If a fire breaks out in a production facility, its fire protection system needs to function perfectly. Professional maintenance plays a very important role in this. There are serious consequences if the systems fail to work due to lack of maintenance – not least for the operator, who could be held liable. And there are clear specifications regarding what types of maintenance should be carried out when and by whom.
Workplace and occupational safety ordinances and state building laws obligate operators of commercial and industrial facilities to ensure that all fire protection measures are fully functional. This includes not only ensuring that equipment is correctly installed, but also properly maintained.
In practice, the situation is often very different. Fire prevention systems required are often planned and installed in compliance with regulations, but then neglected afterwards. Reasons for this range from cost savings, ignorance and unrealistic risk assessments to a failure to report structural modifications that could impede the effectiveness of the fire protection systems as originally designed and installed. This type of neglect can have expensive consequences: if the operator fails to meet maintenance obligations, the fire insurance provider can refuse to pay in the event of a fire. If that fire resulted in injury or even death, the operator could be held criminally liable.
It stands to reason that fire prevention systems can only fulfil their purpose if they are professionally maintained and kept in proper working order. According to DIN 31051, “maintenance” includes four basic types of activity:
Inspections serve to determine and evaluate the target condition; in the broadest sense, they can be described as function checks. Maintenance includes measures that ensure the target condition is met, e.g. replacement of worn parts and cleaning work. Repairs involve fixing a defective system so that it can resume operations. Finally, improvements are a blanket term describing any measures taken to improve functional safety.
Different guidelines apply to the maintenance and testing of fire prevention systems:
For example, for fire protection system technology solutions provided by the manufacturer and installer WAGNER Group, the VdS 2093 (fire extinguishing systems with gaseous extinguishing agents), VdS 2380 (fire extinguishing systems using non-liquefied inert gases), VdS 2381 (fire extinguishing systems using halocarbon gases), VdS 3527 (oxygen reduction systems) and DIN VDE 0833 (danger and fire alarm systems) guidelines are all particularly important. The corresponding data sheets specify the inspection periods and all actions to be performed as part of maintenance. The manufacturer's maintenance instructions are applicable, as are the guidelines that the operator, the installer, and the insurer have agreed will be used.
As a general rule, it can be stated that the operator is obliged to regularly monitor his or her facility and ensure that all required maintenance has been carried out. This starts with self-monitoring carried out daily, weekly or monthly by the operational supervisor responsible for the fire protection equipment or the fire protection officer – precise inspection plans for each system are provided in their operating manuals. Inspections and maintenance should always be carried out by certified companies. Expert testing in accordance with the building regulations for the facility should be performed by an independent expert from a testing organisation such as VdS, Dekra or TÜV.
Failing to conduct the appropriate expert testing on a system, or to have maintenance performed by VdS-approved installers, is risky. Operators often rely on non-certified companies to perform maintenance. This is problematic because such firms often lack sufficient knowledge about the specific system in question, nor do they have direct access to spare parts for repairs. It is playing with fire in the truest sense – if an operator engages an under-qualified maintenance company and the device then fails in the event of a fire, responsibility lies completely with the operator. In the worst case scenario, he or she would be held directly liable for any damage caused. As such, according to VdS 2038, the Fire Insurance Providers’ General Safety Procedures for Factories and Commercial Premises, maintenance is essential to ensuring fire protection systems’ constant readiness—and failure to perform such maintenance could result in loss of insurance protection.
So it is no wonder that the VdS, for example, recommends that maintenance be carried out by an installation firm approved for the system in question. By engaging such providers, operators set an example, and also ensure that any necessary spare parts procurement will not be a problem. And exemplary fire protection pays off—by protecting people, equipment, buildings and the environment. Having a maintenance contract with a recognised installation company not only guarantees that equipment will be operationally ready at all times, it also ensures adherence to compulsory inspection and maintenance intervals. Such companies can immediately identify and rectify changes within the equipment, thereby preserving the value of the entire system for significantly longer. Another advantage: annual maintenance costs are clear and easy to calculate, as they are specified precisely in the contract.
When it comes maintaining fire prevention systems, the installing company should be the operator’s first choice, because they: