The short (and somewhat obvious) answer to this question is you walk around and take a look at the premises and sprinkler system. The longer answer is you learn and appreciate the fundamentals of physics and the application of common sense to hopefully avoid a situation like the cover photo illustrates. With over 5 500 inspections conducted by ASIB last year, a common question that gets asked is what does an inspector actually “inspect” when on site?

John Goring, consultant for ASIB often deals with these types of questions when clients are unsure of what happens when an inspection is required. Goring describes the following scenario for context.

“Shoprite is building a new warehouse out on the East Rand. As part of the project Shoprite realises that they would like or need to protect the warehouse in case of a fire they request a fire installation company (hopefully a competent one) to design a fixed fire protection system. The main goal would be to ensure the building is properly protected against fire to protect the building contents and the building from being destroyed. By providing property and content protection, life safety is almost automatically ensured. A secondary goal would be to ensure an insurance company would be satisfied with the installation so that the building could be insured.”

Once a system has been installed in the new warehouse, the sprinkler installer requests an inspection from ASIB to certify the system meets a specified standard. (A note on this: anyone can request an inspection from a client, a contractor or even you reading this right now if you have need). One of the inspectors based in Johannesburg will then schedule a visit to the warehouse.

An integral part of an inspection – checking valves, pumps and water pressure

Upon arrival the inspector will survey the entire building, verifying that the system has been correctly installed to the standard specified by the installer. This involves evaluating aspects of the installation like adequate water supply, suitability of system to risk, orientation of sprinklers, spacing between sprinklers, support of the system, stack heights and method of storage of the building contents and many more facets.

Goring adds “some inspections can be completed in a matter of hours if the size of the premises are small. However, when inspecting a larger building, like the Sasol headquarters in Sandton, an inspector can take several days to cover the entire building or even weeks in the case of large shopping complexes. This is due to sheer number of sprinkler heads that are required to protect a large building and the fact that an inspection has to be carried out manually – technology does very little to assist inspectors in this regard.”

Another aspect of inspections is that it is physical work. An inspector has to walk the entirety of the building, often spending long hours looking up at the ceiling where the pipes and sprinkler heads are situated. It is a physically demanding job, one that most people cannot relate to.

Once an inspection has been completed the inspector will compile a report containing everything he or she has observed and send that report to the contractor and client. While the report can contain a variety of different sections, the end result of the report is one of three outcomes:

  • A clearance certificate is granted to the premises. This means the system has been generally installed correctly to the standard stipulated in the construction of the building and there may be minor items in the report.
  • A clearance certificate will be granted in a follow up inspection, provided certain critical items are addressed. This means overall the system is good however there are items which need to be corrected before a certificate can be granted.
  • A clearance certificate is not granted. This means the system has not been correctly installed and the contractor will need to rectify major issues in the system before a certificate can be granted.

Ultimately, with a certificate in hand, a client can then approach an insurer to cover the building, confident that from a fire risk point of view, the system installed is sufficient to meet the accepted standards of protection.

 

In this series to date:

  1. Why ASIB?
  2. It’s not Hollywood – myths around fire sprinklers