The spread of fire can be restricted by sub-dividing buildings into several distinct compartments. These fire compartments are separated from one another by fire walls and fire floors made of a fire-resisting construction which hinders the spread of fire from one compartment to another. Maintenance work and other activities can compromise these compartments by forming holes in them. When was the last time you had data cables, fire alarm cables, HVAC or similar installed, repaired or adapted. These regular activities will affect the performance of a buildings fire compartments.
Planned preventative maintenance (PPM) is a proactive approach to ensuring a facility is running at optimal performance. It reduces the risk of failed systems causing disruption to an organisation. By incorporating Passive Fire Protection into this regime, facility managers can maintain the integrity and effectiveness of passive fire protection systems in the facilities they manage. It involves regular scheduled inspections to identify and address any potential issues before they can cause disruptions or failures.
There are several key elements of a PPM program for passive fire protection systems:
Inspection: This involves visually inspecting the fire walls and floors (compartments) in a building to identify any visible signs of wear or damage, such as cracks, rust, or other damage.
Assessing: if existing PFP is present it needs to be assessed to see if it is fit for purpose, correctly installed and undamaged to ensure that they are functioning correctly and can perform their intended functions in the event of a fire.
Maintenance: This involves performing any necessary repairs or replacements to the fire protection systems to ensure their continued operation.
Documentation: It is important to keep detailed records of all PPM activities, including the dates of inspections, assessments, and maintenance activities, as well as any issues that are identified and the actions taken to address them.
By implementing a PPM program for passive fire protection systems, facilities management can help ensure that these systems are functioning correctly and are able to provide the necessary protection in the event of a fire.
Fire safety can be particularly involved for managers where there is a complex mix of responsibilities across a site or multiple sites. FMs are often receptive to industry specialists offering solutions to mitigate their fire risk. Like many areas of facilities management, fire safety is often a matter of effective contract review and communication across all parties to ensure that prevention is better than cure. FMs should have a contract (or an internal service level agreement), that clearly states what the facilities management professional is responsible for in relation to fire safety.
Quite often there can be misunderstanding where the landlord or, more usually, their managing agent has the “Responsible Person” duty under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (applicable to England and Wales), but the contract may make the facilities manager (FM) responsible for ensuring that fire safety systems maintenance is carried out So, in reality, there is an element of shared responsibility between the FM, landlord and or, their managing agent.
With a multi-tenanted site, there can be other complications. While tenants are often responsible for their own fire safety provision, the building may, for example, share services that pass from one tenant to another, all of which is governed by the FM. There can also be issues with common parts management, eg a tenant or their own contractors creating a fire safety issue by breeching a compartment wall.
Where the facilities management contractor assumes all or most of the fire safety duties of a site, then this may include obtaining fire risk assessments or, perhaps, completing these jointly with the landlord or their managing agent. This means all parties can contribute to the risk assessment approach to fire safety, eg firestopping and fire compartmentation. Risk assessment is intrinsically connected with the original fire engineering design within the building. This is not always fully appreciated when fire risk assessments are reviewed. For example, if a building was designed with open shaft service risers, this will be referenced within the building’s original fire strategy. Where the landlord has changed the design or intended purpose since the original site was developed, they may not have access to all the plans. In the author’s experience, even with modern buildings the full M and E plans, fire strategies and ventilation plans may not always be available.
With multi-site buildings, this can be a particular challenge if tenants have their own fire strategies. These may or may not conflict with the fire strategy for the building. Some landlords are proactive in checking these points and others will let tenants do their own thing. This is something the FM needs to be aware of and then, adjust their own life safety approach. This includes updating the landlord’s representatives where any tenants appear to be compromising fire safety through inaction or, on occasions, by high-risk activities, eg a tenant’s contractor installing data systems which breech every fire compartment wall and floor.
In short, the facilities management professional needs to obtain as much information as possible about the fire strategy of their building if only to prioritise the importance of preventive maintenance for different building systems. This can apply even where the facilities management contractor isn’t directly involved with the fire risk assessments for a building. Ultimately, they will always have some involvement to ensure that their own staff and contractors, are safe in relation to fire and that any risk is appropriately assessed and mitigated.