Why maintenance and servicing is a critical part of fire safety

Having good fire detection and alarm systems is essential because they manage situations where there could be a risk to life. But ongoing servicing and maintenance is just as important to look after equipment during its working life. This helps companies to stay compliant with regulations and pass any inspections, quickly identify and upgrade any faulty equipment, and manage their costs when the systems need to be upgraded. 

There are several industry regulations specific to individual fire detection and prevention systems. With fire safety systems, that means checks four times a year. There are other standards covering security equipment, and although the testing regime is not as strict as it is for fire, most of them require checks twice a year. 

The most important regulation covering fire alarms is I.S. 3218:2013, which stipulates that anywhere you have commercial premises or where you have apartments with multiple tenants, you are legally obliged to provide a fire alarm system. There must be a minimum of 7m distance between auto detection systems. The exact layout will vary depending on building design. In a hotel, for example, every bedroom has a detector and sounder which creates 75 decibels of sound in the event of an activation. 

As well as providing guidance on the design and installation of fire alarm systems, I.S. 3218:2013 also creates obligations on servicing and maintenance. Alarms must be serviced each quarter, and if the fire marshal calls for an inspection, you will need to produce a record of the most recent service. 

Emergency lighting is critical to life safety, so the I.S. 3217:2013 standard dictates that it needs to be tested four times a year. The purpose of emergency lighting is to guide people safely out of a building during a fire emergency. Under normal circumstances, it runs off a building’s mains supply but if the power is cut, the lighting’s battery pack should last for three hours. 

Fire Extinguishers are covered by the I.S. 291:2015 standard, which requires testing once every year. However it’s important to have a record in case an extinguisher has been discharged for any reason, and address this 

It’s vital to keep detection systems up to date and that needs ongoing monitoring. For example, ceiling-mounted smoke alarms can get clogged with dust. Over time, this makes them less sensitive to detecting smoke, which could delay them going off or stop them from working altogether. All fire alarms should activate within 55 seconds of a fire breaking out, but as they get older they get less sensitive and it could take longer. If a fire breaks out, what you do in the first two minutes can determine the seriousness of the outcome. 

Key security equipment is covered by three standards: IS 50131-1:2006 for intruder alarms, IS 50132-1:2010 for CCTV systems and SR:40 2005 for access control systems. All of the standards call for two checks per year. In order to pass these checks, the equipment must be in proper working order so that the inspection can issue a certificate of compliance. 

But sometimes, a part of the systems might fail. Most companies don’t have the resources to monitor their fire safety and security systems, so it’s essential to work with a service provider that can carry out ongoing monitoring and maintenance. By checking their important safety systems on an ongoing basis, the service provider can quickly identify any equipment that’s not working as it should. 

Ideally, a business premises owner should work with the same supplier that installed the equipment to carry out regular monitoring and maintenance afterwards. This way, they get consistent supply of the same stock if any systems need to be replaced due to a fault. 

Having a preventative maintenance contract also allows a business to spread the necessary cost of upgrading equipment. For example, most fire alarms have a maximum lifespan of ten years. If a premises had upgraded all of its last alarms in one go, then it would face a significant cost to change so many systems all at once. Instead, it could start swapping out a certain number of detectors at year eight or nine, to make it easier for budgeting and forecasting. But this approach is only possible if you’re doing the correct preventative maintenance.

Proper maintenance and servicing isn’t just a matter of ticking a box or adhering to regulations. When personal safety at risk, it’s the right thing to do.