In a competitive market, mistakes can be costly. Pressure from time and resource constraints has never been greater, especially in the field of fire performance cables where increasing legislation can be confusing. Here, Graham Turner of AEI Cables examines the issues and focuses on the decision making process
The pace of legislative change and confusion over Building Regulations means the fire performance market is searching for clarity as a blizzard of new products are introduced to meet rapidly changing demands.
Landmark legislation such as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, coupled with increasing pressure to make sure modern electrical systems are integrated into the wider building infrastructure, means there has never been more need to get it right first time.
Meanwhile, the new 17th Edition of the wiring regulations also makes additional requirements for safety services, such as emergency escape lighting and fire protection applications.
The Fire Safety Reform Order has shifted the emphasis of responsibility onto a more risk-based approach, whereby the responsible person - that is to say, the owner, manager or other persons - is responsible for the maintenance of a building or premises.
As such, the responsibility for agreeing to the specification of fire prevention systems and products, including cabling into a building, lies with that person.
If a subcontractor changes the product for whatever reason and something goes wrong - for example, a fire occurs or a fault is found with the cabling - then the responsibility for the outcome rests with the named person.
Other important issues here are ensuring business continuity and protecting property as well as life. The responsible person should check with the contractor that the products installed comply fully with the specification.
There could not be a better illustration of weighing the risk than with those projects associated with The Olympics.
Here, modern electrical systems need to provide intelligence so that in the event of a fire the control panels can continue to work and help emergency services instruct a safe evacuation.
Critical control systems require secure power supplies, perhaps for the duration of a major fire. These systems will be used for safety and security, and stadium monitoring, providing intelligence on a range of subjects, with phased evacuation where relevant. Not only are specific deadlines set on many of these projects, but delays can be very costly to all concerned.
A fire alarm system, for example, should be inspected and tested by those parties concerned together. On major projects, having to strip out cabling because the system is not working correctly, or because the wrong cable has been installed, would mean extra time - and thus cost - to a contractor or specifier, and should be avoided in the first place.
With the correct specification and information, contractors and wholesalers can then spend time more efficiently and cost-effectively delivering and installing the systems that are so critical in major building projects.
The only way to assess the most appropriate products and systems for each project is to consider the specific requirements of each on a case-by-case basis.
To be in a position to make informed decisions, however, we should be aware of all the options available and what is most appropriate.
Major government organisations agree that the most effective way to deal with safety in this sector is to take the wider, integrated approach.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) points out that the primary cause of control system failure in a major study was specification (44.1%), with 20.6% linked to changes in systems after commissioning, 14.7% to design and implementation, 14.7% to operation and maintenance and 5.9% on installation and commissioning.
The conclusion here is that all products should be considered to ensure they are suitable for the system, and that all lifecycle phases should be addressed for functional safety to be covered.
Functional safety relies on the overall safety that in turn depends on a system or equipment operating correctly in response to installation.
The HSE believes a risk-based approach offers significant potential safety benefits as long as an active risk management system is in place, and that functional safety should be adopted if the safety benefits from new technologies are to be realised.
Furthermore, under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 which came into force in April this year, companies face unlimited fines and other penalties if found guilty of corporate manslaughter. It is currently possible to prosecute companies for the existing offence of manslaughter, but it will be far easier to convict under the Act.
For a successful manslaughter conviction under the current law, the prosecution must prove that a director or senior manager - a ‘controlling mind' - is guilty of manslaughter.
In practice, particularly in prosecutions of large companies, it can be very difficult to prove a tangible link between a death and the ‘controlling mind' to secure a conviction. One of the most notorious prosecutions to fail in this respect was that of P&O European Ferries following the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise.
The new offence means organisations will be guilty of corporate manslaughter if there are gross failures in the management of health and safety resulting in death. A substantial part of this failure must be at senior level. Senior level is defined as the people who make significant decisions about the organisation, or at least substantial parts of it. This includes centralised headquarters functionaries as well as those in operational management roles.
The offence applies to all companies, corporate bodies, partnerships (if employers), government departments and police forces. Courts will look at management systems and practices across the organisation, and if these structures cause a death which is shown to have resulted from ‘a gross breach of duty of care' to the deceased, then the organisation will be considered guilty.
The organisation's conduct will have to have fallen far below what could be reasonably expected; juries will have to take into account any health and safety breaches, and how serious and dangerous they were.
While individuals can't be prosecuted for the new offence, they can still be prosecuted for the existing offence of gross negligence manslaughter/culpable homicide for health and safety offences.
Meanwhile, the revised BS 5839-1 (02) for fire detection and alarm equipment includes the requirement that cables for addressable alarms must be - and remain - data compatible but it does not include a specific test to demonstrate it.
Mineral Insulated Cabling (MIC) is the unrivalled fire performance cable for those applications where safety is paramount and the risk too great not to use the best.
It is recognised as the cable of choice for fire alarms, detection equipment and emergency lighting and the risk of anything going wrong is greatly reduced because of its key features:
- its ability to withstand temperatures over 1,000 degrees centigrade
- data transmission continuity during a real fire
- reduced need for maintenance
Add to this its ease of installation and it is easy to see why MIC is a cost effective solution where guaranteed safety is key.
Where risk assessments have been completed and all involved parties agree that an enhanced cable with a lower survival capability than a mineral insulated product can be installed in that particular specific application.
These products are designed for fire performance qualities which are flame retardant, robust and meeting the higher end requirements in BS 5839-1 (02). Where the project can be served with softskin cables which meet the desired criteria of for standard applications, and a risk assessment has been completed involving all parties, then standard cabling is the ideal choice, providing unequalled fire performance to this criteria.
There are many products now available in the fire performance sector and the sheer number and choice can make the selection process difficult, especially with so much legislative change to consider. Ultimately, it is down to each organisation and each person in the supply chain to meet their relative responsibilities and know they are not compromising the safety of others. With expert help and guidance, they can make considered judgements during the selection process, knowing they have made the correct choice without compromising the relevant standards and regulations.