This article looks at the difference between a general electrician or electrical contractor and a third party assessed fire alarm and life safety contractor (engineer).
Following the Grenfell Tower disaster, the government is in the process of creating a new building safety regulator. Dame Judith Hackitt was appointed to lead the investigation and provide recommendations on reform. The purpose of the review was to ensure that the industry has sufficient, robust regulatory systems and residents feel that the building they live in is safe and remains so in the future.
This means that new legislation and guidance is coming into force to ensure that high standards of fire safety are upheld throughout the construction industry.
As fully qualified Fire Alarm Engineers, Midland Fire Security frequently tender for contracts big and small and one debate still occurs – even in an industry that already has strict regulations. Should I hire a dedicated fire alarm contractor or an electrical contractor?
Its 2020, Why is this issue still being debated?
Looking from the outside in, the answer should be “Yes! – the safety of building occupants is paramount so I need to make sure the fire detection systems are adequate and meet current regulations”, unfortunately even in 2020 this isn’t always the case.
Electricians are not trained in BS5839 Part 1 2017 unless they take specific training
Luke Sillito from Midland Fire Security Services Ltd sheds some light on the problem “From the 20 years we have spent in the industry, we have been awarded several maintenance contracts where a recent installation does not comply with BS 5839. Quite often this occurs when the main contractor is a general electrical contractor and awarded the contract for the entire project – but has not received formal training in fire alarm installation. A common issue we see is that fire proof cables have not been used between the main supply and the fire detection system, this means that the detectors could stop working in an emergency. A fully qualified fire alarm engineer would know that this is a requirement. Of course this is not always the case, many electricians hold a formal qualification in fire alarm engineering but generally speaking electricians do not receive training specifically on BS5839 Part 1 2017 unless they take specific training”.
EN 16763 and minimum levels of training
As new legislation is being adopted throughout the EU and the UK meaning it has never been more important for Electricians in the Fire Alarm Industry to be fully qualified. European Standard EN 16763 states that a level 3 qualification is the minimum recommended to work as a Fire Alarm Engineer. Although this is not mandatory yet, the standard specifies that those working on a system should be qualified to at least a Level 3 on the European Qualifications Framework.
Midland Fire Alarm Engineers have received level 3 training or are in the process of receiving training so that we fully comply with current and future legislation. At the start of the year Tom Chadwick, a Midland Fire Engineer was caught in the act, completing his course.
Specific Design Considerations
Fire Alarm System Design requires specific design considerations and planning to ensure that a fire is detected quickly in an emergency.
A good example of the depth of knowledge required to design fire alarm systems is the category system.
Fire alarm engineers must have a detailed understanding of different system types so they can specify the right system for a particular business.
It is required by law that fire alarm systems at business premises are fit for purpose. This includes ensuring your system falls into the correct category. There are 8 individual fire categories as defined in BS5839 that a competent fire engineer must understand. Typically this level of training is only offered on fire-specific training courses.
Whole system integrity
A well-known advocate for electrical safety – ‘Dan The Engineer’ has a YouTube channel where he discusses this issue in some detail. For those of you that don’t know, Dan the Electrician is a Fellow of the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) who spent most of his young career working as an Electrical contractor with a Fire Alarm Engineering bias. Having worked ‘both sides of the fence’ he sheds some light on the difference between BS7671 and the requirements of BS5839 Part 1 2017 for fire safety.
Probably the biggest point raised by ‘Dan The Engineer’ is that in order for a fire alarm system to be fully compliant. Main contractors must work more closely with suitably qualified Fire Alarm Engineer to ensure that the system meets the requirements of both BS7671 and BS5839. In turn, this ensures that the correct level of due care and attention is applied throughout the whole electrical system.
Does your contractor have the right third party accreditations?
So how do you know that your Electrician is a fully qualified Fire Alarm Engineer? There are several third party accreditations that help show competence within the industry. For example – The NICEIC approved contractor status for electricians states that all approved contractors must have a copy of, and work to the latest IET wiring standards – But this is not fire specific. So what about Fire Alarms?
Ensuring your fire alarm engineer is competent
Well regarded in the UK, BAFE is an independent register of quality fire safety providers with the aim of ensuring fire alarm installers are competent and working to the latest standards.
BAFE develops schemes, which are sets of competency criteria, that UKAS* Accredited Certification Bodies use to assess companies providing specific fire safety services. Companies can be assessed for their competency providing fire and life safety services.
In order to achieve BAFE certification, a contractor must have met the strict quality audit process, ensuring that they are a competent fire alarm provider. So if you are looking for an indication that your electrician knows what they are doing with fire alarms – Look for the BAFE logo.
So what is the best option for my project?
When choosing a main supplier for electrical installations it is vital that they work closely with a suitably qualified Fire Alarm Engineer or a dedicated life safety sub-contractor in order to ensure the correct standards are adhered to throughout the system. Fire Alarm Engineers should be involved in the system design process to ensure the right category of system is specified and installed correctly.
If you are looking for a contractor to design or maintain your fire safety systems, make sure you choose a specialist fire alarm engineer who are accredited by BAFE like Midland Fire Security Services Ltd with the right experience for your project.
Need some advice on your next project?
We are here to help answer any questions you have. If you are a main contractor looking for qualified fire alarm engineering subcontractor or a company looking for a specialist please get in touch.