How to apply best practice fire-safety standards to shopping centres

20 July 2017
Turnkey fire-safety solutions provider ASP Fire can assist with shopping-centre design to ensure it complies with minimum or best-practice fire-safety standards.
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PreviewMenlyn Mall. Multi-storey malls with inter-connecting floors increase the risk of a fire spreading. Pic courtesy of Shopping & R972.88 KBDownload
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ASP Fire not only supplies and installs the necessary fire-protection equipment, but its technical maintenance teams provide ongoing support for the maintenance and repair of existing fire-protection equipment. “We can even reinstall systems that do not comply with the appropriate standards,” CEO Michael van Niekerk highlights.

Shopping centres pose a different fire risk to traditional buildings as they have multiple tenants within a complex single structure, all with varying fire loads and hazards, combined with a large number of members of the public. Multi-storey malls with inter-connecting floors increase the risk of a fire spreading if they are not equipped with adequate or fully operational fire-safety equipment.

“ASP Fire has completed a number of risk assessments in shopping centres, either at the request of a single tenant, or at the request of the property owner and managing agent. These have ranged from multi-storey buildings to single-storey strip malls and high-rise buildings in the centre of Johannesburg,” van Niekerk reveals. ASP Fire has also completed fire-protection plan designs for tenants and property owners, both for existing and proposed shopping malls.

The National Building Standard and Building Regulations Act prescribe minimum fire-safety requirements for all buildings, including shopping centres, as per the SANS 10400-T fire-protection standard. However, most shopping centres do not fit the generic building type contemplated in the standard, which means that a ‘rational design’ approach has to be adopted in accordance with the BS7974 framework.

Shopping centres are also often ‘green’ buildings. Here the requirements fall into two broad categories. Firstly, the SANS XA standard requires a building to be energy-efficient. The use of insulation materials that are not fire-retardant, or which do not comply with SANS 428, increase the fire risk. Large glass windows or door-separation elements within a building that are not fire-rated will not prevent the spread of a fire or hot smoke.

The use of organic materials, either in the construction of the building, or in the decoration of the walls or shops within the structure, increase the fire load, which may result in a rapidly-developing fire, a very large or hot fire, or a fire that produces a large quantity of smoke or toxic gases. All of these factors need to be taken into account in terms of the safety of shoppers.

Some of the latest trends in terms of fire-prevention strategies for shopping centres are very-early fire detection, and the compartmentalisation of shopping centres using lightweight fire-rated dry walling. “The prevention of any fire remains the most effective strategy,” van Niekerk cautions. Here the inclusion of fire-safety elements in the electrical system design and high-piled storage layout are essential to an effective fire-protection system.

In addition, the regular maintenance and monthly inspection of fire-safety equipment is often more important than installing the correct equipment in the first place. “All too often we come across a well-designed and installed fire-detection system that is either switched off, or that has been disabled, with several fire and fault alarms showing on the control panel,” van Niekerk adds.

Weekly tests of fire-pump or sprinkler-alarm valves are not carried out. “Fire-protection systems are an anomaly inasmuch as they are critical to life safety, but they are only used or needed when there is a fire. They are largely ignored for the most part, and often forgotten by key personnel in shopping centres,” van Niekerk notes. ASP Fire provides a monthly service to ensure that fire-safety equipment is inspected and tested, and that any defects are attended to immediately, so that the systems are always available in the event of a fire.

Looking at the differing obligations for tenants and property developers, van Niekerk explains that the former must be aware of their fire-safety obligations when signing a lease. Once in a shop, they must inspect and test their fire-protection equipment regularly. Tenants must also practice evacuation drills regularly to ensure that all exits are unblocked and can be opened quickly in the event of an emergency.

Property developers, on the other hand, need to ensure that shopping malls are designed, constructed, and equipped in accordance with the minimum fire-safety requirements. They need to carry out regular checks on tenants to ensure that the storage and stacking in shops complies with the permitted limitations, and that the fire-protection equipment is installed and readily available for use.

“Shoppers should familiarise themselves with the layout of a mall, and take careful note of emergency escape routes, especially if they are visiting for the first time, or if they have very young or elderly people with them. We all tend to ignore fire alarms in shopping malls. Shoppers should be vigilant when an alarm sounds, as it may make the difference in terms of the few seconds needed to safely evacuate a busy mall that is on fire,” van Niekerk concludes.


Notes to the Editor
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About ASP Fire
ASP Fire operates across the entire African continent from its Gauteng base, providing professional, accredited fire risk management and support to its clients. ASP Fire designs, installs and maintains a full range of fire detection and suppression equipment suited to clients’ needs. ASP Fire provides a holistic, proactive and preventative fire solution based on integrated fire risk assessment, training and consulting, with the installation and maintenance of fire detection and suppression systems that meet SABS, NFPA, FPASA, FDIA and SAQCC standards.

ASP Fire Contact
Michael van Niekerk
Phone: +27 (0) 11 452 2169
Cell: +27 (0) 83 779 1701
Fax: +27 (0) 86 505 1030
Email: michael [at] aspfire [dot] co [dot] za

Media Contact
Nomvelo Buthelezi
NGAGE Public Relations
Phone: (011) 867-7763
Fax: 086 512 3352
Cell: 083 4088 911
Email: nomvelo [at] ngage [dot] co [dot] za

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