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Rising damper issues

By | Fire Dampers, News | No Comments

Over a year after the British Standards Institution issued new advice on fire damper maintenance, this area of essential compliance is still not receiving the attention that it deserves – and indeed requires by law – warns Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services.

 

In carrying out fire damper maintenance we have discovered that a large number of building managers were unaware for some years that they actually had fire dampers installed in the properties for which they are responsible. Some inherited properties with lists of assets which neglected to include fire dampers entirely, others had lists which did include a number of fire dampers, but with no clue as to their type or location. Others have been handed incomplete lists which entirely underestimated the number of assets.

 

Fire damper maintenance advice under BS:9999 used to include recommendations for testing and maintenance based on the construction type of the fire damper itself; one type of fire damper required annual testing, while the other type could be tested less frequently, every two years. This could make devising a regular testing and maintenance programme more challenging, especially without the full details of the type and location of each fire damper. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that awareness of the issue as a whole has a lot of ground to make up, something that we, as a company, are trying hard to address.

 

Since the publication of BS:9999 2017, all fire dampers are required to be tested annually, using a method called drop testing, regardless of their type. Hopefully, this should make establishing a regular testing programme simpler and more manageable; however, more than a year on, many property managers are still playing catch up on this issue.

 

Fire dampers are a vital aspect of some buildings’ fire protection measures. In properties which have both internal fire resistance rated walls and mechanical ventilation systems, there are likely to be fire dampers. Wherever the ventilation ductwork runs through a fire-resistant wall, a potential weak point is created in the wall, leaving an opening through which fire can travel.

 

A fire damper is essentially a set of steel louvres which remain open for most of the time to allow air to circulate freely through the ventilation system, but which close automatically in the event of fire to create a barrier, delaying or even preventing the spread of fire. The drop testing method is designed to ensure that should a fire occur, the louvres will drop into the closed position, sealing the compartment formed by the fire-resistant wall. Typically, these are found where rooms lead off corridors with a fire-resistant wall, so are prevalent in buildings such as hotels, hospitals, offices, schools and halls of residence.

 

Our first visit to a new customer often reveals a history without regular testing. In some cases fire dampers have been installed in the wrong place, or not fixed securely, or occasionally, even upside down. These fire dampers will either not close in the even of a fire, or will not achieve compartmentalisation. Before being put into use, a ventilation system is usually tested to ensure that it has adequate air flow. In the past, engineers have clearly propped the fire damper’s louvres open for testing, then forgotten to remove the makeshift props. In the past we have found beer bottles, soft drinks cans, lumps of wood or pieces of string, forgotten after testing but preventing the fire damper from closing. Regular testing would have detected these hazards, but in many cases an accumulation of years of dust suggests that testing has never been carried out.

 

Fire prevention officers are now clamping down on fire damper testing, and this, while it means greater safety for buildings, also presents a new challenge. Fire damper testing is for many building managers, a new cost for which they must now budget. We are working with property owners and managers to provide phased testing as budget becomes available and to schedule testing for times when ventilation system cleaning is being carried out.

 

If your fire dampers are not yet being drop tested, cleaned and maintained annually, you need to establish a regular testing and maintenance schedule as soon as possible. This is a compliance necessity and should be a safety priority too. There are no two ways about it, fire damper testing cannot be put off indefinitely; both because it is a legal requirement and because, in the long run, lives may depend on it.

 

It really is high time to let fire dampers rise to the top of the to do list for every property manager.

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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Swiftclean calls for safety over style in ceiling design

By | Ductwork Cleaning, Fire Dampers, News | No Comments

Swiftclean Building Services, expert provider of fire damper testing and maintenance, and ventilation cleaning in compliance with BESA TB001 & TR/19, has called for greater concern for safety over aesthetics when it comes to ceiling design in commercial and public buildings and multiple residence properties. “We are well aware that access hatches are not the most attractive items,” says Swiftclean Managing Director Gary Nicholls. “However, they are absolutely vital for safety.”

