Dr Jim Glockling brings us up to date on RISCAuthority’s engagement with BSi on the publication of Commercial Watermist Standards and describes emerging insurer challenges with the specification of local application systems.

IN NOVEMBER 2015, I published an article in FRM  detailing our unresolved technical concerns about  the proposed publication of DD 8489-1: 2011: Fixed  fire protection systems – Industrial and commercial  watermist systems. Code of practice for design and  installation, which promotes for the first time the use  of closed ‘bulbed’ heads deployed in large arrays akin  to sprinkler systems.

I will not repeat here the technical details contained  in ‘Mist the Point’ – you can go back and read that for  yourself (pp28-31, FRM Nov 2015), but by way of update I  can confirm that BSi has chosen to ignore our concerns  and in a letter received last week stated its intention  to publish on the grounds of ‘having consensus’ with  other members of the group. While this is immensely  disappointing to us, it has sparked wide ranging  discussions on the subject of watermist, suppression  in general and the role of standards bodies; but we do  now need to turn our thoughts to what this means  going forward for RISCAuthority and its membership.

It is not uncommon for us to disagree with the  contents of standards documents. When our research  reveals problems through shortcomings in guidance,  technical content or simply lack of guidance in certain  areas, we can produce Technical Bulletins and Insurer  Guides. When we, as LPC in those days, discovered  that small test detail changes, such as the thickness  of metal used to make the fire tray, could radically  alter the concentration of gaseous agents required  to extinguish pool fires, we created a Loss Prevention  Standard (LPS) with a revised test programme.

Approval to the LPS gives the insurers greater  confidence that the system will perform when  required to do so. This watermist situation is however  quite different. We are used to, and indeed often  promote, the use of watermist in ‘local application’  and ‘drencher’ type applications (we have researched  and authored the military standards for the watermist  systems that are now protecting many Royal Navy  ships and submarines). But we remain unconvinced  that the technical work has been done to ensure  correct system function of systems employing  closed ‘bulbed’ heads over large arrays. What happens if,  in the future, a significant multi-million pound loss occurs  and it is later found that our ignored concerns were at  the heart of the failure? What responsibilities fall back  on BSi and the individuals of the committee? Perhaps  one day we will find out.

Sticking with the theme of suppression, we are  cognisant of an emerging issue with local protection  systems typically of the types used to protect industrial  equipment in the manufacturing and food processing  industries. I have had the opportunity to review a  number of installation proposals for systems and find  them often devoid of any ‘risk engineering’ . The ‘system’  may have approvals galore, but the design demands  no integration with, or control of, the equipment it is  protecting and there is often no technical justification of  the key parameters selected (such as discharge time).  In most suppression applications, there is a need to  control the environment you are ultimately trying  to protect to give the system the best opportunity  to work – a gaseous system would not be installed in a  room where there was no control of the ventilation or  doors. The principle issues we find are: no requirement to  control fuel (energy), ventilation or conveyancing in the  event of fire; failure to address ‘other operating modes of  the equipment’ such as clean-down, maintenance, and  failure modes (high-risk times); no consideration given  to the thermal performance of the protected item and  its fuels in the determination of agent application times; no justification of the speed of response of  the detection system in meeting the protection  objection; and lack of guidance on the operational  modes and the training requirements for the personnel  on the ground.

There is clearly a gap in the procurement  process that needs filling and we hope to engage  with the Fire Industry Association, the International  Watermist Association and industrial equipment  manufacturers to see if anything can be done  collaboratively to improve matters. In the mean  time, we have republished our three RISCAuthority  watermist ‘questionnaires’, which are available openly from www.riscauthority.co.uk

Share →