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.