Fire safety critical in healthcare

Issue 2 2020 Fire & Safety

Healthcare organisations have a lot on their collective plates when it comes to running an efficient service. With lives at stake during the course of their daily operations, it can be easy for these organisations to overlook security issues in favour of more pressing demands.

And while some security issues may get their fair share of attention, such as access control, others are unseen and, preferably, never needed, such as fire safety. When it comes to fire safety, however, this is the one area of security that is critical, especially in large environments where there are always many people coming and going, and staying. This is especially true when those staying may not be able to evacuate when an alarm sounds. One only realises how good or bad your fire detection and suppression systems are, as well as your fire procedures, when there is a real emergency.

Of course, fire safety is also the one area of security in South Africa that is subject to a number of standards and which has authorities with enough bite to force compliance.

Michael van Niekerk.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to Michael van Niekerk, CEO of ASP Fire, as well as Ian du Plessis and Terrance Niemach from Sperosens (instead of naming the two individuals in the rest of the article, their comments will be attributed to ’Sperosens’) about the status of South African healthcare with respect to fire safety, as well as what these organisations should be doing to ensure compliance and the safety of staff, patients and visitors.

The key for these organisations, according to Van Niekerk, is to ensure they are able to evacuate everyone safely in the event of an emergency. Due to the nature of healthcare facilities, ‘everyone’ means those who are able to evacuate themselves and those not able to. Those unable to include bedridden patients in hospitals, the old and frail in nursing homes, as well as the mentally handicapped who are in state care and can’t make the relevant decisions in an emergency situation.

With this in mind, Sperosens notes that healthcare facilities in the private sector are focused on fire safety and ensure the right measures are in place, among other security concerns. However, the public sector services require urgent attention.

What is required?

When asked what healthcare facilities need to do to ensure they are ready to deal with any fire and related emergency, Sperosens summarises by saying, “Where applicable, rectify and install equipment and systems as legislatively required, as well as install and implement verification management systems and procedures to monitor the readiness of fire safety equipment and installations.”

Van Niekerk expands on this, noting that there are different aspects to a complete fire protection installation. Starting out, he says you need to pick up a problem as early as possible in order to allow those who may be bedridden or otherwise hampered in their movements enough time to evacuate or be evacuated. This means detecting the fire or smoke before it becomes a major event.

It’s also advisable to ensure that the building is compartmentalised, or segregated into areas that can be protected from fires in other areas. He says making sure fire doors are installed and are not kept open all the time for convenience is a good starting point, as is making sure they are intact. This also gives those areas that are not in immediate danger a bit more time to evacuate.

Van Niekerk points out that compartmentalisation is also critical when it comes to fire suppression as these solutions can be expensive and facilities can limit the need to use all their suppression systems at once if their compartmentalisation is done correctly. Compartmentalisation allows, at least temporarily, a fire to be contained to specific areas.

The facilities in question also need to determine which areas require more or longer protection than others. As an example, a heart operation can’t simply be stopped as soon as the fire alarm goes off so the staff will need to know what their options are and how long they will be safe. This, of course, relates to the preparedness of staff and their knowledge of the appropriate processes in an emergency: who is evacuated first, via what route and who will ensure everyone is accounted for, and so forth.

Solutions to meet the budget

There are many impressive detection and suppression systems available in the market today. With budgets always a consideration, Van Niekerk advises that sprinkler and water suppression systems are reliable and cost-effective options for large areas – except where the water will cause additional problems. Gas suppression systems are reliable and effective, but the costs increase as there may be specific design and storage costs involved. He suggests gas be used in specific scenarios, like operating theatres, server rooms and so forth, while water sprinklers are sufficient in other areas.

Van Niekerk does note, however, that there is no set rule of where water or gas systems (or others) should be installed; each organisation and facility, and even each department will need to assess its risks and make the appropriate decision. Moreover, he notes that fire systems need to be installed by professionals to ensure they function properly and don’t interfere with any of the facilities’ other infrastructure. And he notes that regular, planned maintenance of the installation is critical, perhaps even more important than the initial installation.

Sperosens agrees, noting that fire systems must be installed and maintained in accordance with the periods and scope described in the national standards to which it was designed. Some of these are:

• Sprinklers: SANS legislation and ASIB rules.

• Gaseous installations: SANS 14520.

• Fire water reticulation: SANS 10400-W.

• Smoke ventilation systems: EN 12101.

• Emergency generators: SANS 8528.

• UPS systems: SANS 62040.

• Emergency lighting: SANS 0114-2.

Furthermore, they say regular inspections are also non-negotiable. The timeframes for these vary, depending on the type of equipment and legislated servicing schedules. Van Niekerk additionally advises a weekly test to ensure everything is up and running.

Who is to blame?

South Africa is rather adept at the blame game, or rather not holding anyone responsible for anything, but in the fire safety market there is definite accountability for ensuring your systems are adequate, working and up to standard. In short, the chief executive officer (CEO) or managing director (MD) of a company will be held accountable if he/she has not taken the necessary steps to ensure fire safety.

Sperosens agrees, noting that, in accordance with the Building Standards Act, the building owner is responsible for the fire safety of a building. If a building is rented by a company, the CEO is responsible for occupational health and safety of the building, which inter alia means that the CEO must ensure the presence of fire safety systems for the building. Costs are subject to the contractual agreement between the building owner and the tenant of the building.

Who should you hire?

Healthcare facilities, and any organisation looking to install or refresh their fire safety systems, can’t simply rely on any person or company to do the job. As noted, the fire safety market in South Africa is regulated.

Van Niekerk says a qualified and certified service provider needs to be retained to do the job, from design to installation and ongoing maintenance – and this includes upgrades or refreshes of existing systems. While many companies would opt to do the maintenance themselves, he notes that not all have the required skills to manage this, and they often let things slide without strong leadership. ASP Fire offers turnkey solutions to the fire safety market, from design, engineering and installation. In short, Van Niekerk says, “Whatever the customer requires.”

Sperosens casts more light on this, noting that persons maintaining fire safety systems should comply as follows:

• Hydrant, hose reels and fire extinguisher technicians must be qualified as per the SAQCC and work in a quality controlled company in accordance with SANS 1475.

• Gas systems, fire detection and alarm system technicians must comply with the SAQCC qualifications.

• Fire detection technicians should understand the activation functions of the detection systems including lights, door releases or closers, smoke ventilation activation, air-conditioning control, etc.

• Sprinkler system maintenance technicians require ASIB competence and certification by recognised training institutions and must understand sprinkler systems and related requirements.

• Smoke ventilation systems should be serviced by appropriately trained technicians that understand the electrical, electronic and mechanical requirements of smoke ventilation installations as stipulated in SANS 10139 and by the FDIA.

• Extraction hoods in kitchens should be serviced by technicians that comply with SANS 1850.

• Signage is also part of the fire safety system and should be maintained by a person trained and that complies with SANS 1186.

• Emergency lighting should be serviced by electricians that are trained in SANS 10114-2.

Sperosens also offers a full solution to the fire safety market, with qualified engineers to calculate, design and install fire detection and suppression solutions. It also offers IoT-based measurement systems to remotely measure and monitor a variety of parameters (including safety), as well as equipment performance in industrial installations and large high-risk campus environments.

For more information contact:

• ASP Fire, +27 11 452 2169,,

• Sperosens, +27 12 665 0317,,


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