Nov 22, 2017 Last Updated 2:18 PM, Nov 16, 2017

Time to tackle building manager attitudes to life safety

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Here Tracy Kirk, General Manager of Sales and Marketing for Hochiki Europe, tells PSBJ why the life safety sector needs to focus on educating duty holders across the public sector built environment – particularly in education environments – on the importance of looking after their fire safety and emergency lighting systems.

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Whatever the nature of the building, having a correctly-designed safety system installed by a qualified engineer is vital when it comes to protecting the lives of its occupants. The equipment needs to be appropriate for the activities taking place inside the property, and the life safety system must be fitted in a way that optimises coverage across the premises to ensure everyone in the building is alerted in good time in the event of a fire.

These factors are particularly important in public sector buildings; from schools to healthcare environments. Their large interiors, in combination with the number of people visiting the premises every day, make it crucial that the life safety systems installed continue to offer optimum performance throughout their life cycle.

Regardless of the quality of the technology or its suitability for a space, however, a fire detection device or emergency lighting unit can only safeguard occupant safety if it’s in full working order. Failure to regularly inspect any life safety system and maintain it according to manufacturers’ recommendations can result in the need for unnecessary – and sometimes premature – repair or replacement. This can cost a significant amount of money and lead to the disruption of the day-to-day running of the property. Most importantly, poor maintenance procedures are against Government legislation, and present a risk to the wellbeing of occupants.

Despite the importance of a correctly maintained life safety network though, it seems that many life safety installers are becoming increasingly concerned about building managers’ understanding of fire safety equipment and regulation, according to new research from Hochiki Europe. Unless we do all we can as an industry to address this knowledge gap now, the implications could be significant.

Poorly-maintained knowledge

Hochiki Europe’s study of European life safety installers found that a concerning 60% of respondents reported that, at least once a month, they visit a site where the ‘responsible person’ for fire safety is unknown.

Nearly one in three installers said that they regularly encountered properties that had inappropriately positioned or outdated life safety products. Worryingly, more than a third claimed that up to 80% of the sites they visit do not comply with current fire safety regulations.

Strikingly, researchers also found that many life safety professionals were concerned about their customers’ attitudes towards life safety maintenance. In fact, seven in 10 installers think their clients view the upkeep of their life safety systems as a box-ticking exercise, with just 11% seeing it as an essential process that protects the people using their premises.

At the same time, some two fifths of respondents say building managers are not even aware of the legislation relating to life safety system maintenance. It was reported that, on average, 55% of fire detection logbooks were not up to date, despite it being a legal requirement.

Resolvable maintenance issues

The report also examined the most widespread life safety maintenance issues that installers face when visiting properties.

The top five for fire safety equipment were: change of building or room use without adjusting the fire system accordingly; inadequate logbook records; the original installer didn’t fit the best system for the environment; detectors need cleaning and detectors need replacing.

The top five involving emergency lighting, meanwhile, included: broken or faulty lamps; inadequate logbook records; inadequate emergency lighting signage; batteries not charged in emergency lighting units and inadequate lux levels.

A wake-up call

This study has delivered some stark findings for the people in charge of public and commercial buildings in Europe, as well as the wider life safety industry. It sheds light on some substantial gaps in building managers’ knowledge of – and attitude towards – life safety. Not only could they be increasing the risk to the safety of their occupants, they could also be contributing towards unnecessary additional expenditure of the limited funds available for public sector buildings. This is because the failure to maintain a building’s systems can cause them to wear prematurely, requiring repair or replacement ahead of schedule.

As an industry, it’s clearly time to redouble efforts to ensure duty holders throughout the public sector built environment and beyond fully appreciate the importance of looking after fire safety and emergency lighting equipment correctly. Furthermore, it’s crucial that we do all we can to make certain that those with the responsibility for system upkeep stay up to date with the latest legislation and regulations to keep building occupants safe.

There are resources readily available to support public sector building managers and duty holders in maintaining their fire safety knowledge. Hochiki Europe, for example, offers a range of training courses and technical information to help facilities managers stay up-to-speed with their roles and responsibilities.

Taking advantage of such guidance, they can ensure they have the expertise needed to look after the fire safety and emergency lighting equipment in their buildings, and keep them working at optimum performance. In doing so, they can continue to maintain a secure indoor environment for the people using their premises, safeguarding their health and wellbeing.

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