Choosing a standards-compliant installer

September 2014 Fire & Safety

The fire/smoke and gas detection and/or suppression industry has undergone a radical shakeup in the past few years, with more stringent control over installers being put in place to alleviate substandard workmanship. The bottom line is that the very systems that were selected in the first place to protect person and property, may well be limited in their ability to detect or suppress elements if they are not suited to the environment, or they are incorrectly or inadequately installed. Hi-Tech Security Solutions investigates what standards are applicable to ensure a superior installation.

Laura Swart
Laura Swart

Historically, there has been a lack of legislation until recently, says Laura Swart, owner of Red G Distributors. She explains that the sprinkler system industry took the lead in respect of self-regulation with the establishment of ASIB (Automatic Sprinkler Inspection Bureau) by the short term insurance industry in 1970. The fire detection industry then followed suit in 1999 when the Fire Detection Installers Association (FDIA) was established by a small group of companies. The FDIA’s mission was to provide representation and leadership to the fire detection and gaseous extinguishing division (GED).

She continues that the purpose of the FDIA and GED is to uplift the quality and professionalism within the industry through training and by dissemination of information regarding standards, technology and certification requirements. The FDIA promotes the requirement for third-party inspection on all systems to ensure compliance with the current local standards.

“Over the years, members from the various fire disciplines have approached the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to put a set of standards in place for local use. A representative committee ensures the constructive implementation of these standards. To date, 11 standards have been published locally, from direct copies under licence from British Standards and ISO standards to locally written standards, where no suitable internationally accepted standards were available,” says Swart.

Legalising standards

Duncan Boyes
Duncan Boyes

Duncan Boyes, chairman of the Centa Group and vice chairperson of the SAQCC fire executive committee, adds that in the past the FDIA took it upon themselves to refine the industry and add greater credibility to installations that were being undertaken. The main problem was that the FDIA had no legal status. This means that all its requirements were optional and could therefore not be enforced.

The FDIA approached the SAQCC (South African Qualification and Certification Committee) in 2010 to expand its mandate and assist with a training and certification programme for the fire detection and gas extinguishing systems. The mandate was approved by the Department of Labour in 2011 and the process of setting the skills training levels began. SAQCC-fire is a legal entity and includes SAQCC 1475 (handheld systems) and SAQCC D&GS (detection and gas systems).

Boyes points out that currently only SAQCC 1475 and SAQCC D&GS have been set up. However, as per the requirement of the DoL (Department of Labour), other subcategories could be brought into the system in due time.

The legal mandate given to the SAQCC fire by the DoL is to:

* Set training criteria and structures for persons in the fire industry.

* Ensure persons are trained to carry out their job competently and safely.

* Register and certify trained persons.

* Set a strategy for the subcommittees, and

* Report back to the DoL.

The SAQCC D&GS is a new subcommittee under the control of the SAQCC fire executive committee, set up to legally continue and expand upon the work of the FDIA. This subcommittee has been divided into a detection component and a gas systems component. Persons can be registered under either one or both of these components. As of 1 March 2014, only persons registered and certified by the SAQCC D&GS are permitted to perform detection and or gas installations and maintenance. Registration and certification with the SAQCC D&GS is compulsory.

Each component within the SAQCC D&GS has tiers of competence which are clearly outlined in terms of exactly what a person at that particular level may undertake with regard to an installation. For example, a serviceman may install a system, but he may not commission or design the system.

Boyes cautions that when a system is installed, the customer must ensure that only registered D&GS persons are used to carry out the installation and maintenance work and that a registered designer has undertaken and signed off the design. Furthermore, a registered com­missioner is required to commission a project.

Putting it into practice

Matt Kielty
Matt Kielty

Matt Kielty, CEO of IFS and chairperson of the SAQCC D&GS as well as the FDIA, says that customers need to be aware of the statutory building regulations – SANS 10400, in conjunction with the requirements of SANS 10139. He advises customers to employ the services of a reputable consulting engineer who will be able to guide them in their selection of fire/smoke detection and/or gas suppression systems in line with these two regulations.

In addition, he believes that those installers who have membership of the FDIA will be able to provide customers with the benefit of recourse to standard compliance through the Association in the event of issues arising.

He explains that a tender document for a fire/smoke/gas suppression installation should include the type or category of risk involved. Based on the selected category, that is, warehouse, office, hospital etc., the correct SANS 1-0139 level of protection would be able to be specified, for example, L1 – Life protection system varying through to M, a manually operated system. The tender compiler as well as the tender bidder should obviously be familiar with the SANS 1-0139 requirements.

It is critical to undertake comprehensive background checks on your proposed installer. By employing an FDIA member company and ensuring that their installation teams have the requisite SAQCC level qualifications, many potential issues can be avoided by customers. Not only are quality levels ensured through compliance and registration, but health and safety levels are consequently improved, for an overall lower risk profile.

The SAQCC qualification is indicated by an identity card that contains the holder’s photo, name, ID number, employer’s name and competency level. By asking an installer to produce his SAQCC card, customers will be able to ascertain his bona fides before a job commences.

Kielty says that a 12-month grandfather clause was instituted to allow current installers to acquire their SAQCC accreditation. However, all new applicants since March this year, whether experienced or not, are now required to submit to assessments in terms of their claimed competencies. The ultimate aim is to institute a 3- to 4-year re-testing period, whereby all installers will have to be assessed in their current level of competency. This will be supplemented by further education and training to ensure that all existing and new standards are complied with.

Much work is being done by the DoL and SAQCC fire to ensure safety and professionalism in the fire industry as well as compliance to national standards. The actions of the DoL and SAQCC fire are set to ensure unqualified companies are no longer able to operate and provide substandard work, which creates health and safety risks. Customers are advised to ascertain whether installers comply with the necessary requirements mandated by the DoL in terms of SAQCC-approved installation crews, and while company membership of the FDIA is voluntary, it would benefit both installer and customer.

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