The following is a reprint from the October 2018 issue of Industrial Fire World Magazine. The article has been reproduced in its entirety for your convenience, but you can also read the original by clicking here.
According to a 2002 report by the National Fire Protection Association, an average of 228 fires or explosions were reported in or at petroleum refineries or natural gas plants per year from 1994 to 1998. A more recent April 2016 report uncovered the following statistics:
- U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 37,000 fires at industrial or manufacturing properties each year, with annual losses these fires estimated at 18 civilian deaths, 279 civilian injuries, and $1 billion in direct property damage.
- Structure fires accounted for 20% of the fires, but 47% of civilian deaths, 82% of civilian injuries, and 69% of direct property damage.
- Heating equipment (14% of total) and shop tools and industrial equipment (also 14% of total) were the leading causes of structure fires in industrial or manufacturing facilities.
- A mechanical failure or malfunction was a contributing factor to the ignition of one in four structure fires (24%) in industrial or manufacturing properties, accounting for 23% of civilian injuries and 21% of direct property damage.
Industrial occupancy types have inherently elevated risk profiles due to the materials housed in, and processes conducted at, such facilities. Not only can incidents often have very serious consequences for the property and the people within the facility, but even minor incidents can lead to costly downtime in terms of productivity and financial losses. For example, a 2006 study by automobile manufacturers estimated the cost of downtime in a manufacturing facility to be $22,000 per minute, or $1.3 million per hour.
With so much at risk, ensuring the proper working order of fire and life safety systems in these facilities is a critical operational function that cannot be left to chance. In addition, having increased visibility and insight into what systems are most at risk, and what replacement parts and devices should be stocked onsite to minimize potential downtime, can be challenging at best with traditional paper inspection reporting.
However, technology exists that can provide some advantages in overcoming these challenges and reducing risk and liability profiles. Advancements in mobile devices, the cloud, and software-as-a-service have resulted in various solutions that not only help streamline the inspection, testing, and maintenance process, but also enhance risk visibility and day-to-day operations. But what key factors should organizations consider when evaluating solutions?
The Human Element
People make mistakes; it’s simply a fact of life. Even the most highly trained and skilled professionals are susceptible to bad days. With electronic reporting and field management software tools, you can help eliminate these mistakes. Many solutions available allow technicians access to a complete, detailed inventory of the devices in a given facility, and some provide varying degrees of location tracking all the way up to—and including—interactive floor plan mapping of life safety systems, ensuring no device is overlooked. Solutions with a scheduling and field management component can also help ensure that inspection and maintenance schedules are performed on time, ensuring no service appointment slips through the cracks.
Objective Evidence of Compliance
Objective Evidence of Compliance, from a legal standpoint, refers to fact-based information that can be verified via research involving analysis, measurement, and observation. One can examine and evaluate objective evidence, as opposed to subjective evidence based on opinion or interpretation. Bar-coded inspection systems provide verifiable date and time stamps, meaning that a bar code is applied to each device in a facility so that an inspector must scan it in order to test and record the results. This allows for measurable analysis of technicians’ progress, actions, and thoroughness over a specified timeframe. In the unfortunate event of an incident, this data is invaluable.
Adherence to Codes and Standards
All current versions of the National Fire Protection Association specifically reference that reporting made available to an AHJ via “electronic media” is “permissible”:
- NFPA 10 – Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers (220.127.116.11.1, 18.104.22.168 and A.7.3.4)
- NFPA 12A – Standard for Halon Systems (6.1.3)
- NFPA 25 – Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems (22.214.171.124)
- NFPA 72 – National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (126.96.36.199)
- NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors (188.8.131.52)
- NFPA 731 – Standard for Security Systems (10.6.2.2)
- NFPA 2001 – Standard for Clean Agent Systems (7.1.2)
Some solutions also include verbatim references to the official codes for which devices have failed to meet the criteria, thus providing important insight to stakeholders about why devices failed. However, in order to ensure a good working relationship with the AHJ and benefit from their professional insight, it may be advisable to discuss with them the pros and cons of solutions you are considering prior to adoption.
As just discussed, many currently available solutions provide a wealth of data for analysis. According to the latest edition of the BuildingReports 2017 Fire & Life Safety Benchmark Report
- average inspection times for these systems (from first to last device scan) in an industrial occupancy type building are as follows (HH:MM:SS):
- Life Safety = 01:47:10
- Fire Alarm & Signaling = 01:41:58
- Fire Sprinkler = 01:29:22
- Fire Suppression = 00:49.40
- Security = 01:19:22
- average failure rate for devices in industrial occupancy types:
- Life Safety = 5.04%
- Fire Alarm & Signaling = 3.34%
- Fire Sprinkler = 2.43%
- Fire Suppression = 2.95%
- Security = 6.23%
Some solutions may provide detailed facility- and inspector-level stats for identifying areas of process improvement, opportunities for employee training and coaching, and potential liability and risk.
One factor often not considered in the return on investment for electronic inspection and reporting solutions is the reduction in liability. It’s relatively easy to manually calculate the hourly employee burden and amount of time saved by producing paper reports in the office versus solution-specific costs. However, delivery of paper reports, and the turnaround time to approve and schedule maintenance, can take days to weeks. During that period, inspection companies and facility management professionals can assume substantial liability in the event of an incident. With many solutions, reports are automatically generated and available online once inspections are completed, thus greatly accelerating report delivery and deficiency resolution.
David Spence is Marketing Manager of BuildingReports, a provider of mobile inspection and web-based compliance reporting solutions. He has spent more than four years helping lead the organization’s marketing, advertising, public relations, and content development, including authoring the industry’s first fire and life safety compliance benchmark report. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and has nearly two decades of experience in the marketing field, with almost 15 years focused in the technology sector.