The Chief Fire Officers Association has expressed its concern over the high numbers of home appliance fires highlighted in a recent report by consumer organisation Which?.
The Which? investigation identified that nearly 12,000 fires were caused by faulty home appliances between 2011 and March 2014. There were 1,723 faulty washing machine fires and 1,456 faulty tumble dryer fires during this period, together forming over a quarter (26%) of the 12,000 fires’ total.1
The Which? research also suggested that there were higher numbers of fires in products from certain manufacturers. Where safety issues are found with appliances – particularly those which could result in electrical shock or fire – manufacturers are required to issue a safety notice, but tracing who owns an appliance can be problematic unless it has been registered by the person buying it. UK trade organisation, the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA) has set up a website:www.registermyappliance.org.uk where you can register details of appliances purchased from many manufacturers, to ensure that you are notified if an issue arises.
However research by Electrical Safety First found that even where a recall had been issued, more than four million household appliances were still in UK homes, as people underestimate the potential danger associated with the fault, not realising that it may be safety related.2
Andy Reynolds, Electrical Safety Lead at CFOA said: “The shocking numbers identified by Which?demonstrate how essential it is that people are aware of the fire risks associated with faulty appliances. We are working with partners to highlight the issue of unsafe electrical appliances, and to promote safety and information campaigns.
“Key to protecting your home and family is making sure you’re kept up to date with any potential safety issues and product recalls. We would urge members of the public to use Electrical Safety First’s product checker, to make sure their appliances have not been subject to a recall, and to register their appliance with the AMDEA website, or direct with the manufacturer.
“We recommend that appliances are never left on overnight, or when you leave the house, unless they are specifically designed to remain on, such as fridges and freezers. And, of course, make sure that you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, to warn you if a fire does break out.”
On 13 March 2015 the Government asked Lynn Faulds Wood to lead a review of the UK’s system for the recall of unsafe products. CFOA’s response to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills consultation is available at http://www.cfoa.org.uk/consultations/2015/4
Employers and organisations should not just rely on the building plan and layout design when preparing an evacuation plan. This important document needs to be tailored to the specific requirements of the workforce.
The introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places the onus on employers or organisations to ensure that everyone, including those at additional risk, such as the disabled, vulnerable and the mobility impaired, can evacuate safely in the event of a fire or emergency evacuation.
A fire risk assessment needs to be conducted to identify any potential hazards. Once the issues have been identified, the next step will be to source the appropriate solution to accommodate the building its residents. The responsible person will need professional advice to establish what is required, this will involve a site survey and evaluating each floor in order to determine the most suitable equipment; the rational for each floor being evaluated is to avoid the operators having to make repeat journeys reusing the same piece of equipment over an excessive distance and re-entering the building. Complex buildings such as heritage or ex domestic will need special consideration due to building restrictions that could impede safe and timely evacuation. When considering evacuation equipment, staffing levels and the operators ability to use correctly must be taken into account, for example the staffing level in a care home can vary during the day and night time – night time being when there is less staff, with this in mind, the evacuation procedure must be able to function at all times and cannot endanger the residents.
In order to comply with legislation, a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) or general emergency evacuation plan (GEEP) needs to be devised by the responsible person.
A PEEP is tailor-made to secure the safety of a specific person in the event of an emergency evacuation and must be drawn up with the individual so that the method of evacuation can be agreed. The PEEP will detail the escape routes, and identify the people who will assist in carrying out the evacuation and training.
The plan should be regularly tested during evacuation drills to ensure that all staff are aware of the procedures and are competent as well as capable of using any evacuation equipment. A copy of the relevant PEEP should be distributed to everyone involved and be filed accordingly.
In buildings used by the general public or places of work with a transient workforce, a GEEP is required. These are focused on visitors to a building who have a disability or mobility impairment and may not be able to evacuate a building unaided. They help the individual become familiar with the building layout, evacuation procedures and the equipment. The designated responsible person needs to ensure there are adequate procedures, staffing and equipment in place to facilitate everyone’s prompt and safe egress.
When devising an emergency evacuation plan in a public access building, where mobility impaired or disabled people have access, a PEEP would not be sufficient. The responsible person would need to devise a GEEP this will cover the same points that are outlined in a PEEP, but needs to be as practical and robust in order to accommodate everybody; essentially ensuring you are prepared for any eventuality.
Below is a checklist of all the areas that need to be covered when compiling a PEEP/GEEP
- Identify all persons that may require assistance, which includes people who are temporarily impaired
- Ensure all evacuation procedures are made visible with notices for those that may require assistance
- Regular drills and a system to test methods should be implemented; the person to be evacuated must also be informed so they are aware of their involvement and when it will be required
- All class 1 medical devices need to be maintained on a regular basis
- Ensure the PEEP is developed with the person who will need assistance during an evacuation and those assisting
- All PEEPSs will need to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they are still current and suitable (a person’s situation may change or a building layout may alter)
- The PEEP needs to be recorded and filed accordingly
2. A GEEP needs to be in place for all visitors to a public building
3. Ensure all evacuation procedures are made visible with notices for those that may require assistance
4. Ensure everyone involved with assisting receives adequate training and is provided with the relevant information on the building lay out; it is also essential
that these people have an understanding of equality and disability awareness.
