Millions of rands are lost due to fire damages in South Africa each year. A commercial property fire not only threatens lives but also a business’ assets and ability to continue operating. Therefore it’s imperative for intermediaries and commercial business owners to work together to manage these fire risks with a comprehensive fire safety management policy. Including an automatic fire sprinkler system is a good place to start.
What is an automatic fire sprinkler system?
An automatic fire sprinkler system is a pressurised water supply and distribution system that is designed and built according to specific fire design codes and standards, based on the applicable fire risks in the concerned area. These systems are typically found in warehouses, manufacturing industries as well as hotels and large office buildings.
The main components of a fire sprinkler system comprise water supply pipework and a network of sprinkler heads that activate in the event of a fire, releasing water from the system to extinguish the fire below. Water supplies can be in the form of a public or municipal water supply for small installations, or more reliable, independent water tanks and dedicated fire pumps for larger installations.
Where provided and properly serviced and maintained, a fire sprinkler system can save lives as well as significant damage to property. However, the systems can only function as intended if they are properly designed and installed, all key components are well maintained and tested and serviced on time to ensure its functioning and reliability.
Where fire sprinkler systems are not provided or are only partially installed, a robust risk management programme must be implemented to ensure that fire prevention is the absolute focus at a facility.
Advantages of fire sprinkler systems
Fire sprinkler systems are designed to react promptly and automatically in the event of a fire, much faster than any human, irrespective of time of day or safety concerns. Here are more benefits of a fire sprinkler system:
- Sprinkler systems are automatic and respond at all times. Fire control is therefore rapid and no human intervention is needed.
- Sprinkler systems are fitted with water flow ‘gong’ alarms and will alert occupants /guards of a developing fire.
- Significantly less heat and smoke is generated if the fire is extinguished at inception – this is what sprinklers are designed to do.
- Property damage is reduced. A well-designed system will control a fire and fire/water damage will generally be localised.
- Occupants and fire fighters are exposed to much less danger if the fire is kept in check by a sprinkler system.
- Savings on insurance premiums because sprinkler controlled fires are in the overall majority of instances less damaging than fires that are not kept in check by sprinklers.
- Sprinkler controlled fires reduces the demand for security as it minimises intrusion opportunities.
- Sprinkler systems use significantly less fire water than hydrants, hydraulic hose reels or the fire brigade.
Fire sprinkler regulations to know
In terms of Section 17 of the South African Building Act, the National Building Regulations and Directives, provide “for the requirements with which buildings shall comply in so far as precautionary measures against fires or other emergencies are concerned, including the resistance of buildings against the outbreak and spreading of fires, the protection of the occupants or users of buildings or other persons against fires, the aids or other installations to be in buildings for the combating or prevention of fires and for the vacating of such buildings in cases of fires or other emergencies”.
To comply with the above legislation, it is best practice globally to install passive fire protection, such as smoke detectors in buildings and automatic sprinklers in structures with a high fire load or where such buildings or structures house high-risk exposures. These systems are designed and installed in accordance with proven standards, codes and rules that are based on actual fire tests.
In South Africa the minimum legal requirement for sprinklers are prescribed in terms of:
- The National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act No. 103 of 1977 (hereinafter referred to as the Building Act)
- The application of the National Building Regulations Part T of SANS 10400
- Code of practice
- Automatic Sprinkler installation for fire-fighting purposes SABS 0287
Review insurance policies before a loss occurs
The most important time to review a fire insurance policy and understand the scope of coverage is proactively, before a disaster happens. Businesses should do this at least annually, working with their expert intermediary.