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Compartmentation Testing

Created on Monday, June 18, 2018 and posted in Fire Safety Articles
Compartmentation Testing

Why the industry is failing to comply with ISO 14520

Would you enter a building if you were told as you stepped in that in the event of a fire there was a chance that the extinguishing system wouldn’t put it out because the fire couldn’t be contained?

No! People expect, and rightfully so, that in the event of a fire the extinguishing systems would be in full working order to do just that – extinguish. Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of that room, building e.t.c, then a leak sites in the room could meant that the comparted area couldn’t withhold the fire.

The likelihood of the gaseous system effectively extinguishing the fire gets lower and lower as the protected area becomes larger than the size that the extinguishing system was designed for. This is not a game of chance. The lives of people depend upon it. Enough is enough. The technology exists right now to support Door Fan Testing in providing a holistic and thorough integrity test of critical infrastructure.
Key Facts

  • Compartmentation = fire stopping e.g. walls and floors
  • Every 7 seconds, a fire breaks out, worldwide
  • 700 fatalities caused by fire in the UK
  • £7bn is the cost of fire to the UK economy according to GovUK: every day £3.4m in costs by business disruption caused by fire – £1.3bn p.a.
  • 44% of all insurance claims are caused by fire
  • SOURCE: Aviva Insurance, 2012

Regulatory Requirements un-Ravelled

APPROVED DOCUMENT B (ADB)

The regulations demand that compartmentation is upheld for the safety of the individuals, who entrust their lives into its integrity. Approved document B, Fire Safety, Volume 2, Buildings other than dwelling house states that: 8.0 Every compartment wall should form a complete barrier to fire between the compartments they separate. 8.35 – any stairway or other shaft passing directly from one compartment to another should be enclosed in a protected shaft so as to delay or prevent the spread of fire between compartments. However, despite regulations best effort to promote the implementation of compartmentation and room integrity, the last review of the Building Regulations Approved Document B was made in 2006 (12 years ago) and its next review was not due to be completed until 2022 (which would then be a gap of 17 years), meaning that the attention that is deserved is often disregarded.

  • ADB B3-4 “the building shall be designed… so that the unseen spread of fire and smoke… is inhibited”
  • Appendix B Breaching fire separation “to ensure effective protection again fire, walls and floors providing fire separation must form a complete barrier, with an equivalent level of fire resistance provided to any openings such as doors, ventilation ducts, pipe passages or refuge chutes.”

ISO14520-1:2015(E)

We will lead with some extracts from the regulations which is why this paper argues that the industry is sometimes minimally compliant or even non-compliant due to a lack of understanding of fire systems and their connection to compartmentation. This paper calls for a more holistic approach to fire safety. The author suggests the need for a resident mathematician to assist the industry.

  • 9.2.1.3 The storage container contents shall be checked at least every six months. a) Liquefied gases: for halocarbon agents, if a container shows a loss of agent in quantity of more than 5 % or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 10 %, it shall be refilled or replaced.
  • 9.2.4.1 At least every 12 months it shall be determined whether boundary penetration or other changes to the protected enclosure have occurred that could affect leakage and extinguishant performance. If this cannot be visually determined, it shall be positively established by repeating the test for enclosure integrity in accordance with Annex E.
  • 9.2.4.2 Where the integrity test reveals increased leakage that would result in an inability to retain the extinguishant for the required period, remedial action shall be carried out.
  • A.3.2 Engineered systems: need information and calculations on the amount of extinguishant;
  • Annex F – b) Every 6 months: Perform the following checks and inspections: 5) for liquefied gases, check weigh or use a liquid level indicator to verify correct content of containers; replace or refill any showing a loss of more than 5 %;
    Annex F 6.2.4.2 Means shall be provided to indicate that each container is correctly charged.

The assumptions in these are that gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems do leak. The regulations that underpin the pursuit of them explore their leak identification every 6 months. Gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems however are installed to protect special hazards in critical infrastructure as their key objective. If the hazard is special and the infrastructure critical then this is the case for the constant monitoring of the suppression systems that aim to deliver the protection of them.

To understand how fire resistant a compartment is, an inspection of the overall condition of the existing fire compartments is needed, as well as an assessment of the condition and effectiveness of the sealing of wall/soffit interfaces and an inspection of existing fire seals applied to service penetrations through fire compartment lines. Issues in the quality of compartmentation walls can come from maintenance, minor works and refurbishments. Contractors carrying out such tasks can occasionally destroy the compartmentation integrity of the wall, floor or ceilings if they were unaware that the area is a comparted space (as shown in the below image). Therefore, following maintenance it is “good practice” to ensure the fire resistance of walls, floors and ceilings and to safeguard again if necessary.

Meeting minimum fire standards is not enough

Technology must solve industry problems. Not only to become a successful business in terms of profitability but in terms of sustainability and genuinely offering service to the industry in order to reduce risk, improve safety and hopefully have a small part in saving lives. We have provided a smart solution to quick and easy assurance of compartmentation using ultrasound to detect signal leaking through any apertures within the barriers.

Ultrasonic room integrity testers provide interpretation of the fire resistance of the desired locations, labelling them either airtight or giving an indication of the overall leakage of the room. The advantages of being able to accurately detect the exact leak locations and size are self-evident when considered alongside the resistance to collapse and transfer of excessive heat. In a case where there is too much leakage in a room, the ultrasonic room integrity tester is an unrivalled ideal for the rapid and accurate identification of these sites so that they can be sealed. It is lightweight, fast and easy to use, allowing leak site detection to increase its operational efficiency and speed to a degree that has never been seen thus far in the Fire Industry.

The technology exists right now to solve this problem

In 2018 with the continuing developments in technology there is an expectation that safety should be all encompassing. We cannot let this expectation continue to be a fantasy.

BOX OUT – Case Study: Oxygen Reduction System – Data Centre, England 2018

Oxygen Reduction System and Need for Monitoring: Oxygen Reduction system works by taking Nitrogen from the air outdoors and pumping this into the room consistently in order to suppress oxygen levels, down to the level where combustion can no longer occur. To ensure the system works safely and efficiently, room integrity is of utmost important for two reasons: (1) A properly sealed room will contain the Nitrogen for a longer period of time, therefore putting less work on the air compressor in order to save energy. (2) If Nitrogen starts to leak from the Server Room, there are safety concerns over where this Nitrogen would leak to as it has the potential to harm occupants in other rooms if the Nitrogen leaks into their room and the oxygen levels were unmonitored.

Testing of the Server Room: The Server Room had an area of about 91 metres square. Several areas were tested with an ultrasonic room integrity tester where leakage was probable and the readings were noted on the drawings. These were the doors, vents, cable penetrations and also sections of the wall where gaps were visible.

Results: The ultrasonic room integrity tester identified the main source of leaks for the room, the doors, where full readings were clearly detected. Multiple air vents in the room were also improperly sealed and some leakage was found into the external room. Cable penetrations leading to the area outside the Server Room were also found to be leaking.

Conclusions: Once the required maintenance was conducted and assuming no changes were made to the room, it is safe to assume that the room retains its integrity, thus comply and exceed current ISO 14520 regulations requiring periodic inspections of room integrity whereby visual inspection is usually specified and is not sufficient. The most suitable way to address periodic inspections is through the use of ultrasound.

For more information visit Coltraco.com


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