Risk Insider: George Browne

The Value of Testing and Maintenance

By: | December 7, 2015

George Browne, CFPS, has a B.S. in Fire Protection. He is Manager of Training Services for Global Risk Consultants. He manages fire protection services, and develops and delivers training programs for clients on an individual basis. He can be reached at [email protected].

When fire protection equipment is installed, the expectation is that it will be reliable and function properly to detect, report, control or suppress a fire. After the installation is completed, the systems are turned over to the property owner and the owner is responsible for ensuring the reliability of the systems.

There are various recognized standards, often contained in the local fire codes, which establish the requirements for inspection, testing and maintenance of the different types of equipment.

These standards are based on the types of equipment that has been installed, the potential failures that can occur, the consequences of the failures and the need to reduce the probability of the failure of the equipment.

An example of this is fire sprinklers. The NFPA consistently reports that sprinkler systems operate in 93 percent of the fires large enough to activate the system. As good as that sounds, it means that in 7 percent of the fires, the sprinkler system fails to operate.

What is astonishing about that number is that the single largest cause of the failure – 66 percent – is that the system has been shut off. Ensuring reliability doesn’t get any simpler than making sure the system valves are open so that water can flow to the activated sprinkler heads.

What is inspection, testing and maintenance?

Inspection is typically a visual examination of the system to make sure it is intact, does not show signs of leakage or damage or having been tampered with. This is the simplest part of ensuring reliability and is usually the most frequent requirement of the standards.

Ensuring reliability doesn’t get any simpler than making sure the system valves are open so that water can flow to the activated sprinkler heads.

Testing is just that, a functional test of the system. It is usually done without taking the system apart and the components whose failure have the highest consequences are usually tested more often.

Maintenance is the repair or replacement of parts. Some of these parts will be replaced because they were found to be defective during inspection or testing. Other parts will be replaced on a prescriptive schedule usually found within the standard. Once again, the more critical the failure of the part, the more frequent the needed maintenance will be performed.

Inspection, testing and maintenance also includes keeping records of what was found during the work. Beyond being a requirement of the standards, it is a valuable tool to allow you to track the performance of the systems and identify problems within your systems. Identifying leaking sprinkler pipes, the recurring failure of alarm devices to operate or the functional failure of systems interlocked with the fire protection systems may indicate larger problems with your fire protection equipment.

Inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection equipment improves the reliability of the equipment. It helps to minimize the potential of a failure and it helps protect life and property.

This article is the second in a series of articles discussing the various approaches to property loss prevention programs.

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