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Is fire damper testing a legal requirement?

Access hatches on ventilation ducts fitted by Airmec


The RRO (Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 tells you that a nominated Responsible Person must ensure that fire dampers are regularly checked, cleaned, tested, and serviced by a competent person or company.

BS 9999: Code of practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings tells you how to achieve that by providing a best practice framework.

Specifically, BS9999 says: ‘All fire dampers should be tested by a competent person at regular intervals not exceeding one year, and to be repaired or replaced immediately if found to be faulty. Spring-operated fire dampers should be tested annually, and fire dampers situated in dust-laden and similar atmospheres should be tested much more frequently, at periods suited to the degree of pollution.’

The regulatory framework also includes:
  • BESA VH001: Fire damper maintenance guidelines
  • BESA DW145: Guide to good practice for the installation of fire and smoke dampers
  • HTM 03-01: Specialised ventilation for healthcare premises
  • HTM 05-01: Managing Healthcare Fire Safety
  • CIBSE Guide M: Maintenance engineering and management
Who is the responsible person fire dampers and fire safety?

The Responsible Person appointed in accordance with the RRO (Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 has a duty to ensure that fire and smoke dampers are kept in working order.

The “Responsible Person” is defined as whoever is considered to be “in control” of the building. This could be:
  • an employer/occupier
  • the owner
  • the landlord
  • anyone else with delegated control of the premises, for example a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent or risk assessor.

While the Responsible Person is likely to contract a specialist testing and fire damper maintenance and repairs company, they still have the duty and legal responsibility. So, choose your specialist partner carefully to ensure they support you in staying on the right side of the law.

How do I know a fire damper testing company is competent?

Many companies claim to be competent at testing fire dampers, but not all are able to demonstrate this competence. For peace of mind, we would recommend you ask the following questions:

What training have their staff undertaken? All fire damper testers should undergo regular training with a competent training organisation certified by a professional fire safety organisation such as the Institute of Fire Safety Manager (IFSM).

What insurances do they have in place? Insurance cover for fire safety work is very specific and provided by specialist insurance providers. It’s worth checking that your contractor has the correct and adequate insurances in place.

What professional organisations do they belong to? The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) produces the industry standards for installing, testing, and inspecting fire dampers. Members of BESA are audited regularly and will be kept up to date with any changes to the relevant standards for fire damper testing and inspection.

How much does fire damper testing cost?

Like any FM task, it depends on the amount of work undertaken.

A main consideration is how easily the fire dampers can be inspected. Are there access hatches in the ducts? Can the ducts be reached easily and what sort of elevating working platforms might be needed?

It may be that an initial investment in installing access hatches is required to remain compliant with the law and best practice. However, in future years the investment will pay off as inspection can be streamlined. Take the long view.

The more information can you give the contractors to help them plan the work, the better. Ideally you will have a current asset register, so you know here your fire dampers are, and records of previous testing.

How often must you test fire dampers?

All fire dampers should be tested annually, and fire dampers situated in dust-laden and similar atmospheres should be tested much more frequently, depending on the levels of dust, grease, and other pollution in the building. Your fire damper socialist will advise you after inspecting the premises.

What if I don’t know where fire dampers are?

You should have an up-to-date asset register as a key part of your overall premises risk assessment. If not, you probably need to revisit and improve upon it, and the records you keep.

In an older building, some fire dampers may not appear in your documentation, and there will be no record of previous tests. That does not mean you don’t have an obligation to find and test them!

In practice, if the asset register you pass to a responsible fire damper testing company does not record fire dampers in obvious places i.e., wherever a fire-rated wall is intersected by a ventilation duct, the testing company is duty bound to inform you of the omission.

In such a case, the least-worst scenario is that you have untested but working fire dampers and need to install the access hatches that will enable you to keep them that way. That is a fairly straightforward procedure that can be undertaken by fire damper testing and repairs specialists.

The very worst case is that you don’t even have any fire dampers or any fire separation between different areas of the building and will need to arrange for installation.

Once aware of such failings, you need to take advice on the best course of action.

Find out more about Airmec’s comprehensive fire damper surveying, risk assessment, testing, repair, and replacement services.

Published: 26 June 2023

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