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Fire Safety 101

Paul Henson at Ramtech Electronics on how schools can reduce the risk of fire during refurbishment projects

Posted by Charley Rogers | May 29, 2017 | Security & safety

The latest round of school capital funding is aimed at addressing the needs of individual schools in order to maximise the impact of every pound of taxpayer’s money. The £4.4 billion Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) is rebuilding and refurbishing numerous school buildings across the UK. There are two phases of the programme covering a total of 537 schools; PSBP1 is involved rebuilding or refurbishing 260 schools, with most being completed by the end of this year.  The second phase, PSBP2, will see 277 schools benefiting from the capital grant by the end of 2021. 

PSBP differs from other investment programmes because it focuses on refurbishing or rebuilding individual buildings rather than replacement of the entire school. As such, the school remains a live learning environment for pupils during building works, which means there needs to be particular focus on fire safety. 

When contractors are considering fire risk assessment within a school environment, it is necessary to understand the definition of a fire hazard. It is generally agreed that a fire hazard has two components and these must be balanced against each other; one is the possibility of a fire occurring and the other is the consequences of that fire. For example, construction or refurbishment of a school building, like any site, can present an elevated fire risk due to the presence of flammable materials, combined with hot works such as cutting and welding activities. The ability of fire to spread rapidly to adjoining buildings adds another element of risk.

Ask the question

Many contractors in the UK now regularly specify EN54 compliant fire alarms during construction, with the vast majority choosing a wireless system because it makes repositioning the manual call points or automatic heat/smoke detectors much easier. 

However, when offered a fire alarm system, contractors should always verify that each and every component within the system meets the relevant requirements of EN54. Irrespective of whether the supplier offers verbal reassurance and, in some cases, equivocal certification, you simply need to: 

1.  Ask for a Declaration of Performance for each type of unit within the system (base station, manual call point, heat/smoke detectors). These are your proof that the product you’re considering has been tested to the appropriate governing standards. You should expect a full fire alarm and detection system to include references to several different sections of EN54. If only one, or part of a unit complies with EN54, it does not follow that the whole system meets this important standard. 

2.  Check the CE mark on the product - if it’s been certified by a Notified Body you’ll see a four digit number after the mark denoting which test house has tested and certified the product. If there’s no such number, the product has not been tested and certified in accordance with the latest and most stringent legislation. 

It is generally agreed that a fire hazard has two components and these must be balanced against each other; one is the possibility of a fire occurring and the other is the consequences of that fire.

Wireless fire alarm systems that meet EN54, verified by a supplier that presents you with this full documentation, which is subsequently installed on site in accordance with your project’s Fire Plan, will create a completely secure mesh network of alarm coverage. The system usually comprises manual call points that can be manually triggered by personnel on site or, alternatively, heat or smoke detection units that provide automatic cover 24/7. This ensures the site is protected even when personnel are not present.

Conclusion

Using an EN54 compliant wireless fire alarm system that incorporates automatic heat/smoke detectors effectively, means that the refurbishment benefits from the same high standard of fire alarm coverage as a completed building. That in itself is an important consideration when used on refurbishment projects such as when adjoining buildings remain live classrooms.

So when it comes to your fire alarm and detection system compliance, there are really only a couple of simple things to bear in mind. First and foremost is that the whole system – each and every unit - needs to be compliant with the relevant section(s) of EN54. By doing this you will ensure the system you use on a PSBP project is properly tested and certified as compliant with the most recent and most stringent legislation, as well as being aligned to your insurer’s guidelines. 

To ensure your site has the best possible protection from fire whilst fully complying with EN54, visit: www.wesfire.co.uk

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