FIRE SAFETY - A DIRECTOR'S PERSPECTIVE

As a Trust Director I have many responsibilities, some more critical than others however I am expected to exercise them all to the good of the Trust.

One of the most important is fire safety; this includes prevention as well as detection and resolution.

I am fortunate in that I have as part of my team a suitably qualified Fire Officer. The role covers training, design advice, day-to-day liaison with all departments as well as Fire Risk Assessment and managing the maintenance of the fire fighting equipment and detection systems. Clearly a post that has varied and sometimes hectic times. It is also a post that carries duties that have compliance responsibilities. Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) being one, since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) was issued all those in control of multi-occupancy premises must carry out an assessment by a “competent person“ at a frequency dictated by a number of factors but normally estate changes.

My Fire Officer has undertaken to carry out the assessments himself, which due to his great knowledge of the estate, is in my view a good solution. I was becoming concerned however that the time taken was impacting on his other less predictable duties and the assessments were being delayed with a risk that they would be forgotten.

The assessment programme was not simply the data collection; he would then spend time inputting the results into a spreadsheet then more time evaluating them. Serious actions would come to me for action whereas minor ones would be directed to the appropriate department, normally these would be Estates related but not exclusively. The difficulty experienced with this process was that other departments were not prepared for the introduction of tasks and hence delays and constant review was need to ensure they were carried out, all of which added even more time to the Fire Officer’s already very busy schedule.

It seemed to me there must be a better way of doing this and after asking around colleagues I contacted the Healthcare Facilities Consortium (HFC), an organisation we have been members of for some while. It proved very fruitful as they too have been concerned about this problem and have been working with a partner; Nulogic Fire Limited to develop a system that had the capacity to carry out the whole process or as they described it “a client managed option” for those like me who had assessors and simply wanted to manage the data better.

The FRA has three stages:

  1. Assessment of the occupied space,
  2. Holding and cataloguing the data,
  3. Presenting the data as information and action points to ensure compliance.
     

It was stages 2 and 3 I was interested in.

The HFC system uses a dedicated handheld tablet loaded with an agreed template (there is no longer a standard template for the NHS). The tablet has the capacity to take photos and attribute text to them as well as using the pre-loaded standard text give better consistency.

Once the assessment has been loaded into the tablet it can then be sent for Quality Assurance (QA) testing using its Wi-Fi capability. The QA process is carried out by Nulogic Fire who employ ex-Senior Fire Officers with specific training in FRA; this gives the assessment a further stamp of approval before it is forwarded to me.

The HFC system is capable of recognising the assessors grading of the findings and has a scale of 1-9 with 9 being the most serious. At the outset I sat with HFC/Nulogic Fire and agreed what was to be done with the actions that came out of the system. I agreed that 7-9 would come to me directly as they would probably require senior management authority, the others would be sent to various departments, this was done instantly by the system, together with a time to complete expectation. All assessments and action data would come to me so at a keystroke I could find out what was happening to everything in the system. Unlike the previous system these records were held securely on my site but also on the remote Nulogic Fire server making the whole process much more secure and reliable should I have to present them to the enforcing authority and others.

Given the better use of my Fire Officer’s time and hence the general reduction in the backlog of training etc. that this has meant, I have the clear view that this is extremely good value for money. Incidentally, HFC/Nulogic Fire are able to supply assessors should there be a need hence I feel I have fully executed my responsibility in this regard and have continued to keep the Trust compliant.

The final point and probably one of the most important is the HFC, being part of the creation of the FRA for Health model, can offer it to it’s members at a specially discounted price. As a members’ offer there is no need to competitively tender to meet the requirements of EU regulations.

Whilst talking with HFC, they also told me about the next project they are working on with Nulogic Fire which focuses on Fire Alarm System Maintenance.

We all know that large public sector buildings will be protected by large multi-panel fire alarm systems. We are recommended to maintain them at a regular frequency and normally this means employing either the manufacturer or an independent maintenance company. The contract will have fully inclusive or servicing only options, whichever is chosen it amounts to a relatively large sum.

A recent tender exercise I heard of had a 41% difference in price between the top and bottom bid, a huge difference together with what I was told was a very comprehensive and clear specification. It got me thinking that to bid so low there must be areas that are subject to shortcutting. This is not a risk I am prepared to take and I am delighted that HFC will be launching a product that attaches securely to my system and monitors not only the operation of devices but their general condition and performance rating, allowing me to only change detectors when the performance curve falls below an acceptable level. It also means that the practice of activating detectors to check they work could be redundant, after all it only tests that they worked that time, it might not the next!

Being able to “see” the state of my system means I can monitor the performance of my contractor and when I am told he has tested a number of devices, it can be very quickly and accurately checked.

Clearly there is a huge potential for such a system as it may well change the way we carry out maintenance of fire alarm systems forever. I for one cant wait for the launch in 2015.

For more information about HFC's Fire Risk Assessment or our upcoming Fire Alarm Analysis products, please e-mail us, call us on 01327 227166 or complete an enquiry form and we will get back to you.