Remove the fire risk in older buildings containg asbestos

fire group (Large)The HSE estimates that up to 500,000 commercial, industrial and public buildings built before the year 2000, are likely to contain asbestos in some form. This means that anyone aiming to improve the safety of the building by installing a wired fire detection system themselves, which requires chasing cables into the fabric of a building, faces the risk of exposing the asbestos.  EMS Radio Fire & Security’s Ray Puttock explains how wireless fire detection systems can help alleviate the need to penetrate the building fabric, which, in turn, reduces the risk, cost, time and hassle of dealing with asbestos.

Widely used in the 1960s, facilities and building managers are now faced with asbestos as a challenge when refurbishing existing buildings from this era. This is an ironic challenge – in making the building safer, an installer faces the risk associated with the potential piercing or removal of asbestos within the building fabric.

Asbestos is a known risk. According to the HSE it has caused around 4000 deaths each year. Asbestos is found in several forms within the building fabric and a fire system installer is likely to come across one or more of these when working on an older building, depending on the age and extent of the system required. There are three main types of asbestos still found in buildings – blue asbestos (crocidolite), brown asbestos (amosite) and white asbestos (chrysotile), blue and brown being the most hazardous.  Asbestos can be found in a number of building materials such as asbestos insulating board (AIB) and perforated AIB ceiling tiles.

If work is being carried out to install a wired fire detection system within an older building the consultant engineer and installer will both know all too well the need to survey for the presence of asbestos. When work commences great care and a planned course of action is required to prevent dust, instead keeping the asbestos wet and ensuring the work area is clear of unnecessary human presence. However, advances in fire detection and protection technology actually mean there is a way to avoid the need to pierce or penetrate the building fabric at all – the risk, cost and the time consuming nature of asbestos removal is, itself, removed.

A radio-based, wireless fire detection system does not require the same building fabric penetration in order to install it. In fact a wire-free system is the ideal retrofit solution in any number of applications, because it significantly reduces the time, cost and disruption of installation. For facilities managers, building services engineers, building owners and installers, it is important to consider the need for legislative compliance when selecting a wireless solution. EN54 part 25 covers the standards expected of radio controlled fire safety equipment. The FireCell from EMS is one system that has been developed to exceed these requirements, providing the ideal alternative for retrofit installations.

A fire system controlled wirelessly uses bi-directional radio links instead of electrical cabling to communicate across a whole building or even multiple buildings.  Decision makers should look out for products that offer full analogue addressable fire detection that incorporates industry-standard sensors. Individual devices should be powered by separate battery packs to ensure each device communicates with the controllers using secure, fully compliant, dual frequency signalling.

With no need for cabling whatsoever, there is no need to drill into the building fabric. This not only removes the risk for the installer, but also reduces the installation time and cost of fire-rated cabling.

Although new buildings are designed and constructed without the use of asbestos, the risk of disturbing asbestos in buildings pre-1999 is still significant. Selecting a wireless approach not only removes the risk associated with asbestos for installers and building users who may be present during installation, but also reduces many other challenges such as downtime, high costs and damage to a building’s overall look and finish.

For further information on EMS Radio Fire & Security’s FireCell System visit