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EN 54-2 and -4 were originally published in 1997 after a very long gestation period. For an almost equally long time, efforts have been made to review and update both standards. Now there is a glow at the end of the tunnel and the standards will shortly be released for enquiry.
Unfortunately there is still work to do getting final agreement between technical experts across Europe. More comments and disagreements will lead to a further development phase before final publication. More will be known once the enquiry is complete.
Third Party Approval
What are the pros and cons of these new updated versions? What has changed? In the UK one of the big changes in the whole fire equipment arena is the compulsory third party approval of all fire detection and alarm (FD&A) equipment. Some European member states have had this situation for many years but since the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) came into effect it has been clear that it is mandatory for all FD&A equipment to be third party approved in order for the products to legally be placed on the European market.
Product certification can be costly, typically £50K-£150K for a single panel which may be sold in relatively small numbers. To avoid expensive re-approval costs, UK representatives have argued to minimise any retesting and re-certification with the new standards. However, it is likely that some re-testing will be required because the EMC standard has been updated and a new environmental assessment standard is now used to specify the environmental tests.
It is unfortunate that while third party certification of fire products should mean improved quality and reliability, it can also hinder innovation and enhancements.
To comply with CEN rules it was necessary for both EN 54-2 and EN 54-4 to be completely redrafted. This was a torturous exercise but it did cause the working groups to review and challenge the content of the standards. As mentioned above, every effort was made to not require technical change of existing products but it did allow some updated thinking to be introduced into the standards.
At the last review of EN 54-1 a change was made to the application of EN 54-4. Originally EN 54-4 was intended to be used for power supplies of control and indicating equipment (CIE) only. Now it should be used for all FD&A equipment that needs or incorporates a power supply. For CIE there is therefore no real change but various new optional power supply formats are specified, which should allow more effective power supplies for voice alarm equipment and alternative alarm system topologies. Requirements are now included for non-integrated power supply equipment, (PSE), integrated PSE with external outputs, integrated PSE without external outputs, distributed PSE and PSE controlled by software and related technologies.
The current version of EN 54-2 can be quite difficult to read because it is necessary to refer to many different parts of the standard to understand exactly how each function should operate and hence comply. In restructuring the new draft standard some things are more complex - for example the reference numbers of each clause now run into 5 or 6 levels - but some things are much more logical - for example all of the requirements for a particular feature are collected together under one sub-clause.
One of the changes proposed for EN 54-2 is to remove the current reference to “options with requirements”. Under CPR rules optional features are not allowed. The current EN 54-2 has core features and options with requirements.
CEN TC72 considered two extreme solutions to this problem. One was to strip out all the options and only specify the core requirements. The alternative approach was to include all the options within the standard and this approach was chosen. A manufacturer is able to declare ‘no performance determined’ (NPD) against specific performance characteristics for which there is no legislative requirement in the manufacturers chosen market segment. The Declaration of Performance (DoP) for a product is the key document where that declares the features and performance of a product. The forward and introduction to the new draft EN 54-2 explains that it is expected that all CIE should comply with clauses 4.1, 4.2.1, 4.3 and 4.4, but that all of the other 4.2.x clauses can be declared NPD if the manufacturer so wishes. This is very important for specifiers to be aware of because in the UK it is normal for fire alarm systems to comply with BS 5839-1 or BS 5839-6 for commercial and residential properties respectfully. Both standards require certain features of the CIE that are not required in some other markets in Europe so may not be provided by a manufacturer who does not have the UK as its main focus.
For example a fundamental requirement of all BS 5839-1 fire alarm systems is a zonal display showing which zone an alarm signal originated from, together with the provision of a zone plan that enables the fire and rescue service (FRS) to identify where the zone is located in the building. A zonal display is only one of some alternatives in EN 54-2 - so it is possible to purchase a third party approved, CE marked CIE that does not have a zonal display, and therefore would not comply with BS 5839-1.
The FIA has provided Guidance for Specifiers of Control and Indicating Equipment explaining details of the available options and their applicability to FD&A systems recommended in BS 5839-1.
Getting the specification right
To ensure that a CIE and PSE have all of the features required by legislation, codes or the customer’s requirements, a specifier must ensure that the features required are listed as present in the DoP for the selected product. NPD means that the feature is not present. Although a feature, such as delays or dependency on more than one alarm signal may not be included in the original specification, they may be required to reduce unwanted alarms as a result of experience on site.
For many customers the issue of unwanted alarms is felt to be a question of using a ‘good’ supplier and also that lower cost equipment is likely to be worse than more expensive or more sophisticated products. There is some truth in this but experience has shown that less than 20% of unwanted alarms come from equipment issues and over 80% are related to activities within the protected premises. It is possible to screen out many unwanted alarms by appropriate filtering or selecting products that are less susceptible to the phenomena that is causing the alarms, but it should be remembered that making a system less sensitive or introducing filtering is likely to delay the response to a real fire, and so it is necessary to proceed with caution.
However, it is important to realise that there is always a reason for all unwanted alarms. Unwanted alarms don’t ‘just happen’ and therefore it is possible to reduce unwanted alarms by careful recording and analysis of all actuations. BS 5839-1 makes it quite clear that this is the role of the premises manager. The FD&A supplier and service organization(s) can and should assist in the analysis of records and the selection of modifications but BS 5839-1 states that if the premises manager is making no effort to reduce unwanted alarms, the system is not compliant. So the effectiveness of an operational system is down to the management of the facility as well as the quality of the product.
Both the government guidance to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, (FSO) and BS 5839-1 stress the need for competence in the people and organisations involved in the provision of FD&A systems. There are two possible ways to identify competent organisations. The first is by personal recommendation and the second is by third party approval.
BAFE SP203-1 is a certification scheme that allows fire alarm companies to demonstrate competence under the FSO. It has been slow for such schemes to have an impact in the UK market, but at last there is evidence of an increasing number of companies seeing the value of third party approval as a differentiator while more customers are insisting on third party approved contractors, to provide reassurance that the system will be fit for purpose in meeting the objective of the FSO - that is to make premises safe.
Too good to be true?
There is an old adage that says the best things are worth waiting for. Let’s hope that it will not be too long to wait for the revised EN 54-2 and 4 and third party approved fire alarm systems that are correctly specified, installed and maintained by third party approved companies. Maybe then we will have the situation where the fire alarm systems operate when they are tested and when there is a fire and not at any other time. Already many fire alarm systems that do that and by applying focused management and methodical record keeping coupled with competent service providers we should expect all systems to achieve this result!
17 September 2021
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