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