5. Regular drills and a system to test methods should be implemented
6. All class 1 medical devices need to be maintained on a regular basis
All GEEPs will need to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they are still current and suitable (a person’s situation may change or a building layout may alter)
The Health & Safety At Work Act 1974 (also referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA) is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK. To comply all members of staff who would be expected to use evacuation equipment i.e. an Evac+Chair must have documented training and certification to demonstrate competency in their ability to use the chair. Training methods such as e-learning or watching a DVD in the use of complex pieces of equipment may well be found to be inadequate due to the physical nature of the product which requires hands on experience and training. Failure to ensure adequate staff training could result in criminal and civil charges against the responsible person. Similar to First Aid training, it is recommended that evacuation training be updated, a minimum, every 3 years.
The fire is out, the whole fire detection and alarm system worked perfectly. The fire service attended and may have already left. Yet there’s a room on your site that, because of the fire, is fatal to enter. You have no way of knowing and are sending occupants back in to a potentially deadly situation.
The reason is carbon monoxide (CO), a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas which, in sufficient concentrations, can cause serious brain injury and death. CO is generally recognised as an unwanted by-product of malfunctioning or incorrectly ventilated commercial and domestic fossil fuel burning appliances. However, it can also be generated following the combustion of specific materials during a building fire. As such it should be considered as a contributing factor in fire associated deaths.
CO affects the haemoglobin in the blood. It is highly toxic above 35ppm and the effects are cumulative over short periods of time. You don’t have to spend time in a room with high concentrations to be affected. Simply inhaling small quantities of CO can adjust blood chemistry to potentially harmful levels and repeatedly visiting an area containing the gas compounds the effect. The way CO affects the body means it is very easy to be quickly overcome by the gas, and as a result, serious injury or death can occur.
Currently, under European standards, there is no requirement for CO detection to be included as part of a fire detection system. In America, the story is very different and a spate of both fire and non-fire-related incidents have led US authorities to push for CO detection to now be included in most commercial buildings both new and old. This mandate has led to a change to their standards including setting out how these devices should be connected to, reported on, and managed by a building’s fire system.
It is my belief that the EN world cannot be left behind and must embrace the changes American standards bodies are making by translating them into our own guidance. “Hang on” you may say, “CO detection has been part of commercial fire detection and alarm systems for many years” and you’d be right, but these specialist devices are strategically placed in suitable areas to detect a fire, in the same way a smoke or heat detector is used. They have much higher sensitivity settings (looking for low concentration levels measured in parts per million PPM) than those required for CO life safety detection, which is the case we are discussing here.
The CO detectors used for life safety (let’s call them CO-LS to avoid confusion) look for much higher (gas) concentration thresholds to indicate danger to life if inhaled. They were traditionally standalone devices but are increasingly being integrated into domestic standalone smoke alarms as ‘combination smoke CO (fire/life safety) alarm devices’. Currently, the US standard only mandates commercial CO-LS detection in sleeping areas and, or, where CO can be produced and accumulated. These areas include newly constructed day care centres, lodging and rooming houses, hotels, dormitories and apartment buildings, with some exceptions. The roadmap for mandated sites is growing and it’s clear that the direction of travel is for CO detection to become part of the commercial fire system specification.
Given that CO-LS is now commonly installed as part of the fire system in the US, but has a very different function (i.e. not to detect fires), the NFPA 720 standard for CO detectors was recently updated to mandate how CO-LS detection interfaces are reported and managed on the fire system.
In the US, Trouble is a synonym of our Fault, while Supervisory relates to something like warning or pre-alarm.
NFPA 720 requires: “CO alarm signals to be distinct and “descriptively annunciated” from fire alarm, CO supervisory and
CO trouble signals. Furthermore, the CO alarm signal should take precedence over supervisory or trouble signals. The actuation of a CO detector or system should be distinctly indicated as a CO alarm signal. “CO detector trouble signals must be indicated visually and audibly at the control panel and supervising station. Therefore, the CO detector must have a means to signal trouble conditions to the control panel, such as a sensor failure or sensor end-of-life signal.” This means that when CO detectors are connected to a fire panel, they need to be handled differently. The reporting of CO detection is elevated above the other signals the fire panel may action and must have its own distinct warnings. Crucially CO is no longer reported as fire alarm but as its own distinct ‘Life Safety’ category. Again the direction of flow is away from dumb conventional devices to intelligent CO-LS management as part of the fire system.
It may be hard for us in Europe to hear, but the NFPA standards often lead the way for the industry. If nothing else, the US market is the world’s biggest and regional codes, such as in NYC, are among the strictest anywhere. UL is an aggressive and growing standard which anyone selling EN devices outside Europe will need to be aware of.
It’s worth noting that UL is also ahead of EN in the methods used to wake people from sleep, with several States mandating the use of 520 Hz audio tones, often in conjunction with CO-LS detectors. This will also arrive on our shores eventually and we should act now, but that this is an article in its own right.
In my opinion we need to act now to get CO for life safety included in the EN standards for fire systems as soon as possible, because it is the right thing to do for the future of the EN standard, but mainly because it will save lives.
It’s also worth noting that CO Fire detector standard EN54-26:2015 was published earlier this year. This means that any CO fire detectors on the market must be in accordance with this within 48 months (typical) and BS 5839 only refers to CO for fire detection.
There doesn’t appear to be any work items in CEN or ISO on this topic and even if it were accepted and work started today, it would be unlikely that a CO-LS standard would be out with mandatory product conformity until 2019 at the earliest.
The better news is that there have been discussions between CEN/TC72 and CLC/TC 216 which have led to a joint working group to draft European standards in this area. While we may be somewhat behind our American colleagues, the EU is starting to catch up.