Fire protection’s new focus on preservation

by FM Media
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The key changes to the standard for maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment are explained by Fire Protection Association Australia.

The release of a new edition of AS1851 provides significant added benefits for facilities owners and managers; however, understanding the responsibilities and requirements regarding adoption and revised procedures in applying the standard can be confusing.
AS1851 is the Australian Standard for maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment in buildings and a comprehensive revision of this standard has been released, titled AS1851-2012: Routine service of fire protection systems and equipment. The release of AS1851-2012 in December 2012 was the culmination of several years of research, analysis and evaluation of:

  • emerging industry trends and varying regulatory acceptance
  • deficiencies in previous standards and practices
  • public safety outcomes, and
  • cost benefit to key stakeholders.

THE LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK
Despite the release of the new edition of the standard, its use and adoption may not be a straightforward process as a result of the legislative framework that exists throughout Australia. One aspect that is agreed to by all Australian jurisdictions is that fire protection systems and equipment are required to be in a functional state that allows them to operate at all times. That is, they need to be fit for purpose.
Throughout the life of a building, fire protection systems and equipment may only be required to operate infrequently. If they fail to operate as designed, however, a substantial threat to occupants and property may arise. Therefore, ensuring their reliability is critical. Undertaking regular maintenance in line with an industry-wide standard is one way of enhancing the reliability of fire protection systems and equipment.
Despite substantial investment by key stakeholders in the development and refinement of AS1851, the use of the current edition of the standard (AS1851-2012) as the primary reference document for carrying out maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment installed in buildings is not a direct legislated requirement in any Australian state or territory at this time. FPA Australia is, however, engaging with state and territory regulators to close this gap.
In some states, there is a requirement to maintain the performance of fire protection systems and equipment, and demonstrate this annually without regulation prescribing a specific standard to achieve this. In these instances, AS1851-2012 can be applied without creating any regulatory conflict.
By contrast, other states and territories specifically reference a requirement for maintenance to be carried out in accordance with older editions of the standard, thereby preventing the automatic use of AS1851-2012. This limits the adoption of the standard and FPA Australia’s position is that national harmonisation of the regulatory requirements for maintenance is necessary, so that the advantages offered by AS1851-2012 can be realised by all stakeholders.
FPA Australia is aware of the many issues that arise from having an inconsistent national approach to maintenance, and this and other matters associated with the use and adoption of the latest edition of the standard have been documented in the association’s position statement, PS03 Adoption and use of AS1851-2012.

FOCUS ON FIT FOR PURPOSE
Fortunately, facilities managers are not required to understand the standard in its entirety. There are, however, some important elements that facilities managers ought to ensure they are very familiar with, especially Section 1, which describes the application requirements for the standard, regardless of the type of equipment or system being maintained.
Another important point to understand is that AS1851-2012 is a maintenance standard only and that there is no requirement under the new standard for upgrades to any systems. The focus is on demonstrating that equipment and systems required to be installed in a building at the time of approval are performing ‘fit for purpose’.
AS 1851:2012 Clause 1.9 states that “absent elements or components of a system or systems that were not required as part of an approved design to a standard that is now superseded need not be retrofitted and the related routine service activity shall not be considered a defect or non-conformance”.

Fire system maintenance responsibilities

The requirement for maintenance companies to report identified failures to owners and/or occupiers has been significantly strengthened and clarified in the new standard.

UNDERSTANDING BASELINE DATA
To avoid retrospectivity and unnecessary upgrading, it is important to know the performance levels that installed equipment and systems were originally required to demonstrate for approval. Baseline data is a new term for this existing concept. Put simply, baseline data is the minimum performance requirements of any installed fire protection system or equipment installed in a building.
Appendix C, C1 General of AS 1851:2012 states: “Baseline data is necessary to determine the performance benchmarks to be assessed in order to fulfil the requirements of this standard. Baseline data should be permanently recorded and be readily available at the premises.
“Where the baseline data is not available, it should be re-established at the commencement of routine service in order to determine the performance benchmarks required by this standard. Alternatively, the baseline data and performance benchmarks may be established during the first year of the application of this standard.”
This requirement also existed in the 2005 version of the standard, but was not clearly defined. If you do not currently have baseline data for installed fire protection systems and equipment in your building, the Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA) recommends that you:

  • obtain the original building documentation
  • contact the original installer and seek commissioning information
  • contact your local council and seek council information/permits, or
  • generate the baseline data from scratch by diagnostic testing and expert advice – this can be costly, but is likely to be offset to some degree by the advantages AS1851-2012 provides, associated with reduced maintenance frequencies and refined techniques to prevent future failures.

