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Effective smoke ventilation design – compliance is critical

10 July 2013

News article image for Effective smoke ventilation design – compliance is critical
Smoke ventilation is a critical element in fire safety, particularly in multi-storey residential buildings as it not only helps occupants to escape, but also improves the access for fire fighters by keeping corridors and other areas clear of smoke. In the first of this three part series looking at smoke control from a contractors’ perspective, Will Perkins, Group Managing Director of smoke and natural ventilation specialist, SE Controls, looks at building design and the legislative framework, together with some of the obligations, issues and opportunities they present to contractors.

Usually when talk turns to building design, the focus tends to be directed towards aspects such as innovative exterior, the construction methods, energy efficiency and the interior space, yet good building design must also ensure that it is safe.

Fire safety is a vital component of any building design and smoke ventilation solutions are now commonplace, where legislation has driven the need for increasingly effective methods of supporting escape and protecting occupants by venting smoke from corridors and communal areas.

Unsurprisingly, due to its importance, there is a robust legislative net in place to ensure that every aspect of a building’s design, including fire safety and protection systems, meet the required standards. From a smoke control perspective, this not only covers the design of the products used in the system and their method of operation, but also the installation, commissioning and ongoing maintenance.

This clearly places a considerable burden of responsibility not only on architects and systems specialist, such as SE Controls, but also on contractors, particularly when involved in the specification of smoke ventilation solutions, where a lack of familiarity with regulations could put contractors at risk of litigation for non-compliance. More importantly, if the system fails, then lives could be at risk.

While the complex matrix of legislation for smoke ventilation and safety systems design for buildings begins with the Building Regulations, particularly Approved Document B (ADB) and continues with the BS9991:2011 Code of Practice for residential fire safety design, these form only part of the story. Other European regulations and UK legislation overlay and augment these documents depending on their specific individual focus.

On 1st July 2013, the Construction Products Directive became the Construction Products Regulation, which brings the UK in line with existing European requirements and demands that CE marking, is mandatory. This means that BS EN12101 takes precedence over previous standards covering product construction and forces compliance with the regulations. Leading companies in this field, including SE Controls, have been voluntarily complying with this legislation for some time to ensure that their products meet all the appropriate regulations.

While Building Regulations and EU product compliance legislation have a powerful and vital influence on the design of buildings, fire safety and smoke control solutions, it’s arguable that The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) is the most important piece of legislation for designers and contractors working on UK projects.

The RRO creates a clear set of procedures and places responsibility on the building’s operators to provide a duty of care for fire safety in relation to the building’s occupants, via regular risk assessments and action. Crucially, under the RRO, the designer and installer are contractually obliged in connection with the safety aspects of the building and continually liable, even if the building and systems have already been approved by building control.

It must be remembered that designers, consulting engineers, QS and building service engineers also have an obligation to comply with the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) and work to improve construction safety by eliminating hazards.

Several recent incidents including the Salamanca Tower fire in Lambeth in July 2011 are bringing the real implications of the RRO to the fore. When a serious incident occurs, not only will the investigation look at the immediate management regime, it will often assess the original designs, suitability of equipment, fitness of the installation as well as the effectiveness and frequency of maintenance. Importantly design responsibility sits with everyone (including installers) who has been directly involved in the decision process – ranging from product selection criteria, cable selection and routing all the way through to testing and commissioning.

The over-arching point that all designers, contractors and any one involved in smoke control systems and other fire precautions such as fire alarm systems, should take from this broad legislative overview, is that compliance is essential as the risks of non-compliance, even inadvertently, can cost lives.

It can also put you at direct risk of legal action which, upon a successful prosecution, could lead to an unlimited fine or even a custodial sentence.

Regulations are necessary, but can be impenetrable to those that are unfamiliar with the processes, procedures and inter-relationship between the various pieces of legislation. Clearly, seeking advice, input and smoke ventilation systems from companies that are constantly working within this tightly regulated environment can not only provide effective solutions, but also help avoid playing Russian roulette with compliance and potentially, other people’s lives.
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