Hospitals 'ignoring' fire safety measures

Hospitals failing to properly maintain fire dampers, industry leaders warn

System Hygienics carried out fire damper checks at the Royal Bournemouth and Poole hospitals

Hospitals are failing to properly service vital fire safety equipment, industry leaders are warning.

Despite guidance and regulations being in place, healthcare trusts are routinely overlooking the importance of properly-working, well-maintained fire dampers, it is claimed.

Located out of sight within a building’s ductwork, dampers prevent fire spreading from one area to another through the air supply system. However, if they are not regularly serviced, they can fail and even a small fire could result in massive damage to hospital buildings, and a disruption to services.

The problem was highlighted recently when the Royal Bournemouth Hospital in Hampshire decided to review its systems.

The estates and facilities team called in experts from System Hygienics, who carried out an indepth survey of both the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and the neighbouring Poole Hospital.

Company spokesman, Robert Cornish, said: “Both hospitals had no record of exactly how many fire dampers they had in the air supply systems. They were also unsure of the location of the fire dampers, what type of fire dampers had been installed, what condition they were in, and if they even worked. As a matter of urgency, both hospitals were extremely keen to locate all the fire dampers and assess their effectiveness.”

He added: “Fire dampers are a vital part of a building’s fire safety strategy. They can prevent ductwork conveying fire from one area to another. Heat and smoke travelling down a ventilation system will activate a thermal sensor to release the fire damper shutter, which slams shut, containing the fire to its point of origin.

Fire dampers are a vital part of a building’s fire safety strategy. They can prevent ductwork conveying fire from one area to another

“Sometimes the dampers slam shut by mistake, which can lead to stuffy rooms. The hospitals were experiencing an imbalance of systems; too much air in one area and not enough in another, a sign that there could be a malfunction with a fire damper.”

The Health Technical Memorandum HTM 03-01: Specialised Ventilation for Healthcare Premises and the British Standard BS9999:2008 Code of Practice for Fire Safety in the Design, Management and Use of Buildings Annex W.1 provide clear guidance that all fire dampers should be tested at regular intervals not exceeding two years. Spring-operated fire dampers should be tested every 12 months and at even greater frequencies if in a dust laden environment.

In addition, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a duty of care on the building owner to take such general fire precautions as will ensure, so far as reasonably practical, the safety of the building and safety of the people within it. Section 17 of this order deals with maintenance of systems designed to control the fire risk and states they should be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.

During its inspection, System Hygienics was able to locate, inspect and assess the dampers, producing a photographic report and providing recommendations for improvements.

Cornish said: “When the exact position of fire dampers is in question, we know what we are looking for. Normally fire dampers are located above an internal firewall, plus, if one has failed and it has dropped, this often leads to a lack of ventilation in the room.

“However, the only way to guarantee you find every fire damper is to comb through the ductwork. We follow the routes physically through the building and locate the dampers visually where they are installed.”

Both hospitals should be applauded for recognising their fire safety obligations and the need for a comprehensive register, prioritising them at that time and factoring them into their budgetary constraints

After assessment of the dampers, they are cleaned, lubricated, drop tested and reset and simple faults such as damaged linkages are replaced.

Commenting on the work in Poole and Bournemouth, Cornish said: “Hospitals are doing their best in difficult times with very tight budgets and obviously their priorities are the health of patients and staff.

“In large buildings which have undergone numerous department relocations, extensions, alterations and renovations over the years, it can be difficult to maintain fire dampers. This is because they are actually quite easy to forget - out of sight out of mind.

“Poole Hospital was aware there had been lots of changes to the hospital over the years and while fire dampers had been installed, they had not been logged. The trust was concerned because they didn’t know what they had or the actual mechanical state of the fire dampers and they wanted us to rectify this situation by carrying out a survey.

“Both hospitals should be applauded for recognising their fire safety obligations and the need for a comprehensive register, prioritising them at that time and factoring them into their budgetary constraints.”

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