No matter how the baseline data is determined, once the information is known it must stay on-site at the facility. It is the facilities manager’s responsibility to ensure this occurs. It is vital that this information is obtained for the equipment to operate to standard, as this impacts your common law duty of care.
Requesting this information at the commissioning stage for new buildings and for existing buildings will raise the level of respect that is currently shown by all stakeholders to baseline data and help shift some of the cost focus from short-term design and installation costs, to consideration of long-term maintenance costs.

MAINTENANCE RESPONSIBILITIES
All primary regulations for maintenance of buildings around Australia place the responsibility of maintaining performance of fire equipment and systems on the owner or occupier. Any enforcement action taken under these regulations will be on the owner and, occasionally, the occupier. Accordingly, in the first instance, the burden of proof will likely be on the facilities manager if a tragic loss of life was to occur as a result of fire where required systems did not perform as required.
Maintenance contractors’ responsibilities are not referenced in these primary regulations and, therefore, are generally defined by their contractual obligations. AS1851-2012 provides clearer guidance that the scope of the standard excludes rectification and resolution of identified failures. The requirement for maintenance companies to report these failures to owners and/or occupiers has been, however, significantly strengthened and clarified in the new standard. Once failures have been reported by maintenance contractors, owners and/or occupiers are responsible for rectification and resolution in order to meet the primary regulatory requirements to maintain equipment and system performance.
Certification and approval bodies also have a critical role to play in ensuring that approved designs and installations are compliant and deliver required performance. This is critical in relation to establishing baseline data.
Other stakeholders that have an important but less focused responsibility in relation to helping deliver expected maintenance outcomes include designers, installers and insurers. Ultimately, all stakeholders must play their part to ensure that installed fire equipment and systems continue to perform as expected. Put simply, what is installed needs to work.
In addition to legislative provisions, generally speaking, it is likely that an individual or a corporation – such as the owner, occupier, employer or manager – will have a common law duty of care to maintain fire protection systems and equipment to demonstrate that they have met their duty to others under their supervision or care.
A duty of care is typically described as a requirement that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then their actions are considered negligent and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit for negligence.
Maintaining fire protection systems and equipment to AS1851-2012 can be one of the surest ways of demonstrating that a negligent act has not occurred. Therefore, by applying AS 1851-2012, the person is likely to have satisfied their duty of care in regards to their actions towards others and the public.
Where AS1851-2012 is not used due to other legislative provisions, an individual or a corporation may be called upon to defend their actions (non-use of AS1851-2012) in any legal action that calls into question their duty of care.

THE BENEFITS
AS1851-2012 represents a significant step forward for the codification and standardisation of consistent maintenance of safety measures in buildings and, anecdotally, there is strong support among industry and professional practitioners who have considered and reviewed the new standard.
Beyond the benefits outlined above, the new standard clarifies much of the past confusion regarding maintenance requirements with a new table structure that significantly aids in the understanding of requirements and a consistent approach to maintenance nationally.
The new standard also means there is reduced need for interpretations regarding requirements as references to installation standards have now been removed. The focus is on maintaining what was installed and approved originally, and avoiding retrospective upgrades, which is consistent with the lack of retrospectivity in regulatory requirements across Australia. For example, every year when the Building Code of Australia is published, there is no requirement for all existing building stock to be upgraded to comply with it. Retrospectivity is reserved for specific issues in the Australian building landscape, such as smoke alarms and sprinklers in aged care facilities, and is not intended to stretch to maintenance.
The measurement of service provider performance has also been improved with the 2012 edition, with clearer definition of due dates, date structures and tolerances now introduced, ensuring it is simpler to hold service providers to account. Finally, AS1851-2012 features an extension of testing periods for many activities, which will lead to direct cost savings, as well as reduced water consumption.
Individual situations in relation to statutory and public safety duties and responsibilities need to be carefully considered; however, the adoption and use of AS1851-2012 is something that all facilities managers should consider.

For further information on AS1851-2012, download the technical document, PS-03 Adoption and use of AS1851-2012. FPA Australia is also conducting an ongoing series of seminars on the implementation of AS1851-2012. Find out more at www.fpaa.com.au/events.

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