Life safety systems – what are they and why you need them?
The Final Report of the Competence Steering Group for Building a Safer Future (October 2020), defines life safety systems as: ‘Any interior building element designed to protect and evacuate the building population in emergencies, including fires and earthquakes, and less critical events, such as power failures.’ In the security and surveillance industry, when we talk about life safety systems we’re generally referring to fire alarms, but also about gas suppression technology as well (more on that later).
It’s based on British Standards
Businesses don’t just get to select their own fire safety systems. Insurance companies will stipulate a certain level of fire protection – using British Standards – that range from Level 5, which is an entry level fire system and is based on localised fire protection, right up to Level 1, which uses the systems to provide the earliest possible warning of fire. When insurers decide what level a premises should have they’re looking at:
- What the site is storing
- If there are any flammable materials on site
- What the building is made from
- The mount of staff on site
So, for example, if a building is made of concrete (never going to combust), and it’s storing chocolate bars (low value, also not going to combust), you might think we’re looking at Level 5. But, if there are 1000 people working on site, it will probably need a Level 1 system in place to be able to evacuate that number of people quickly and safely.
Who can specify the fire safety system’s level?
If a company – such as Zicam – is a life safety system installer, it can’t stipulate the level of fire cover for a site, so it works in one of two ways:
- An insurance company will stipulate the level of cover that’s required and will then specify and produce a quote for that level of cover, or
- The business looking for a fire safety system will go to an external fire safety risk management company who can stipulate the level
It’s a complete conflict of interest for a life safety system installer to specify a system and then design it – an installer less scrupulous than Zicam could possibly stipulate the highest level of cover just to push the price up. Also, we’re not experts in fire risk management, so there could be something like an essential sensor that we overlook and don’t build into the project. Every commercial building has to have a fire safety risk assessment done and every commercial building with more than 30 staff has to, by law, have a fire alarm system; what we can do is look at a company’s most recent survey and design a bespoke system off the back of that.
To integrate or not…
Back to gas suppression systems – these are a waterless fire suppressant technology that are generally installed in high value server rooms where there is a lot of expensive equipment (you don’t want that dousing with water). In my opinion, when you integrate your life safety systems with your other security systems, you instantly increase your business’s level of protection. Where it gets very exciting is when integrated packages are put together, for example, we can zone a site and have cameras in particular locations that work in conjunction with fire alarms, so if there’s a fire in a downstairs office, the smoke sensors detect it, the camera also sees it, flags it and sends another smoke signal and then we could also release the gas suppression system in the server room before the fire even came close to that area – prevention is better than cure!
The integrated systems are becoming more popular for companies of all sizes, not just large, multi-building, high-value sites. There is also the added protection of having an integrated system linked to a remote monitoring station where an operator will verify camera imagery, which sensors from the fire alarm system have been tripped, and then make an informed decision as to whether it’s a true activation and log it with the emergency services. Seamless!
To find out more about life safety systems and how they can benefit your business, why not talk to one of our team today?
Dave Salisbury, Managing Director, Zicam Integrated Security Limited.
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