 

The company, which has won multiple awards for its expert air and water hygiene services, says that its technicians frequently encounter situations in which cosmetic features such as plasterboard ceilings have been added to improve aesthetics, but which inevitably hinder essential ongoing cleaning and maintenance. Compliance with TR/19, the leading guidance document on ventilation hygiene, issued by BESA, ensures legal compliance requirements are met in schools, hospitals hotels and a wide range of public and domestic buildings across the UK. The annual drop testing and maintenance of fire dampers in accordance with BS:9999 is also a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order for property owners and managers.

 

Despite this long term legal responsibility, in too many cases, says Swiftclean, additional bulkheads and false ceilings or other services are erected across installed ductwork, making it impossible for some buildings to comply with the law. There is already a potential tension between the ductwork construction standard, DW144 and the ventilation cleanliness guidelines TR/19 in that, in practice, ongoing compliance with TR/19 requires access at more frequent intervals than is stipulated in DW144. If some of the access hatches installed in compliance with DW144 are subsequently covered over or obstructed, this makes it even more difficult or, in some cases, impossible, to comply with TR/19, potentially throughout the lifecycle of the building.

 

If the ductwork itself is visible, exposed or accessible through false ceilings, it is possible to retrofit additional access doors in order to achieve compliance with TR/19 and BS:9999. However, if, once the ductwork has been installed, it has been hidden behind fixed ceilings and walls, compliance can be highly problematic or prohibitively costly.

 

In these cases, safety is definitely compromised, warns Swiftclean. “Not only does compliance become difficult, but buildings insurance policies may be compromised and the responsible person for the building may be liable to prosecution for non-compliance,” warns Nicholls. “In the event of a fatality, there may be criminal proceedings against the maintenance company and individuals could face a custodial sentence. It seems to us imperative that safety should take precedence over aesthetics in many more situations.”

 

Swiftclean has been campaigning for several years for greater awareness for the need to comply with safety guidelines on the cleanliness and safe functioning of mechanical extract and ventilation systems. Gary Nicholls is a member of the steering committee which advised on the drafting of the TR/19 guidelines, the leading industry document on ventilation hygiene, issued by BESA, the Building Engineering Services Association. From time to time he is called on to serve as an expert consultant and witness in legal cases where non-compliance has been identified.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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Fire damper compliance – a new challenge?

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For some facilities managers, the recent focus by fire safety and HSE officers on fire damper safety has represented a new challenge and an extra item on their legal ‘to do’ list, as Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services, explains.

 

Fire dampers consists of metal shutters, installed within ventilation ductwork, which stay open for most of the time to allow air to flow, but which close automatically in the event of a fire, to delay the spread of fire and smoke and allow more time for the safe evacuation of the building.

 

It is a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order to test fire dampers at regular intervals in accordance with BS:9999 2008, using a method known as ‘drop testing’. Spring operated fire dampers must be drop tested, cleaned and maintained at intervals of no greater than 12 months; while all other models should be drop tested, cleaned and maintained at least every two years.

 

In accommodation applications, fire dampers must be drop tested annually regardless of type. Care settings must also conform with Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 03-01: Specialised ventilation for healthcare premises Part B: Operational management and performance verification. In care applications a fire damper testing routine will normally be agreed with the local fire prevention officer.

 

Fire damper testing has been somewhat neglected in the past and, as a result, accurate records have not always been kept for buildings in which fire dampers are required. As a result, far too many facilities managers do not know how many fire dampers their properties have, what type they are, where they are located and more importantly whether they function.

 

Once you have identified the location and type of fire damper, you can work out a schedule for regular testing. Wherever the ductwork of a mechanical ventilation system intersects a fire-resistance rated wall, there should be a fire damper. If the building that you manage has corridors which are a means of escape with individual offices, bedrooms, classrooms or meeting rooms leading off, you will probably have at least one fire damper for each separate room.  In halls of residence or hotels, for example, each bedroom will normally have a fire damper as the ductwork will intersect the fire-resistance rated walls of the corridor.

 

The second challenge may be accessing the fire damper for testing. In the past, some fire dampers were installed without a nearby access door for drop testing, cleaning and maintenance.  In some cases, it may be necessary to retrofit access doors to allow future compliance with BS:9999.  If beams, walls or false ceilings have been installed across or around ventilation ductwork, it may be impossible to retrofit an access door; so extensive remodelling may be required, or it may simply be impossible to comply with BS:9999.

