications, sprinkler protection is ‘fire-risk assessed’ to negate the need for full building protection (in contradiction of the standard). However, the risk of a fire developing, growing and transferring from an unsprinklered compartment is overlooked, and could possibly overwhelm the sprinkler system, creating conditions it was never designed to cope with.

With the sprinkler market in a positive climate, the time to produce design drawings for installations to meet a client’s already tight programme in turn gives little time to engineer the design properly prior to installation. This has a negative impact on the approval process, as the requirement to issue drawings and calculations for sign off by the authorities having jurisdiction (building control for life safety or building insurers for property protection) does not happen. It is both risky and costly, as mistakes are made, which results in redesigns and compliance issues not being resolved until it is too late, having a consequence on final certification and approval, increasing costs, causing programme delays, and creating issues for building, client, end user and contractor reputations.

It is therefore imperative that all involved must understand that compromising compliance to the standards via ‘engineering solutions’ has an impact for all involved in building fire safety. In order to overcome the current problems, sprinkler systems must ensure that fire strategies and specifications meet compliance to current codes of standards; remove ‘engineering solutions’; follow the approval process; use third party certified contractors; and give sprinkler contractors the time to engineer and produce systems of quality and compliance. Following these will aid in third party compliant certificates being issued on completion. The time for change is now!"

The time for change is now!