Article by Deon van Zyl, Managing Director of Brigit Group.
The fire industry gets introduced to new products on a regular basis. There are always new suppliers that launches exciting new products, while the market become more aware of pricing. But does the end user really get value for their money? Unfortunately, the market does not always receive the correct information on approvals and certification.
What is the difference between product compliance and correct product approvals?
Any product can be proven compliant based on a white paper or self-assessment within in-house test laboratories, but this does not mean the product is approved. Product certification is an industry requirement and clearly indicated in SANS14520; SANS10139 & SANS246. It should be communicated to the industry and the end user that no product should be open for distribution or installation without the correct approvals.
Product certification can only be applied to a product when issued by an accredited Certification Body backed up with the correct product certification mark of approval, based on accredited Test House testing, test reports and ongoing assessments. This certification process is necessary to ensure the product is independently tested and approved and continually meet the requirements of the relevant standards. Do not be fooled with the word “Compliance” or “Certified” if not accompanied by approval certificate from an accredited Certification Body. Approved products have to carry the registered trade mark of approval with traceability to the approval body and approved.
“Fire detection and alarm systems are safety, life-saving products”
Independent, third-party certification of the system and its components is mandatory in most countries to ensure it performs as expected in an emergency situation. In many countries the use of certified products is a requirement for valid property insurance.
The majority of recognized manufacturers, for example CTEC, have invested heavily in getting their fire detection, alarm, control and power supply products, third-party certified to the relevant ‘EN 54’ standards. EN 54 is a group of product and system Standards that relate to fire detection and alarm products and is also a requirement in our market.
Another example is Brigit Systems who have invested a great deal of time and resources to have all their gaseous extinguishing systems BS EN 15004 approved, through BSI, the British Standards Institute, in order to meet the requirements as set out by South African National Standards.
Apart from all components having to be certified against relevant standards, the gaseous system certification requires the fire products to be independently assessed by an approved ‘Test House’ for key aspects of their performance, including:
Mechanical testing – resistance to shock, impact, vibration etc.
Environmental testing – including product performance over temperature and humidity extremes.
Electrical testing – including electromagnetic compatibility, voltage extremes etc.
Software testing – flow calculations on gas systems to calculate discharge time and co-efficient test.
Functional testing – ensuring detectors have the correct sensitivity, that they activate within the correct time frame for different types of fire.
Fire load testing – including class A and B fires based on BS EN 15004 test criteria to ensure the correct design concentration is achieved.
Certification also requires the clear marking and labelling of products with a traceable batch number and a label with reference to the correct documentation, standards and declaration of performance. A great deal of emphasis is also placed on technical documentation to ensure, for instance, that the correct number of devices are designed into an application and that they are fitted correctly to achieve the manufacturer’s specification(s) for example VAD’s, light output and sound output. There are many requirements that need to be assessed and adhered to before the mark of approval can be applied.
As part of the product certification there is also a requirement for regular factory audits by the Certification Body to confirm that a product that is currently manufactured, that conforms to the same level as when it was originally tested and approved. These audits are usually performed bi-annually and can take two to three days to complete. The approval certification also is renewed every 3 years, subject to the manufacturer passing regular audits and is essential to any manufacturer. Certification comes at a high cost, but product certification on life safety equipment cannot be ignored.
Certified products, with a stated, approved specification, allow stakeholders such as architects and building designers to specify a system correctly, calculate standby times, the correct number of devices on a system, detector locations and sounder /visual alarm device coverage.
Gas systems should be carefully reviewed as per the test reports to ensure correct design calculations are adhered to and not based on assumptions. The Standard clearly indicate that lower or higher extinguishing concentrations may be achieved and allowed when validated by the test reports from internationally recognised laboratories and approval bodies. The correct design standard can only be confirmed if the product was tested and certified. Without the necessary test reports and approved certification, you will not have the correct data.
Which Test Houses are approved?
Certification Bodies and Test Houses approved for certifying products to relevant standards like BE EN 15004 and EN 54 are listed on the relevant Accreditation Body’s website. Approved Notified Bodies are listed on the EC (EU Commission) website. The main Test Houses are BRE (also known as the LPCB), Intertek, VdS, BSI, AFNOR, Kiwa Telefication and APNI.
All approved Notified Bodies have a notified body (NB) number – the Notified Body number normally appear on the product label or stamp and its documentation. Using third-party certified products provides everyone in the supply chain with peace of mind and confidence that the product they are purchasing or installing meets the necessary performance and safety criteria.
Questions to ask:
To confirm a product is approved by a notified third-party Test House, you should obtain:
1) Third party certification: – all products tested by an independent & approved third party Test House, for example BRE, LPCB certification or BSI Kitemark.
2) DoP (Declaration of Performance) & DoC (Declaration of Conformity) – these are both self-certified by a manufacturer, but these are NOT approval certificates. Some suppliers will enter the market with a certificate of performance or a certificate with a “type of approval”, but this is not a system approval. Research the Standards that the product is claiming to be approved for, then verify if the product meets all these requirements (for example some companies approve the sounder performance of a combined sounder/VAD to EN54-3, but it is not visual performance to EN54-23, either for reasons of ignorance, cost or perhaps because of poor VAD performance)
3) Test reports – All hardware needs to be tested and design parameters need to be achieved. These parameters will be indicated on the reports for verification of system functionality.
Check the accreditation number or NB number of the Certification Body or Notified Body (Test House) used for certification. Confirm that the body is approved to assess products against relevant standards like EN54 on the Accreditation Body or EC website.
Most Test Houses can perform the necessary tests on products to meet the required standards, however, only a few companies are accredited (and assessed) to actually approve products to these standards.
Most Certification Bodies / Test Houses have a search facility on their own websites where you can check that a claim of approval is legitimate.
Documentation containing words such as “designed to meet the requirements of” or “designed in accordance with” without stating a Certification- or Notified Body (Test House), the certification number or the trade mark logo of certification should raise questions and need further investigation.
It should be our responsibility as an industry to keep our standards high and only used approved products. Do not risk someone’s life to cut costs. Use approved products.
Do not play with fire.