Time to invest in wireless fire alarm systems, ABC&D – March 2015

Paul Henson, Sales & Marketing Director at Ramtech Electronics, explains why construction sites can’t afford to ignore the benefits of wireless fire protection systems.

Fire can have a devastating impact on any business, and not least those in the construction sector. While measures can be taken to minimise threats, the advantages of an early warning system cannot be understated.

Construction sites are far from immune to the impact of fire. Home Office statistics reveal as many as 104,000 fires occur on construction sites throughout England and Wales every year, with more than 40 per cent of them a result of arson.

Fires can, however, be started in any number of ways. The flammability of construction materials can change over time as they are cut and reshaped, plus there’s the added risk of potentially dangerous substances such as liquefied petroleum gas not being properly stored. Gas and electricity lines can be damaged during excavation or demolition, while some electrical equipment may become dangerous if it overheats.

Investing in a reliable and regulatory compliant fire alarm system should be a priority for construction firms that work on housing association projects. Relying on human response alone has its limitations; people often don’t react well under stress, and there’s the added concern of what would happen if a fire started while no one was on site. Not only this, whistles, hand bells and other manual systems, which are still used, are unlikely to be loud enough for everyone to hear, especially in multi-storey constructions or larger sites being developed by housing associations.

Technology-based safety
The key to minimising damage and injury is to quickly alert on-site workers. This enables evacuations to be made, and for emergency services to be informed. Eliminating human error is a crucial part of this process, which is where technology can really prove its worth.

There’s no substitute for 24/7 protection, which is possible using a wireless fire alarm system. Whether a fire is started as a result of arson or by some other means, construction sites cannot afford to let their guard down, day or night.

A system that needs little or no manual intervention therefore offers significant benefits. Wireless emergency systems are a preferred choice for many housing associations because they can easily be installed and offer site-wide protection, ensuring everyone is simultaneously alerted to the danger. There’s the added advantage of these systems being operational even when nobody is around, protecting on-site assets and nearby buildings out of hours.

Many housing association projects are surrounded by other premises, ranging from schools to hospitals, homes to office blocks. Fire often spreads quickly, so an early warning system is, again, crucial not only for personnel on site, but also surrounding buildings.

The very nature of construction sites means they’re constantly developing. This creates an added challenge for fire safety, although this can be overcome if your main contractor opts for a wireless system. For example, avoiding the need for a wired connection means heat and smoke detection units can be moved as your site progresses; work can continue as planned without being held back as you wait for an electrician to reposition wired units.

What’s more, the wireless frequency is capable of passing through all the solid materials typically found on a building site. This way you know everyone will be alerted, regardless of where they’re working. Crucially, it won’t interfere with other wireless technology on site or in nearby buildings.

Battery life is often a key concern when it comes to installing any kind of wireless technology. Looking for a fire protection system with a minimum three-year battery life can reduce costs, while helping meet obligations under Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) legislation.
Silent testing is another plus point of these upgraded systems. There’s no need to disrupt on-site activity to carry out checks, minimising the amount of downtime on your site. Some systems allow weekly results to be reported via a dedicated app and shared with the necessary parties, so you can rest assured it is operating effectively.

EN54 compliance
Bear in mind that not all wireless fire alarm systems are created equal. For example, it should comply with EN54 and therefore the new Construction Products Regulation (CPR). EN54 is a mandatory standard that specifies requirements and laboratory testing for every component of fire detection and fire alarm system. It applies to all buildings including those undergoing construction, demolition or refurbishment.

If the fire alarm system for a construction site has been tested by a notified body you’ll see a four digit test centre number after the CE mark. To be absolutely sure, ask your supplier for their Declaration of Performance certificate. If the certificate you are presented simply covers an individual component within a unit, it does not follow that the whole unit meets EN54 requirements. To achieve EN54 system approval, the complete unit, including base station, fire point or smoke and heat detection unit should all have been tested to the relevant part of EN54.

EN54 is applicable no matter whether an alarm is installed at a temporary location – such as a construction site – or somewhere more permanent. After all, safety is paramount regardless of whether personnel occupy a completed building or one that’s under construction. Indeed, fire safety is something no housing association or construction company should take lightly. A wireless fire protection system could make all the difference to the safety of your demolition, construction or refurbishment project.

Housing associations and their nominated contractors need to recognise the benefits of installing a wireless fire alarm system. Fire can cause considerable amounts of damage to assets that can be costly to rectify, and not to mention presents a safety danger to on-site workers and nearby buildings. Wireless systems are more flexible and easier to reposition than traditional wired models and are therefore an effective method of ensuring safety on site.”

This article was published in Architect, Builder, Contractor & Developer (ABC+D) Magazine, March 2015

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