New advice issued last month makes it clear that all fire dampers must be tested annually in order to comply with BS9999:2017. For some facilities managers, this represents a new area of responsibility, as Martin Hembling of Swiftclean Building Services explains.
13 February 2017 | Martin Hembling
In the past, facilities managers have been given little or no record of where fire dampers are installed; many have been unaware that they were there at all.
What do I need to know?
Fire dampers are essentially metal louvres that must be installed wherever ventilation ductwork crosses a fire-resistance rated internal wall or curtain. Normally, they stay open to allow airflow, but in the event of fire, they shut automatically to compartmentalise the building, buying valuable time to evacuate the building.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order it is a legal requirement to test fire dampers at regular intervals in accordance with fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings code of practice (BS:9999 2017), using a method known as 'drop testing'. Previously, under BS:9999 2008, fire dampers were categorised according to their type; a small number needed to be drop tested only every two years; now all fire dampers must be drop tested and cleaned annually.
Healthcare properties have an additional regulation, the Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 03-01: Specialised ventilation for healthcare premises Part B: Operational management and performance verification. In care settings, a fire damper testing routine will usually be agreed with the local fire prevention officer.
Laying the groundwork
First, discover how many fire dampers the property has and where they are. In buildings with internal fire-resistance rated walls and mechanical ventilation systems - hotels, hospitals, schools and care homes - there will many fire dampers, at least one per room.
The next task is to determine if they are installed correctly. We have seen far too many installed incorrectly - and seen an alarming number propped open with various improvised methods - beer bottles, bits of wood, and string, for example. Any incorrectly installed fire dampers must be reinstalled correctly before testing.
Once they are located, you can devise an annual testing schedule in compliance with BS:9999 2017. But you may have a second challenge to overcome in accessing the fire damper to test it. We repeatedly find fire dampers that have been installed with no nearby access point to allow cleaning and testing. In many cases, we can retrofit access doors to allow testing and compliance with BS:9999; but not all. In some buildings, once the ventilation system has been installed, walls, false ceilings or even stairs may have been installed - rendering ductwork inaccessible. Compliance could involve extensive remodelling, or it could mean that it is just impossible to achieve compliance in some parts of the building, which could have serious implications for your buildings insurance.
Avoiding access problems
In future, FMs will also be responsible for compliance with TR/19, the main guidance document for ventilation ductwork hygiene, issued by the Building & Engineering Services Association (BESA), as well as BS:9999. If you can influence the design stage of a building, you should advise constructing the ventilation system in accordance with TR/19 guidelines, specifically referring to section 3 Design and Access to the Internal Surfaces of the Ventilation System, to ensure access to ductwork and fire dampers.
Evidence of compliance
You must document your drop testing and, where required, cleaning and maintenance, to demonstrate your compliance. As the person responsible for the property, you should be able to prove, in the event of a fire or a visit from a Fire Brigade fire safety compliance officer, that you have complied with the law. If you can't do this, you could be prosecuted for negligence and, in the most serious of cases following a fire and failure of fire dampers, get a custodial sentence. We advise getting photographs of before the test, the closure of the drop test and the reopened damper after the test. It is good practice to have photographic evidence of compliance with TB/001, the guidance issued by BESA.
Martin Hembling is sales and marketing director at Swiftclean Building Services