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Less Than 1% of Buildings Are Fully Fire Safety Compliant, Says BESA

Less Than 1% of Buildings Are Fully Fire Safety Compliant, Says BESA
27 April 2021
 

A significant number of fire and smoke dampers remain untested in thousands of buildings across the UK, according to the Building Engineering Services Association.

The association fears that less than one per cent of buildings have been fully tested for fire safety in line with legislation, despite growing awareness of the importance of such checks, in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

Many building owners are unaware that they have a legal responsibility to ensure the fire and smoke dampers in their buildings are tested at least once a year – and sometimes more regularly depending on indoor conditions.

 

Locating and Accessing Dampers

 

Even where testing is being carried out, it is often impossible to access at least 25 per cent of the dampers in a building and, in the worst cases, as many as 90 per cent cannot be reached or even located, says the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

Failing to check that these devices are in good working order and, therefore, able to reduce the risk of fire and smoke spreading through a building, can lead to fines and possible prison sentences under current fire regulations.

“Many building owners don’t even know they have dampers; even less that they are a critical element of their building’s fire safety system,” said BESA’s Technical Consultant Peter Rogers. “However, since Grenfell there has been much greater focus on all aspects of fire safety.

“This has obvious implications for damper testing regimes, best practice and the competence of the firms employed to locate, test, and maintain these safety critical devices,” Rogers told a BESA webinar this week.

 

Updated Technical Guidance


Rogers explained that the association had updated its technical guidance for Fire and Smoke Damper Maintenance (VH001) and that this can now be downloaded from its website.

The webinar heard that there are an estimated 30 million fire and smoke dampers already installed in UK buildings and, if each one was checked and repaired when necessary as required by law, the damper testing market would be worth at least £500 million annually.

Despite the clear legal obligations, the BESA webinar heard that many buildings including hospitals (which typically contain thousands of dampers) had arbitrarily decided to reduce testing to once every five years to save money.

“That’s like deciding to only put your seatbelt on once in every five car journeys,” said George Friend, Chair of BESA’s Ventilation Hygiene group. “How do you know on which journey you are going to crash?”

 

“It is also crucial that we move away from the tick list culture that still dominates testing regimes. To be compliant with legislation, testing should involve comprehensive photographic records showing the condition of the damper before, during, and after testing."

–Richard Norman

Managing Director, Indepth Services

 

 

Part of the testing regime involves flagging up which dampers cannot be found or accessed and providing suggestions for remedial works – including installing access panels and/or builders’ hatches – to ensure all dampers can be checked and repaired if necessary.

“It is also crucial that we move away from the tick list culture that still dominates testing regimes,” said Richard Norman, managing director of Indepth Services. “To be compliant with legislation, testing should involve comprehensive photographic records showing the condition of the damper before, during, and after testing.

“The availability of VH001 has improved the situation and if all building owners or managers only used contractors who complied with this guidance, it would eradicate a big part of the problem,” added Norman.

VH001 outlines all aspects of a compliant test regime in line with industry best practice and standards. It builds on the industry’s installation and commissioning code of practice DW/145, the sheet metal ductwork specification DW/144, and the ventilation hygiene standard TR/19.

The BESA testing guidance was produced in response to urgent calls for a methodology to help the building services industry comply with the British Standard (BS9999) for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings along with the healthcare sector’s technical documents HTM 03-01 for heating and ventilation and HTM 05-02 for fire safety in healthcare premises.

Picture: 

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 27 April 2021

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