Turning up the heat on fire alarm systems, Construction Manager – July 2015

As a responsible construction manager, you want to be certain that the products you use to protect your workforce and assets from fire are effective, reliable and compliant with the appropriate legislation. Here, Paul Henson, Sales & Marketing Director at Ramtech Electronics, looks at why having an EN54 compliant wireless fire alarm system provides the best way forward.

“EN54 sets benchmarks for the design, operation, production, testing and manufacture of fire detection and fire alarm products. Effectively, the law and best practice guidelines require you to protect your construction site with a suitable fire alarm system, and EN54 is the standard against which fire alarm systems should be measured.

The Construction Products Regulation requires that where a harmonised technical standard exists for a product it must comply with the provisions of that standard. EN54 is the harmonised standard relating to fire detection and fire alarm systems. The Regulation also states that fire safety products must have a CE mark, for which they are required to have a properly completed Declaration of Performance (DoP), and to obtain this the products must be tested by an approved external agency, known as a notified body.

If the fire alarm system you are thinking of specifying 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 DoP certificate. If the certificate you are presented simply covers, for example, an individual component within a larger unit, it does not follow that the whole unit meets EN54 requirements.

To comply with EN54, the complete unit – and every unit in the system including the base station, fire call point or smoke and heat detection unit – should have been tested in accordance with the relevant section of EN54.

Fire practice
The reality is that construction sites often have little or no technology-based fire protection system in place, which means that they rely on people present seeing the fire and then alerting others. This can present a number of issues as personnel on higher floors may not necessarily hear the alarm. On larger construction sites, these variables and risks are multiplied several-fold.

Bringing this into stark reality is the fact that fires on construction sites are far more frequent than most people realise. For instance, Zurich Insurance estimates that there are around 104,000 fires each year on site, costing around £400m.

Consider the scenario of a fire on site. Once workers become aware, a process that can take a critical amount of time, they immediately evacuate the area to a safe muster point. What happens if, in the confusion, the alarm – which could simply mean someone ringing the bell – is not audible to everyone throughout the site? In the vital minutes before everyone became aware, the fire could have spread and seriously limited their escape routes.

A properly planned wireless fire alarm system overcomes these issues. A good system includes manual fire alarm call points that are installed on site in accordance with the project’s Fire Plan. These should be wirelessly interlinked, creating a completely secure mesh network so that the alarm can be manually triggered throughout the site by personnel from any call point. Where automatic heat or smoke detectors are incorporated into the system, it provides automatic cover 24/7, ensuring that the site is protected even when personnel are not present.

At the same time, a base station allows fire officers to identify quickly which fire point or heat/smoke detection unit has been activated, allowing emergency services to be deployed to the exact source of the fire. Modern wireless fire alarm systems are able to provide this site wide coverage, whether it’s a multi-use redevelopment project or a large and complex demolition – the wireless frequency passes through all solid materials found on site.

Conclusion
The need for wireless fire alarm systems is likely to grow, especially with the move to timber framed buildings and high rise developments to make optimum use of available land. Both present their own specific dangers from fire and we are seeing more clients take proactive steps to ensure their sites include a fire alarm system that is fully compliant with EN54 requirements.”

This article was published in Construction Manager magazine, July 2015

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