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The 2022 State of Physical Access Control Report

The ‘Responsible Person’ Bears a Heavy Burden: Here’s how the Fire Industry can Help them

Siemens Building Technologies UK managing director Steven Foxley

Steven Foxley, Siemens Building Technologies UK managing director

Today’s UK fire industry faces new challenges as the density of occupation increases along with the complexity of buildings in which people live and work.

And growing user demands are heightening the urgency of the need for fresh governance on fire equipment and fire-safety solutions.

Siemens Building Technologies UK managing director Steven Foxley believes the absence of enforced fire safety third-party accreditation could put lives at risk and calls for a step change in standards.

“There is an increased urgency for mandatory regulations to ensure the positive effects of advanced fire safety equipment and products are not undermined through poor installation and servicing,” he says. “At Siemens we are committed to raising safety standards and want to ensure that the public are fully protected against risk of fire.”

As one of the founding fire safety equipment manufacturers and installers, responsible for many industry firsts, Siemens is perfectly placed to voice these concerns. The company developed the first ionisation chamber smoke detector in 1941, the first analogue addressable system and the first product lifetime guarantee against false alarms.

Accreditation of installers and service providers

The UK fire industry does not adequately regulate itself and there is no formal quality gate to assess the competency of fire safety installation companies and their employees. There is a need for change in the UK requirements for fire installation and servicing to achieve parity with those in the gas and electrical industries.

A possible solution would be that third-party certification should be mandatory for all fire safety system installation and service providers.

There are no mandatory accreditation schemes under law; they are all voluntary. Professional organisations will adhere to these standards, but there is no legal framework to prevent unqualified and inexperienced organisations from operating in the fire industry

There were 22,000 fires in commercial buildings between April 2013 and March 2014, according to Home Office Fire Statistics Great Britain. In 64% of those premises with installed detectors the technology failed to operate, among other reasons, because of poor positioning of equipment, incorrect installation and/or incompatibility of fire technologies.

Many of these issues would be resolved if unskilled, untrained technicians were prevented from installing or servicing vital fire safety systems.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 partially addressed the issue but still places ultimate responsibility for competency and engineering skills of the installer or service provider onto the owner of the fire system. This places unmanageable levels of responsibility on fire-safety system owners and exposes members of the public to unnecessary risk.

Furthermore, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) requires its members to be third-party accredited in the field in which they operate, but many installers carry out their activities without FIA membership.

There are no mandatory accreditation schemes under law; they are all voluntary. Professional organisations will adhere to these standards, but there is no legal framework to prevent unqualified and inexperienced organisations from operating in the fire industry.

Unwanted fire signals

Siemens believes that there should be stronger deterrents for organisations that generate ‘false’ or unwanted alarms, in particular when a false alarm becomes an ‘unwanted fire signal’ that involves the fire and rescue services. The effect that false alarms have on business continuity is immense.

Lost working hours and the upheaval of evacuating premises add up to significant financial loss. It is estimated that the cost to UK businesses and fire and rescue services authorities is £1bn per year.

Correct system design, technology selection, installation and maintenance of fire detection systems will virtually eliminate false alarms. False alarms not only impact organisations in terms of loss of earnings and loss of reputation, but are also a public safety issue.

When alarms go off repeatedly, there is a tendency for people to disregard them and in the case of a real fire, complacency could further endanger lives.

Many believe that more stringent measures need to be taken against those who repeatedly generate unwanted fire signals, to ensure there is a strong deterrent against tolerating sub-standard equipment and poor performance by installers and service providers.

Manufacturers’ and installers’ responsibilities

Siemens would like to see the introduction of clear, formalised guidelines on the responsibilities of manufacturers and installers across the fire industry. There are currently no guiding principles regarding the responsibilities of manufacturers and installers for the performance of their fire safety systems.

This means that end users may have purchased or inherited a range of manufactured products from different suppliers and there is no clear level of responsibility for compatibility or system functionality. Currently this responsibility remains with the user, who generally has very limited expertise in this field.

Manufacturers have responded to industry demand and made their systems ‘open’ and this has provided greater choice to users. However, this has further compounded the issue as it can result in the installation of diverse system components from a range of manufacturers that do not necessarily guarantee interoperability, which is vital to system performance.

It seems inconceivable that manufacturers and installers have no responsibility to ensure continuity of spare parts, ongoing support or system functionality. The introduction of formal guidelines that identify the roles and responsibilities of providers would mitigate this ambiguity and improve life safety measures for users.

Steven Foxley concludes: “As a responsible manufacturer, system designer and installer of fire safety systems, we feel it is vital to raise awareness of these issues that could pose a threat to public safety. Siemens believes in promoting high standards and it is vital that manufacturers and installers are fully trained to identify and assist with customer requirements, risks and business operations.

“Engineering teams must be fully qualified to interpret customer specifications, CDM requirements, relevant legislation and British standards, as well as the impact on health, safety and the environment. In particular they should be fully trained on all parts of BS5839, the codes of practice that prescribe the manner in which fire systems are designed, installed and maintained across the UK, and accredited by BAFE or LPS.”

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