 

In new properties, where FMs have the opportunity to influence construction, they should advocate adequate access doors for all ventilation systems, in order both to maintain fire dampers, and to clean the ductwork regularly, in order to comply with TR/19, the leading guidance document for ventilation ductwork hygiene, issued by the Building & Engineering Services Association (BESA.)

 

Once you have established a regular drop testing, cleaning and maintenance programme, it is essential to document your compliance. As the responsible person for the property, it is vital to be able to demonstrate that you have done everything required by law so that, in the event of a fire or a visit from a Fire Brigade fire safety compliance officer, you are protected from prosecution.  Without this, you could be open to prosecution and in the very most serious of cases could risk a custodial sentence.

 

You will almost certainly need professional help from an expert in fire damper testing that can locate and identify fire dampers and provide testing, cleaning and full documentation. For many FMs, fire damper testing is a relatively new cost area to present to a client, so it is wise to enlist the help of an expert outsourced provider in devising a best value compliance schedule.

 

Your fire damper testing must be cost effective, legally compliant and effective. After all, if you get it right, it could save lives, as well as your reputation.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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Fire Dampers – the open and shut case for safety

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Fully functioning fire dampers are a vital safeguard for life and property, as Martin Hembling, Service Delivery Director for Swiftclean Building Services explains.

 

One of the routes through which a fire can spread is the communal ventilation system. While a single ductwork system to serve multiple dwellings makes good logistic sense, it does also introduce some potential weaknesses and hazards, so it is vital that it is designed well, installed correctly and incorporates correctly installed fire dampers which are properly and regularly maintained for the lifetime of the property.

 

In a multiple dwelling, it is vital to preserve the compartmentation of each individual dwelling to delay or prevent the spread of fire. Where ductwork crosses an internal fire-resistant rated wall, it creates an opening in that wall through which fire can spread. It is essential, therefore, that this compartmentation is restored by installing a fire damper – a set of louvres which remain open to allow the flow of air, but which will close automatically in the event of fire. By law, all fire dampers must be tested every 12 months in accordance with BS9999: 2017.

 

The method used is known as drop testing, because it ensures that the louvres of the fire damper will drop into the closed position to form a seal which restores the compartment formed by the fire wall. Unfortunately, this vital area of fire prevention has been overlooked and neglected for years but now, quite rightly, it is being scrutinised and enforced by fire safety offices and should be high on the agenda of Building Control professionals.

 

One of the major problems with fire dampers has been incorrect installation and lack of commissioning. We have found fire dampers in the wrong place – i.e. not in line with the fire wall – or even upside down, so the louvres would have to defy gravity to close. We have also seen them propped open by objects like cans, bottles, bricks, cable ties and pieces of string, no doubt so that an air flow test for the ventilation system could be completed, but then forgotten about. Clearly, these fire dampers were not working correctly when the building was handed over for use.

 

Correct installation and commissioning should be scrutinised and confirmed before the building is handed over; but we would also like to see each building have a plan in place for fire dampers to be tested on an annual basis. Without this, in the event of a fire, these louvres may not function correctly. If they don’t, they simply will not prevent the spread of fire.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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A fresh look at ventilation maintenance

By | Ductwork Cleaning, Fire Dampers, Kitchen Extract Cleaning, News, Swiftclean | No Comments

Air quality within social housing is an increasingly important issue; fire safety even more so.  Adequately cleaning and maintaining the ventilation system in multiple occupancy buildings is essential for legal compliance, and for ensuring the health and safety of the property, as Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services, explains.

 

Multiple occupancy poses a potential for fire to spread from home to home, yet although multiple occupancy housing has been with us for well over a century, it is only for just over a decade that we have had fire legislation for this type of housing, thanks to the passing of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which came into force in October 2006.

 

Within multiple occupancy buildings, much care has been given to ensuring that each dwelling is effectively a separate compartment, so that the risk of fire spreading from one to another is greatly reduced.  Sharing ventilation and extract ductwork for kitchens and bathrooms, however, means that a potential route for fire is re-introduced, leading from one apartment to another, or from the apartment to the building’s communal areas.  Communal ductwork represents a potential weakness in terms of the spread of fire and also a possible cause of widespread poor air quality.

