Fixed fire protection systems inspection services provider Automatic Sprinkler Inspection Bureau (ASIB) MD John Goring says the sprinkler fire protection industry would like to provide recognised training within the confines of its own industry expertise and not within a peripheral trade or industry.
He adds that the industry, which undertakes the design, installation and maintenance of fixed fire protection systems, would also like to achieve recognition of its pipe fitters, supervisors, project managers, design personnel and inspection staff.
The greatest challenge faced by an organisation attempting to provide training in the fire protection industry is government interference, states Goring.
“Our industry appreciates and understands the need for regulation; however, the acceptance of a training module should come from within the industry that consents to the training on offer and not an outside body that may or may not be able to determine the value of that training module.”
Goring says the requirements to become accredited by training authorities in the various facets of the industry, such as pipe fitting, supervision, project management and design, can become costly.
He points out that, in the past, the inspection services provider faced a potential three-year recurring bill of R100 000 when the company wanted to have its training courses accredited by the relevant training authority.
Goring adds that the high cost involved in the accreditation process made that process unviable for the company.
Meanwhile, Goring states that the demand for sprinkler system installations is driven by the construction of new buildings. “The stronger the economy, the more construction takes place.
“Sprinkler systems become more predominant as the development of industrial and commercial properties increase and the storage heights within warehousing increase.”
He notes that sprinkler systems are neces-sary for ensuring the safety of people and the protection of property and it is important that these systems are designed and installed by people who are deemed to be competent in that field.
The insurance industry insures billions of rands worth of assets and every fire represents a loss of assets, which impacts on the economy.
“Should South Africa not meet the required international standards for the protection of property and the safety of people through the design and erection of fixed fire protection systems, the country will have international standards, labour and technical expertise forced upon it, either by overseas insurance and reinsurance companies or parent companies, whereas currently, the industry is self-reliant and has the necessary skills levels.”
Sprinkler systems are legislated by the South African Bureau of Standards in the SANS 10400-T deemed-to-satisfy standard Part T for fire protection, which stipulates when a sprinkler system is required.
Sprinkler systems are generally required in, but are not necessarily limited to, basement parking areas larger than 500 m2, buildings that exceed a height of 30 m and have a floor area of 500 m2 or more, occupancies generally classed as J1 (high risk) or J2 (moderate risk) with a floor area larger than 2 500 m2, and occupancies generally classed as J1 or J2 with a storage height in excess of the heights stipulated in the SANS 10287 Ordinary Hazard class.
The Need for Training
“Much of the training provided for the specialised sprinkler fire protection industry is conducted in-house, in almost every facet of the industry, from labour and pipefitters, to draughtspersons and project managers, besides others; however, the competitive nature of the market results in little financial reserves being set aside for this facet of the business,” states Goring.
He adds that the market also does not easily allow a company to train its employees, as pricing of fixed fire protection is forced down to the lowest tender level.
This prevents fire protection installers and equipment providers from expanding and enhancing their operations, which results in companies struggling to fund training and enhance the skills levels of employees.
Further, Goring says a company can only train employees up to the level of expertise that exists within the confines of the company, while there are companies that do not train their employees at all, leading to a higher likelihood that trained employees can be poached by competitors.
The employment of subcontracted labour also prevents the enhancement of tradesmen skills.
In response to this and the requirement for well-designed and installed systems, ASIB provides training courses on the design interpretation of the rules governing fixed fire protection and the design calculation of sprinkler systems.
As a company with no vested interest in the commercial side of selling and installing fixed fire protection installations, it offers a 30-day, ten-part ongoing training course called Sprinkler Design Interpretation and Calculation.
The training is conducted at the Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa’s Fire College in Gauteng. The college is well equipped and features an operational fire pump house and test rigs that enable trainees to gain first-hand experience in the operation of a sprinkler system.
Goring points out that each country has its own standards that have to be met by fire protection system designers and installers.
The UK and the rest of Europe comply with the British Standards Institution’s (BSI’s) BS EN 12845 standard for fixed firefighting systems and automatic sprinkler systems, which outlines their design, installation and maintenance.
In the US, the National Fire Protection Association has codes and standards that are intended to reduce the possibility and effects of fires and other risks. Australia follows the Standards Australia AS 2118 standard for automatic fire sprinkler systems.
“In South Africa, the SABS 0287:2000 for automatic sprinkler installations for firefighting purposes has seldom been used
,” says Goring, adding that he believes the standard is outdated.
As a result, the inspection services provider published its Eleventh Edition Rules, which are based on the BSI standard for fixed firefighting systems and automatic sprinkler systems. The company believes the rules are suitable for the South African environment.
These rules are internationally recognised and are accepted by fire departments, insurance brokers, consultants, prop- erty developers and property owners, he says.
ASIB hopes to achieve the requirements set out in its Eleventh Edition Rules by inspecting all new installations undertaken by installation companies in the industry, which will enable it to ascertain the pedigree of the installation company to help guide the potential user.
The company also inspects existing structures to identify and report to the client any faults that exist within the sprinkler system, which may compromise the installation, should a fire occur.
A clearance certificate is issued by the inspection services provider when a system generally complies with the accepted rules, codes or standards used.
Should a certificate not be issued, it generally indicates that the system is likely to fail during a fire, says Goring.
Companies are graded and this grading may change if the company fails to meet the correct minimum standards. At worst, the company is removed from the listing should they compromise good minimum standards, he adds.
Goring says self-certification in the industry is not an option and independent third-party inspections ensure that the minimum requirements are met.