How can you ensure your sprinkler system remains fit for purpose?

Dale Kinnersley, Principal Consultant at the Fire Protection Association (FPA), examines the role of the ‘responsible person’ when it comes to abiding by the regulations.

Sprinkler systems can be a vital component of business and property protection and are increasingly being adopted to ensure life safety in certain building types. However, like all mechanical systems, they must be maintained to ensure ongoing performance and reliability. Many businesses are not aware of the key sprinkler maintenance and inspection requirements and are therefore putting buildings and their occupants at unnecessary risk.

Whether or not a system will operate as designed in the event of a fire is dependent on correct maintenance procedures having been carried out. Article 17 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 imposes significant liabilities on the ‘responsible person’ who fails to maintain fire safety equipment, including sprinkler systems, intended for the protection of life from fire.

Following the LPC Sprinkler Rules

For sprinklers to operate properly in the event of a fire, they must be correctly designed, installed, serviced and maintained. This means using a system that has been tried and tested and, most importantly, approved by an accredited third-party certification scheme for the contractors and the components used within the system.

The FPA’s LPC Rules for Automatic Sprinkler Installations 2015 incorporating BS EN 12845 is the most widely used and recognised installation standard in the UK, and is aimed at anyone involved in the specification, design, installation, service, and maintenance of sprinkler systems.

Split into three parts, part 1 covers BS EN 12845 ‘life safety’ minimum standards identified within building regulations, part 2 includes technical bulletins for ‘property protection’ approved by building insurers and part 3 provides additional associated information relating to best practice for the longevity of the sprinkler system.

Sprinkler head testing 

Over time sprinkler heads can attract defects, whether due to accidental damage, environment conditions – such as dirt build-up – or corrosion, which can then impact their effectiveness in the event of a fire. While routine maintenance including a visual inspection is essential, these defects may only be identified through more extensive inspection and testing.

Sprinkler heads should therefore be tested by an independent third party – advised as best practice in the LPC Rules for Automatic Sprinklers incorporating BS EN 12845 Annex K and Technical Bulletin TB203. Those responsible for a building’s fire safety should be looking to engage with a third party that has the knowledge and experience required to carry out a thorough inspection, as well as advise on the appropriate next steps.

Annual sprinkler inspections

Changes to a building’s layout, storage arrangements or processes, can have a significant impact on an existing sprinkler system’s performance in the event of a fire. Annual fire sprinkler system inspections are an effective and safe way to ensure the sprinkler system is fit-for-purpose. LPC Technical Bulletin TB203 ‘Care and maintenance of automatic sprinkler systems’, clause TB 203.2.4, states that sprinkler systems should undergo an annual inspection by an independent third party.

Building owners and those responsible for fire safety are not expected to be experts on sprinkler systems, but they are expected to seek appropriate support. This should come from a competent, certified third party who can help them understand and follow legal standards and best practice. In the event of a fire, use of a competent third party can be a critical factor in whether individuals or organisations are held liable or not.

If those responsible for fire safety in a building are not aware of the essential sprinkler maintenance and inspection requirements, they can open themselves
up to additional risk. By seeking support and guidance on sprinkler maintenance, businesses can safeguard themselves in the event of a fire, significantly improving their ability to recover both operationally and financially.

The FPA has recently published a sprinkler system guidance document endorsed by BAFSA for sprinkler system owners, users and specialist maintenance contractors. The guide provides a fully compliant service and maintenance schedule to meet the requirements of LPC Technical Bulletin TB203, and practical guidance on best practice to ensure the sprinkler system remains effective for many years. Download the guide here. 

This article was first published in Tomorrow's FM.