It’s the law: a guide to site fire alarms, LABM – September 2015

Here, Paul Henson, Sales & Marketing Director at Ramtech Electronics, offers an guide to the legislative background and standardised requirements for fire alarm systems used on construction sites.

All responsible organisations need to be certain that the products they use to protect their workforce and assets from fire are effective, reliable and compliant with the appropriate legislation.

When it comes to fire safety, 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. Code of practice for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of systems in non-domestic premises
  • 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.

Fully 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 European Union must be tested and independently certified against Harmonised European standards where these exist. In the case of fire detection and fire alarm products, that standard is EN 54 Fire detection and fire alarm systems.

This piece of legislation is a mandatory European standard that specifies requirements and laboratory testing for every component of a fire detection and fire alarm system. EN 54 clearly states that fire detection and alarm systems are for use in ‘buildings or other construction works’ (EN 54 Part 1, Section 2.1).

In terms of ensuring that the fire detection and alarm products that you choose comply, it must be certified to one or more parts (2-31) 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 3 deals with those for sounders.

The importance of 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 legal tool – 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.

As you might expect, 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. Therefore the testing phase is exhaustive and includes:

  • Physical stress testing
  • Testing in extreme environments, such as temperature, humidity, water
  • Manufacturing testing – this includes a mandatory annual assessment to ensure the manufacturing process is up to scratch.

Once a product has passed all the testing required by EN 54, to be completed by an approved body, it must be certified as such. This is done by means of a Declaration of Performance, an official document in which the conformity of the product to the appropriate standards is declared and illustrated with reference to specific product characteristics.

Once the appropriate Declarations of Performance have been completed, the product may be CE marked.

What to ask your supplier
When it comes to ensuring that a supplier is offering a fully compliant fire alarm system you simply need to:

  1. Ask for a Declaration of Performance for each type of unit within the system. These are your proof that the product you’re considering has been tested to the appropriate governing standards. You should expect a full fire alarm and detection system to include references to relevant sections of EN 54, as each unit type should be tested against its corresponding section(s) of the standard. For example, a wireless call point should be tested against sections 3, 11 and 25 if it includes an alarm device.
  2. Check the CE mark on the product – if it’s been certified by a Notified Body you’ll see a four digit number after the mark denoting which test house has tested and certified the product. If there’s no such number, the product has not been tested and certified in accordance with the latest and most stringent legislation. The product would normally be marked with the approval mark of the Notified Body as well as the CE mark.

Although construction 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 most 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 is appropriate for temporary projects such as construction sites.

This article was published in LABM magazine, September 2015

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