Leveraging technology to improve fire safety

By John Lynch, General Manager, Business Support Services, Wormald
Monday, 26 May, 2014

When it comes to keeping people and property safe, protecting against the risk of fire should be a top priority. It is important that every premises is fitted with a comprehensive fire safety solution, which can be tailored to go beyond minimum fire protection requirements.

Regular maintenance and servicing of fire protection equipment is a vital part of a comprehensive fire safety plan. Failing to properly maintain the equipment could render it unable to perform to its intended purpose when needed most.

Unfortunately, maintaining fire protection equipment can often slip down the priority list of time-poor safety and facility managers. The myriad legislative requirements and standards, coupled with the complex nature of fire protection equipment, can make it difficult to keep up with legal and ethical fire protection responsibilities, exposing building occupants and the property to a higher risk of fire and fire damage.

Technology offers new opportunities to make processes such as these easier. Of the two million businesses in Australia[1], only 8% do not have access to the internet[2]. Coupled with the fact that 13 million Australians spend more than 18 hours a day online[3], it is clear the internet is vital in managing key business activities - including fire safety operations.

Using new technology-enabled tools has the potential to improve the efficiency and accuracy of fire safety operations. Tools such as Wormald’s ‘Wormald Connect’, a web-based portal that gives customers 24-hour access to fire service calls and inspections data, can help to provide safety managers with a high degree of visibility across the maintenance and servicing of fire protection equipment.

Wormald Connect allows building managers to access their servicing schedules and data online at any time. Data can be stored on the portal for analysis or easily exported via an internet connection to enable further analysis or record keeping. If required, inspection summaries can be filtered to suit a customer’s individual needs. Access is provided through the provision of a unique user name and password so information can be accessed easily and securely.

An automated solution can also help to detect fire safety issues early, reduce the chance of human error and minimise risk. The solution closely monitors a site’s fire safety products and systems and can identify if there are any outstanding issues, facilitating more effective communication with the Wormald team.

Technology versus human

Though technology can be a valuable tool for streamlining fire safety operations, it does not replace the role of human intuition, management and accountability. Facility and safety managers are reminded it is their responsibility to ensure fire safety requirements are met.

Scheduling regular fire safety audits will help identify gaps or necessary upgrades in fire protection as the business or premises changes. For example, if a business expanded its premises and added machinery, electronic devices or kitchen appliances, additional fire extinguishing equipment may be required.

Facility and safety managers must be aware of regulations and relevant standards applicable to their state. There are strict requirements for the servicing of fire suppression systems. The Australian Standard AS1851-2012 ‘Routine Service of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment’ outlines the servicing activities for the majority of fire protection systems and equipment. This includes inspection, testing, preventive maintenance, defect identification and survey activities that will help ensure that the systems and equipment are in proper working order.

Following extensive consultation between industry experts, regulators, government and fire service providers, the AS1851 was updated in 2012. While many of the core elements of AS1851 remain the same, there have been some clarifications, updates and improvements.

There is now greater emphasis on the records and evidence required by the building owner to demonstrate regulatory compliance. For example, amongst other things, the updated standard introduced the requirement for ‘baseline data’ to be provided for any new fire protection systems and equipment installed. This provides a benchmark for subsequent periodic servicing activities so results can be compared. Requirements relating to passive fire protection were also substantially revised.

Reputation matters

When it comes to having comprehensive and efficient fire safety operations, it is important to work with a reliable fire protection provider.

A reputable fire protection specialist will have technologies and processes in place to streamline the process of keeping buildings safe and ensure equipment is serviced regularly. Your fire protection provider should also adhere to stringent and rigorous codes of practice, hold a high level of public and product liability insurance, and hold any necessary state and commonwealth licences or certificates.

If in doubt, the Fire Protection Association of Australia runs a Providers of Choice program, which is a good starting point for safety and facility managers seeking a qualified and trusted fire protection provider. If you engage with a fire protection specialist, make sure the service provider is meeting their obligations as per the service contract and in accordance with applicable standards and legislation.

Consulting a fire protection specialist can help to reduce the stress of selecting and maintaining a fire protection solution.

[1] http://www.smartcompany.com.au/technology/information-technology/31806-number-of-businesses-in-australia-continues-to-stagnate-abs.html

[2] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/A53AAD9B0CE1A150CA257B8F00133E04?opendocument

[3] http://www.pria.com.au/industrynews/13-million-australians-spend-18-hours-a-day-online

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