An essential guide to fire safety on construction sites, SHP – October 2015

Here, Paul Henson, Sales & Marketing Director at Ramtech Electronics, offers a guide to the legislative background and practical requirements when specifying a fire alarm system for a construction site.

“All responsible organisations place the safety and protection of their workforce above all else. When it comes to construction sites, because of the presence of flammable materials, hot work practices and its ever changing nature, you therefore need to be sure that a fire alarm system is effective, reliable and compliant with the appropriate legislation. As such, the UK’s construction industry is covered by a number of laws, guidelines and codes of practice, including:

• The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005)
• The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations
• HSE Fire Safety Guidelines for Construction Sites (HSG168)
• The Fire Protection Association Joint Code of Practice
• BS5839-1 – Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings.
• The Structural Timber Association’s 16 Steps to Timber Frame Construction

All of these set out fire safety requirements in relation to their particular focus, and each specifies that an appropriate fire alarm system must be used. These guidelines form a comprehensive set of best practice indicators for the use and installation of fire safety systems in the construction industry.

The basics: complying with EN 54
In addition, the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), which came into force in 2013, says that fire alarm products sold in the EU must be tested and independently certified against Harmonised European standards. In the case of fire detection and fire alarm products, that standard is EN 54.

In terms of ensuring that the fire detection and alarm products that you choose comply, it must be certified to the parts (there are 31 in total) of EN54 which detail the particular engineering, manufacturing and testing requirements for each different type of component or product within the system. For example, Part Eleven deals with the technical requirements for manual call points while Part Three deals with those for sounders.

Check the CE marking
Generally speaking a product must be marked with the CE mark for it to be sold in Europe. The CE mark is a declaration made by the manufacturer that the product complies with all appropriate European Directives on the date that the product is sold.

For some products the manufacturer can self-declare that the product complies, but in the case of the CPR and EN 54 for fire detection and alarm products they must be independently tested to the appropriate standard by a recognized test house.

EN 54 specifies an extremely robust set of tests for each type of unit which may form part of a fire detection and alarm system. These tests must be undertaken in a fully-approved nominated testing house.

The tests are designed to ensure that fire alarm and detection products will perform safely under all conditions which the product can be reasonably expected to experience, so the testing phase is exhaustive and includes:
• Physical stress testing
• Testing against extremes of temperature, humidity, water etc
• Manufacturing testing – this includes a mandatory annual assessment to ensure the manufacturing process is up to scratch.

Ask your supplier this
When it comes to ensuring that a supplier is offering a fully compliant fire alarm system you simply need to ask for a Declaration of Performance for each type of unit within the system and always check the CE mark on the product!

Fire safety law is a large and complex area. When it comes to your fire alarm and detection system compliance, there are really only a couple of simple things to bear in mind. By doing this you will ensure the system you use is properly tested and certified as compliant with the most recent and stringent legislation and standards.

Common sense suggests that your construction site and its staff must be protected by a suitable fire alarm system. EN54 is the appropriate standard to use to test fire detection and alarm system components. Its use is mandatory in completed buildings, so logically it’s appropriate to use it for the higher risk environment of a construction site.”

This article was published in SHP Online in October 2015.

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