 

In order to restore some of this compartmentation when needed, fire dampers can be installed in the ductwork at the point where ductwork passes through a fire resistance-rated wall.  These are essentially a set of steel louvres which remain open to allow free air flow under normal conditions, but which are triggered by sensors to close automatically in the event of fire.  The closed louvres form a barrier to the spread of flames and hot gases, this barrier helps to delay the spread of fire from its point of origin to other parts of the property.

 

Where fire dampers are fitted, they must be tested and cleaned on an annual basis in accordance with British Standard BS:9999 2017, using a method called drop testing, which confirms that the louvres close effectively.  It used to be the case that the frequency of testing depended on the construction of the fire damper, but the 2017 revision to BS:9999 made it mandatory for annual drop testing, cleaning and any necessary repairs for every type of fire damper.

 

Kitchen extract fire safety cleaning should also be a priority. It is an inevitable result of everyday cooking, that deposits of fat, oil and grease build up as a thin film of grease throughout the kitchen extract ductwork.  These deposits represent a very real fire risk and must be removed on a regular basis.  The frequency of cleaning is laid out in tables within TR/19, which is the leading guidance document for ventilation ductwork cleaning, issued by BESA (Building & Engineering Services Association.)  This also requires ductwork to be classified as high, medium or low.  Multiple occupancy shared kitchen extracts will carry a high classification, requiring regular thorough cleaning in accordance with TR/19.

 

In some multiple occupancy buildings, the ground floor is given to retail units; often fast food outlets.  In these units, kitchen extract fire safety cleaning must be completed regularly in compliance with TR/19, in order to reduce the risk of the spread of fire to the floors above.

 

In refurbishments, especially kitchen and bathroom replacement programmes, consideration should be given to updating the ventilation systems as well as the units and sanitary ware.  It should be remembered that a clogged or greasy extract fan will also consume more electricity to run than a clean one, so this should be included in energy saving plans.  Where a common warm air system serves the entire building, it should be replaced, where possible, by individual self-contained heating systems, so that common areas and dwellings do not share the same system.  Alternatively we can replace the original grills with fire rated valves which help to contain the spread of fire.

 

Bathroom ventilation systems often draw in dust, fibres and dirt particles which begin to clog the system.  This can make it less effective, allowing less air to circulate and causing unpleasant odours to circulate. Regular cleaning to TR/19 guidance is important to ensure a good indoor air quality.

 

Planned preventative maintenance is vital in multiple occupancy buildings.  Gaining access to dwellings in order to carry out this cleaning may be difficult, but should be a priority; it will be essential to communicate the importance of this regular maintenance to occupants so that access for cleaning is granted.  In every communal ventilation system regular cleaning, regular testing and cleaning is not only a legal requirement, but also a vital safeguard for residents and visitors.

Is my golf club protected?

By | Fire Dampers, Kitchen Extract Cleaning, News | No Comments

On the course, holes are vital – but in your fire prevention processes, they could be fatal. We’re sure you have all your visible fire prevention measures under control, but what about your less visible fire hazards?

Is your kitchen extract system an unseen fire hazard?

If your clubhouse has a restaurant and a commercial kitchen, it is essential to eliminate the potential fire risk caused by the accumulation of airborne, fat, oil and grease (FOG) on the inner surfaces of the kitchen extraction system. Once this FOG layer exceeds 200 microns (about half the thickness of a business card) it represents a significant fire hazard.  Any fire that takes hold here can spread fire to other parts of the building.

Regular cleaning in compliance with TR/19, the leading industry guidance document on ventilation hygiene, issued by the Building Engineering Services Association, is a vital legal requirement. If you are not TR/19 compliant, your buildings insurance could also be compromised and you could even be at risk of prosecution if you don’t have a regular TR/19 cleaning routine in place.  Our expert Kitchen Extract Fire Safety Cleaning service removes every trace of grease and provides full photographic documentation that demonstrates that your system is TR/19 compliant.

