Once fire protection measures are installed in a building, it would be comforting to think that they were simply waiting in case they were needed, at which point they would activate and protect the building and its occupants from the effects of fire. However, as with any machinery or appliance, upkeep is necessary to ensure they are fit for purpose.
Legislation in most States of Australia, (Building Act & regulations) requires fire protection equipment and systems for the safety of persons to be subject to a suitable programme of maintenance and repair (where they apply – current versions of AS1735.2, AS1851, AS2293.2 and AS3510 are deemed minimum best practice). In addition, any negligence or deficiencies of coverage in this area can affect the building fire insurance policies and could result in the insurance being considered invalidated due to these oversights in the case of a fire (this is especially important when occupiers have introduced additional hazards which may overwhelm the base building systems).
As a lack of maintenance of systems designed to protect building occupants may lead to injuries or even fatalities, the potential for individual as well as corporate litigation is significant.
While most States require an Annual Certification pertaining to the performance of such systems, every company or organisation should have a formal inspection schedule, appropriate to the systems and building type, informal inspections are to be encouraged. The inclusion of elementary fire protection awareness in occupant fire training (re AS3745) could mean that small deficiencies are spotted by occupiers as they go about their duties in the building.
It is important also that a system is put in place to enable any reporting from staff in relation to fire safety should be followed up promptly and dealt with appropriately e.g. sticking fire doors, discharged or missing extinguishers, exit directional signs not illuminated, grease dripping from seam in ductwork, etc.
The organisation should compile checklists to be followed at appropriate intervals. For example, facilities managers should conduct inspections and identify observable issues, security checks should include an “issue found” logbook. These checks would include simple tasks such as checking evacuation routes are clear of obstructions and fire escapes are working and not obstructed either inside or outside the building.
While checklists are important to ensure that no important element is neglected, it is also important that not only those considerations listed are followed, but that any changes to the building or systems involved are noted and followed up on.
While active fire protection measures such as fire alarms or sprinkler systems are commonly highlighted as an area requiring regular attention to function correctly, it is also important that passive fire protection measures are considered and understood by any relevant parties. The potential for harm following a new service penetration (through a compartment wall) which has not been appropriately fire-stopped could mean the spread of fire from one area to the next through that vulnerability.