What standards does fire safety equipment adhere to in the UK?
All firefighting equipment, whether for use by professional fire fighters or in a public workspace or living area, must adhere to certain regulations that determine whether it is fit for use.
In the UK, most pieces of equipment will conform to the relevant British Standard Specification, which essentially means it conforms to certain guidelines that have been put in place by a recognised body. In addition to this, all fire safety legislation used in England and Wales is covered under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 England and Wales, which was put into place to simplify fire safety requirements that had existed previously, and gather everything into one place. Prior to this there were over seventy different pieces of separate legislation. In Scotland The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 were introduced alongside a number of other fire safety documents, whilst in Northern Ireland the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) were introduced in 2010.
All businesses must adhere to certain regulations covered under these, which include having a ‘Responsible Person’, who must make sure certain duties are carried out to prevent fires, and minimise the risks should a fire occur. This is generally the employer, and their duties include carrying out regular fire risk assessments, alerting staff to any risks discovered during assessments and putting into place fire safety measures for the workplace which must include appropriate planning for emergency situations and how to deal with them, as well as regular staff training and instruction on what do if an emergency occurs.
UK regulations state that businesses must provide ‘appropriate fire-fighting equipment’. Although larger businesses may require hose reels or even sprinkler systems, usually this refers to fire extinguishers. How many and of what type will depend on different factors such as how large the building is, how many people are there on a daily basis and what sort of equipment is located there, which should indicate the sort of fires that could potentially occur there. For example, UK regulations specify that there must be a minimum of two Class A extinguishers, which are used on wood or paper fires, on every floor of the building. However, it may be necessary to have other types too – for example, all business that use electrical equipment are also required to have CO2 extinguishers in case of an electrical fire.
Portable fire extinguishers are covered by several British Standards, the two main ones being British Standard 5306 Part 3 and British Standard Part 8. British Standard 5306 Part 3, which is used by engineers servicing fire extinguishers, covers everything from basic servicing and replacement of components to what makes them unfit for use. British Standard 5306 Part 8 covers the positioning of fire extinguishers looking at location, how accessible they are and what types need to be present where. Fire extinguishers should be serviced annually by an engineer holding a BAFE qualification, or equivalent. BAFE is the independent registration body for certified fire products. They must also be initially commissioned to ensure they are in fit working order before they can be put into use.
Although fire extinguishers could be considered the main piece of equipment needed for fire safety, there are also other things such as fire safety signs and alarm systems that are still essential.
All businesses need at least 2 signs – a Fire Action notice and an Extinguisher ID sign. A Fire Action Notice advises what to do in the case of a fire and usually comes as a pre-printed sign with parts that can be filled in to tailor the sign – these can include information such as the location of exits, phone numbers to contact in case of an emergency and where the assembly points are. An Extinguisher ID sign explains which types of fire extinguisher are in the building and where they can be found. In a building that has fire alarms it is also mandatory to have a Fire Alarm call point sign which advises where the fire alarm (or alarms) can be activated. Most places will also need Fire Exit signs which should be positioned above all exits to be used in case of a fire.
Fire alarms are only generally needed for larger premises, and those that may pose a high risk of fire, such as restaurants or offices with a large amount of electrical equipment. Small buildings that do not use chemicals or high risk equipment such as ovens may not need an alarm system but they should always carry out a Fire Risk Assessment to make sure this is the case. For those that do require an alarm system there are three main types of alarm system. Conventional fire alarm systems are suitable for lower risk environments and work by dividing the area into different zones and identifying which zone the fire is in. An addressable alarm system gives each individual alarm an electronic address which means when one is activated it can immediately be traced, and is more suitable for larger buildings. A wireless alarm system works in a similar way to the addressable system but with no wires. UK regulations do not specify which system is suitable for different locations so it really comes down to what is best suited to each situation. All alarm systems, however, should conform to British Standard 5839 specifications. This includes procedures to be observed during the design and manufacture of the alarm system as well as during the installation process and the maintenance to be observed afterwards.
Alarm systems should be ‘adequately maintained’ and under the British Standard 5839 it is recommended that inspections take place at least every 6 months. Inspection and maintenance is essential to ensure systems are working correctly and to prevent any false alarms, which as well as being an annoyance for the fire brigade, effectively prevents them from attending real emergencies in time. All buildings should carry out weekly testing of their alarm system, which is different to the bi-annual inspection required. Weekly testing should check whether the alarm system is in working order and is more of a spot check.
Sprinkler systems are less common in the UK than other pieces of fire safety equipment, but there are certain requirements that must be met. In England they are required in residential blocks over 30 metres high to meet UK building regulations covered under Approved Document B. Shops over 2000 square metres in size also require sprinkler systems. There is a definite trend shifting towards fitting more sprinkler systems in the UK and in Wales, a Legislative Competence Order was recently passed that requires sprinkler systems to be fitted in a much wider range of residential dwellings than seen before. All care homes, homes of multiple occupation and hostels that are either built new as of April 2014 are refurbished from this date onwards will be required to fit a sprinkler system. In addition to this, all new and converted residential properties from January 2016 will need to be fitted with sprinkler systems.