Fire damper testing

If you have a mechanical ventilation system and internal fire-resistant walls, you almost certainly will have a fire damper wherever the ventilation duct intersects a fire wall. This is a set of louvres which are normally open, to allow air circulation, but which, in a fire, can be triggered to close automatically; to delay and prevent the spread of fire through the ductwork to other parts of the building.

All fire dampers must be tested every twelve months, using a method called drop testing. We can provide a cost-effective programme of drop testing, along with cleaning and maintenance to ensure that, should the worst happen, your fire dampers will close as intended, buying valuable time to evacuate everyone to safety.  We’ll also document our work so you can demonstrate your compliance, safeguard your buildings insurance and avoid prosecution for negligence.

Fire dampers – out of sight, but not out of mind

By | Fire Dampers | No Comments

Fire dampers are a hidden but critical part of fire safety. This is especially true in pubs and restaurants, where ventilation ductwork can act as an easy route for fire. Fire dampers can prevent or delay the spread of fire through building’s ventilation system, so it is vital that they are regularly tested, in a process known as drop testing. They must also be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis – in fact it’s a legal requirement to do this in accordance with BS 9999:2008.

In the event of a fire, if the fire dampers in the ventilation ductwork fail to close, there may be no barrier to the spread of flames in a public house or restaurant. In some buildings, the location of the fire dampers has not been recorded, let alone their type or when they were last tested. As, according to their type, fire dampers must be tested and cleaned every 12 months or two years, this can leave you in a serious breach of the law. Do you know where your fire dampers are located and when they were last tested?

Swiftclean will locate all of your fire dampers and determine their type, before drop testing, cleaning and maintaining them in accordance with BS 9999:2008. We will also provide clear records to enable you to demonstrate compliance with the law and determine when testing needs to take place next. Not sure if you comply at the moment? Try our compliance checker here. Pretty sure you need our help? Call 0800 114 3822 now and we’ll be glad to help.

Fire dampers – out of sight, but not out of mind

By | Fire Dampers | No Comments

In the event of a fire, if the fire dampers in the ventilation ductwork fail to close, there is no barrier to the spread of flames across the multiple areas of a hotel, stadium or leisure complex. In some buildings, the location of the fire dampers has not been recorded, let alone their type or when they were last tested. As, according to their type, fire dampers must be tested and cleaned every 12 months or two years, this can leave you in serious breach of the law. Do you know where your fire dampers are located and when they were last tested?

Swiftclean will locate all of your fire dampers and determine their type, before drop testing, cleaning and maintaining them in accordance with BS9999:2008. We will also provide clear records to enable you to demonstrate compliance with the law and determine when testing needs to take place next. Not sure if you comply at the moment? Try our compliance checker here. Pretty sure you need our help? Call 0800 114 3722 now and we’ll be glad to help.

Fire damper testing – pass or fail could mean life or death

By | Fire Dampers | No Comments

Fire damper testing, an essential part of school safety, are installed completely out of sight – but definitely shouldn’t be out of mind.  Fire dampers prevent the spread of fire through the building’s ventilation system, so it is vital that they are regularly tested, in a process known as drop testing.  They must also be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis – in fact it’s a legal requirement to do this in accordance with BS 9999:2008.

Most school properties consist of classrooms and well-defined areas; this is very useful in the event of a fire, as the building is naturally compartmentalised. However, if the fire dampers fail to close to create a passive barrier for fire, that natural compartmentation is compromised and the ventilation ductwork can form the perfect passage through which fire can spread.  In some buildings, the location of the fire dampers has not been recorded, let alone their type or when they were last tested.  As, according to their type, fire dampers must be tested and cleaned every 12 months or two years, this can leave you in serious breach of the law.

Swiftclean will locate all your fire dampers and determine their type, before drop testing, cleaning and maintaining them in accordance with BS 9999:2008. We will also provide clear records so you can demonstrate that you have complied with the law; and so that you will know when next to test to stay compliant.  Not sure if you comply at the moment?  Try our compliance checker here.  Pretty sure you need our help?  Call 0800 114 3696  now and we’ll be glad to help.