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Importance of sprinkler system servicing and tests highlighted by ARMS

Some firms may not be aware of their responsibilities regarding the servicing and testing of their sprinkler system, despite the vital role which it plays in the event of a fire. Dave Tonkinson, sprinkler risk adviser at Aviva Risk Management Solutions (ARMS), has highlighted the relevant rules governing sprinkler systems and advised employers to familiarise themselves with them.

Regular servicing of sprinkler systems is essential

It is important that a company's sprinkler system is regularly serviced, but the frequency of these varies depending on the type of system in use.

Wet pipe systems are typically the most commonplace form of sprinkler and are also often the most reliable, as there are fewer working parts, particularly with town's main-fed systems, as the automatic sprinklers and alarm check valve tend to be the only operating components. Consequently, businesses which rely on this type of sprinkler system are advised under BS EN 12845 to service these valves once per year.

Alternate valve sprinkler systems are charged with water in the summer and with air in the winter. This helps reduce the risk of pipes becoming frozen during the colder months, a problem which Dave Tonkinson warns can have serious consequences for sprinkler systems. If water freezes inside a system it can damage the joints between pipes and could also affect the sprinkler heads themselves, he advised. Typical alternate valve systems, which typically comprise a dry and wet alarm control valve, an accelerator, sprinkler heads and a dedicated water supply system, should be serviced biannually, once during April for the warmer months and again in October to charge the system with air and set up the accelerator.

Sprinkler systems which have their own water supply will require additional maintenance. Diesel engine-driven fire pumps will require a minimum annual service with some manufacturers recommending two maintenance checks per year, a major and a minor service.

It is important that service reports are reviewed by the end user and if faults are advised they be followed up with the maintenance company. This, in tandem with weekly testing of the sprinkler system, can help to identify any faults with the system or its water supply and thus maintain the system in good condition. Dave Tonkinson went on to point out that any remedial work which is required following a service should be undertaken by a recognised sprinkler company and urged end users not to attempt to repair systems themselves.

How often should firms test their sprinkler systems?

BSEN12845 and its accompanying technical bulletins advise that sprinkler systems should be tested once a week, which Dave Tonkinson noted can also often be a part of insurance warranty requirements. By performing weekly tests and recording the results accurately, businesses can ensure that the water pressure in their area has not dropped significantly, thus affecting the effectiveness of their sprinkler systems.

A typical ten-metre high property requires 1,100 and 1,350 litres per minute of water at a minimum pressure of 2.7 and 2.4 bars respectively and if pressure drops below this level, the sprinklers will not perform as well in the event of a fire. Where a drop in water pressure is recorded, businesses should first contact their insurer or their maintenance provider for advice. If the drop is considered significant, system owners should then contact their local utility provider to find out if work being carried out locally could be having an adverse affect on the reading. For instance, in recent years private water companies have been challenged by industry regulator Ofwat to reduce losses through leakage, which has resulted in many of them reducing water pressures in mains supplies.

The water company in question should be able to provide details of whether the recorded drop in pressure can be resolved, or if it is a more permanent issue. If the latter turns out to be the case, more drastic action may need to be taken to ensure that sprinkler systems continue to operate effectively. This could include pump and tank installation, in which a town's mains supply is used to keep the tank topped up.

Whatever the outcome of weekly tests, Dave Tonkinson points out it is far better for a company to be aware of any problem with their sprinkler system so that they can react accordingly to it.

BS EN 12845 lists various other monthly, quarterly, six-monthly etc. checks and tests for things such as flow switches, remote signalling and water supply, and further guidance is available from insurers and sprinkler servicing companies.

There may be additional statutory requirements to keep the sprinkler system serviceable if it was installed to satisfy a Fire Officer's requirements, local authority Act, or to satisfy the Building Regulations Approved Document B: Volume Two for Life Safety.

For further guidance see BS EN 12845.ADNFCR-2134-ID-19731782-ADNFCR