Recent high-profile incidents have reaffirmed the need for regular smoke control system maintenance carried out by competent contractors. David Mowatt from the Smoke Control Association (SCA), examines the latest maintenance requirements
Waiting until it is too late to find out that a smoke control system isn’t functioning as intended can have catastrophic consequences, putting property at risk and endangering the lives of building occupants. Put simply, a smoke control system that is regularly tested and maintained by a competent, qualified person can be a life saver.
BS 7346-8: ‘Components for smoke control systems. Code of practice for planning, design, installation, commissioning and maintenance’ provides details of maintenance requirements and templates for test records and service certificates. Building owners and managers should ensure they have documented performance criteria for the installed system that confirms the basis of its compliance with the building regulations. This should include a detailed cause and effect which then forms the basis of the test and maintenance regime.
This regime should include daily, weekly, monthly, three-monthly, six-monthly and annual testing and maintenance. Some of these tasks may be undertaken by a suitably trained in-house individual but others will require a certified and accredited service provider.
A qualified contractor can carry out regular maintenance on the system and ensure that any faults occurring are rectified promptly. There is now also a requirement to notify the local fire and rescue service of any faults that are not rectifiable within 24 hours.
Testing and maintenance processes
Although it isn’t unusual to find smoke control system maintenance bundled in with fire alarm maintenance, the skillset of a smoke control engineer is different from that of a fire alarm engineer, encompassing air flow and pressure differential measurement, fan, damper and ventilator testing as well as smoke and CO detection. A fire alarm engineer may not be equipped to carry out the measurements required to confirm the correct operation of most mechanical smoke control systems.
Testing a smoke control system is more involved than a regular fire alarm test – particularly for high rise residential buildings where a comprehensive test will involve visiting every floor of a building. For residential buildings there is rarely a permanent on-site maintenance presence and it can be a costly exercise to employ someone to complete these tests.
A culture change is required to ensure that building owners understand the importance of smoke control systems and make sufficient provision for regular testing and reporting of faults. Smoke control systems should be maintained by a competent specialist and BS 7346-8 recommends third party certification as a measure of competence.
Routine inspection and maintenance of the smoke control system should also be carried out in accordance with BS 9999:2008, Annex V. BS 9999 provides recommendations and guidance about the design, management and use of buildings to achieve acceptable levels of fire safety for people in and around buildings.
The system should be tested to ensure that it operates correctly and that, in particular:
- The agreed cause and effect requirements function correctly and the system responds to any planned method of initiation
- When the primary power is removed, the secondary power supply operates within the interruption time specified in BS EN 12101-10
- When the duty equipment fails, standby equipment operates, (e.g. duty standby fan sets and UPS equipment)
- Labels, visible when secondary power supplies (e.g. batteries) are in their normal position, are fixed to batteries, indicating the date of installation or date of last replacement and that those dates are within the manufacturer’s recommended life cycle
- All fault monitoring functions operate correctly (e.g. by simulation of fault conditions)
In October 2023, new fire safety guidance will come into force for all buildings regulated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO).
The new regulations will improve cooperation between Responsible Persons, increase requirements in relation to the recording and sharing of fire safety information, make it easier for enforcement authorities to take action against non-compliance, and ensure residents have access to comprehensive information about fire safety in their building. A clear and preventable failure in a life safety system caused by a lack of maintenance can lead to risk of injury as well as heavy fines or even imprisonment if the resulting fire is serious enough.
In order to comply with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) all smoke control systems need to be serviced on a yearly basis and a regular maintenance schedule is a fundamental part of ensuring proper operation of the system.
Smoke control systems can only be relied upon to operate effectively if they are regularly checked and maintained by competent operatives. A sure way to assess the competence of a contractor is through third party certification and it is mandatory for all SCA members involved in the installation of smoke control systems to achieve SDI 19 accreditation as a condition of membership.
There is now more onus on building owners and operators to ensure that their systems are in full working order and act promptly to rectify known issues. Failure to do so can result in financial penalties and legal charges against the responsible person while compromising the safety of building occupants. As life safety systems, smoke control technologies have a vital role to play in protecting buildings and their occupants in the event of a catastrophic fire. Overlooking maintenance obligations is just as serious as it sounds.
David Mowatt is chairman of the Smoke Control Association (SCA)