Health & Safety Matters: Fighting fire with facts

New fire regulations emphasise the need for better communication between all members of the ductwork supply chain, says Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the HVCA
LAST year there were 33,400 fires in non-domestic premises resulting in 27 deaths and more than £1billion worth of insured losses across the UK. One in every 100 businesses will be hit by fire this year and many will never re-open.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (FSO) that finally came into force last October has been put in place to try and tackle this unacceptably high level of risk to building occupants. The FSO now places clear lines of responsibility and every organisation using a building must appoint a responsible person to manage and oversee the fire safety arrangements.

There are fines of up to £10,000 and the threat of two years in prison for transgressors and prohibition notices can close a business down if the local fire officer is not satisfied that the right measures are in place.

The FSO puts the main emphasis on businesses providing suitable fire prevention measures and the ductwork sector has a particular duty of care in this area. Too many systems have failed to meet fire safety guidelines in the past - often because of problems at the design stage or the fact that fully competent design and installation companies were not employed to do the work.

There is still no nationally recognised standard for the design and installation of fire and smoke dampers. However, detailed practical guidance due to be launched this October will be vital to almost every member of the supply chain and could not be more timely.

DW/TM3: A Guide to Good Practice: Design considerations for the installation of fire and smoke dampers was written by members of the HVCA's Ductwork Group following detailed consultation with all interested parties from architects to consulting engineers, manufacturers, building control officers and end clients.

For too long, ductwork contractors have struggled to do their jobs with incomplete or inaccurate technical data yet they are usually the 'last man in', and must carry the can when things go wrong.

Often ductwork installers are expected to work to other people's designs having had no input into the testing and specification of the chosen solution. They often work with damper systems that perform brilliantly in laboratory conditions, but do not come up to the mark in real life situations.

DW/TM3 details what information the damper manufacturer should provide to the contractor including the exact dimensions of their product and the likely necessity and impact of having to expand the damper unit to ensure a full fire protection barrier.

Having clear and effective lines of communication between all professions to exchange technical and management data are essential to delivering a safe and satisfactory finished system. The new FSO, which simplifies and streamlines many of the complex rules that were in place before, are just the catalyst the industry needs to get to grips finally with the responsibilities of the many people involved in the process. These can include: architect, client, system designer, main contractor, mechanical services contractor, building control authority, damper manufacturer, ductwork contractor, damper installer, and fire barrier and penetration seal specialists.

This aspect of our work has been hampered by unnecessary complexity in the past, but DW/TM3 is just the tool needed to help us to apply our expertise and provide adequate data to our partners in the supply chain to ensure the system can be designed and installed to help clients meet their legislative responsibilities and provide vital protection for building occupants.

For more information contact Bob Towse on
020 7313 4928 (
1 May 2007


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