Buildings risk fire safety by going cheap!

Cost -saving priorities by owners' corporations often compromised safety maintenance. The priority is usually in respect of maintenance, how can we get it done cheaper and who is the cheaper maintenance provider? ~ Commander Mark Carter, Melbourne Fire Brigade.
Russ Porteous
CEO, Firewize
05 Sep, 2019

Ar article published the Australian Financial Review ("AFR") on Thursday September 5, 2019 identifies a priority on cost saving perpetuated by owners' corporations may be placing the integrity of the essential safety measures in buildings and therefore the occupants of the building at significant risk.

In our experience this is a fact that we come across regularly... We literally see incidents every week simply going about our business. We also keep thousands of photographs as evidence of the very bad behaviour and poor or inadequate maintenance practices we observe.

The most obvious example I can cite is the five-yearly fire sprinkler system service... For the most part the fire protection industry has a few names for this that perpetuates an underlying problem. A couple of these names include;

  • valve overhaul
  • triennial service

In both cases the language used trains people who undertake the work to not fully comprehend the required scope of work as set out in AS1851:2012 - Routine Servicing of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment ("the Standard").

In the Standard, the five-yearly service is covered in Section 2, Table (for wet pipe systems only) that also includes ten-yearly, twenty-five yearly and thirty yearly service schedule. These service schedules are made up of a number of service activities. In Table there are 19 activities (Items 4.1 to Item 4.19) as set out in the table, summaries below;

  • Five-yearly service schedule - 17 activities
  • Ten, twenty-five and thirty year service schedule - 2 activities

If you ask your average person conducting the routine (five-yearly) wet pipe sprinkler system service (they might call it the valve overhaul), they think that it includes only a couple of the items from the Standard, the most common I see of these are;

Item No. Item Action required and pass/fail requirement
4.2 Alarm valve (wet) FIT new alarm valve seating or port seating (perishable items), check and clean annular groove and outlet ports, polish and lubricate seating spindle/shaft, and check operation of compensator valve if fitted. Fit a new alarm valve faceplate gasket.
4.3 Main drain and test valve (a) For screw-down style valves, EXAMINE seating and fit new washers.
(b) For gland packed variants, FIT new gland packing.
(c) For ball valves, CHECK for leakage and replace if leaking.
4.4 Alarm cock plug type REMOVE alarm cock barrels, clean, lap in, grease and reinstall. For packed gland variants, fit new gland packing.
4.7 Stop valves (a) FIT new gland packing and lubricate spindle.
(b) For ball and butterfly valves, CHECK for leakage and replace if necessary.
4.9 Water motor alarm gong CLEAN strainer on inlet line, clear water jet, flush drain, renew gasket, check operation of main spindle and striker, remove excess grease and then lubricate.
4.10 Water motor direct brigade alarm (where fitted) CLEAN out well of direct brigade alarm, clear water jet, renew gasket, flush drain pipe, remove gear train, check operation of main spindle, remove excess grease and then lubricate.

The sad thing is that these are 6 items from a possible 19 activities that should be completed. By not completing the remaining activities, there is a possibility that the automatic fire sprinkler system could include a problem that goes unseen that could adversely affect the operation of the fire sprinkler system.

This is one example, there are literally dozens more that are being perpetuated by everyone involved.

Fixing the problems

AS1851 Test Record Checklist

Many years ago I read a book called "The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande. An overview of the book states that it provides "a critical look at how checklists can be used to dramatically reduce errors and increase discipline in an organization"

In the book human failure comes from two things;

  1. Ignorance: You don’t know what you don’t know. 
  2. Ineptitude: Where knowledge is applied inconsistently or incorrectly. 

If you dig into the root cause of the current public perception of the problems of essential safety measures in buildings they fall into at least one (probably more) of the following categories; design, product selection, installation, commissioning, certification and ongoing maintenance, all of which are related to human failure.

To address this people working in the fire protection industry must be using a combination of;

  • standard operating procedures; and
  • checklists; and
  • continuing professional development (training).

A Standard Operating Procedures ("SOP") is a provides detailed, instructions on how to perform a routine business activity and explain the process being described.

Checklists can help with memory recall and clearly set out minimum steps necessary in a process. Good checklists are explicit. They offer possibility of verification but also instill discipline of higher performance. Implementing checklists can also be a behavior change vehicle. 

Continuing Professional Development ("CPD") is the process of tracking and documenting the skills, knowledge and experience that you gain both formally and informally as you work, beyond any initial training. It's a record of what you experience, learn and then apply.

A combination of these three items is vital to address the public concern and real problems that currently plague the integrity of fire safety in buildings in Australia.

How Firewize addresses these problems

Since our inception we believed that the fire protection industry had a lot of room for improvement... This belief still exists today... To address this, we have undertaken a range of initiatives that we believe significantly differentiates our service offerings to the rest of the fire protection industry.  Here is a list of some of these initiatives;

  • We have a culture that strives to learn and improve.  We don't just settle for, we look to get better!
  • Our logbooks are very different... We have developed a range of log books that cover almost everything listin in Australian Standard AS1851:2012. Our logbooks don't simply follow the items in the Standard, they extend them and provide a comprehensive checklist for fire safety professionals.
  • We publish (publically) a series of articles called the "Principles of Fire Safety" that helps industry professionals understand the basics of fire safety. The series covers everything from combustion, Building Code of Australia, Heat Detectors, Smoke Detectors, Portable Fire Extinguishers, Fire Hydrant Systems and Valves, Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems.
  • We publish (internally) four different document types that are exclusively available to our team members via our online web based portal.  These guides form part of our employee Continuing Professional Development.
    • Good Practice Guides - Firewize Good Practice Guides are prepared to provide additional supporting information about a specific topic such as Legislation, Codes and Standards.
    • Field Technician Guides - Field Technicians Guides developed by Firewize to provide further information on a subject related to fire safety.  This Guide is intended to provide general advice to Firewize technicians who are required to inspect, test and maintain essential safety measures as part of their roles and responsibilities at work.
    • AS1851 Service Guides - Service Guides assist Firewize Employees to safely undertake their routine service activities in accordance with the requirements of Australian Standard AS1851:2012 A1 by establishing the inspect, test, survey and preventative maintenance requirements of the Standard.
    • Fact Sheets - A fact sheet has been written to provide specific information about a particular subject and assist in explaining the requirements of that subject.  The contents of a fact sheet is subject to change due to developments in legislation, codes, standards and industry best practice.
  • We produce video for our team that helps explain subjects where words in a document may not be the best method of CPD.
  • We run monthly toolbox talks that address workplace health and safety. In addition, we provide a forum for our team to share their ideas and experiences to the benefit of their colleagues.
  • We organise and host periodic workshops by subject matter experts who can 'deep dive' on a particular subject to help improve our understanding and knowledge of the subject.

Not sure?  Then feel free to contact us and tell us about your experience, and we will see what we can do to help.

Wow... That was a long blog... I hope you have taken something away from this.