Believing in myths is costing lives and assets in South Africa. In the absence of solid facts about fixed fire protection systems such as sprinklers and drenchers, myths have sprung from nowhere and people believe in them … to their own detriment.
One piece of misinformation to get out of the way first is that a sprinkler system cannot be compared to a drencher system. The first is generally reserved for occupied buildings and the other is for use on transformers, gas vessels, and similar special risks easily understood to mean unoccupied structures.
A big difference between the two is that, with a drencher system, all heads operate at the same time and ‘drench’. In a sprinkler system, each head is individually activated by heat. The applications are entirely different, although there has been a lot of confusion about these two systems.
In South Africa, there are simply too many lives being lost to fire! According to the latest available statistics from the Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa, 376 people suffered fire-related deaths in South Africa in 2007. Although these 376 deaths are not categorised, it is compelling to note that over the past 100 years – an entire century – there have only been about 55 deaths in total in buildings that have sprinklers installed.
Yet, in spite of this undeniable statistic, myths abound which are baseless.
Myths about sprinklers
Sprinklers are a requirement in terms of the National Building Regulations SABS:0400 for most buildings and have been in operation for over 100 years. To date, no better or more effective system can replace it as the number one choice in fixed fire protection. Sprinklers dramatically minimise property losses and human fatalities.
So, when Etana risk management notes these systems to be absent, faulty or incorrectly installed, we assist our clients better to protect themselves and their property by pointing this out to our brokers.
Sprinkler Myth #1: All sprinklers will operate together and damage all my product / stock / goods!
This only happens in the movies! The truth is that each individual sprinkler has its own heat-sensitive element. This means that only when a particular sprinkler head is heated to a certain temperature will it become active. Where there is no fire and heat, there is no water to create indiscriminate damage to products, goods or stock. In practice, without sprinklers to target and control fire, smoke and fire will spread uncontrollably and cause much greater damage to products, goods or stock. Myth Busted!
Sprinkler Myth #2: Sprinklers cause indiscriminate water damage!
A sprinkler system will deposit about 10% of the water that the fire brigade would use on the same sized fire. Due to the rapid response – and individualised targeting – of a sprinkler system under fire conditions, the fire is usually controlled or suppressed as it is just beginning. An average of only two to six sprinkler heads operate for most recorded fires within premises correctly protected by sprinklers. Myth Busted!
Sprinkler Myth #3:Sprinklers leak often and can damage my product!
The internationally accepted – and official failure rate – is one sprinkler in sixteen million. You have a better chance of winning the lotto than having a sprinkler leak. Myth Busted!
ASIB is South Africa’s only inspection body for sprinklers
It is vital that sprinkler systems are inspected. Insurers rely on this and use ASIB (The Automatic Sprinkler Inspection Bureau). Brokers and clients have differing and sometimes negative perceptions about the use of the ASIB as they believe that they ‘write their own rules’ and advocate requirements from their ‘own rules for their own benefit’.
Myths about ASIB
ASIB Myth #1: The sprinkler inspection rules are written by the ASIB
The sprinkler rules are based on internationally accepted codes and standards and are adapted for South African building construction techniques and climatic conditions. The current rules are jointly approved by a committee and are, therefore, acceptable to many international bodies. The current rules that are used – The 11th Edition Rules for Automatic Sprinkler Installations – are based on over 150 years of fire experience and tests. They are internationally acceptable and are in the process of being transcribed into SANS 10287: 2010. Other past rules are the 9th and 10th edition rules. Myth Busted!
ASIB Myth #2: It is unnecessary to have my sprinkler system inspected
In accordance with SANS 10287:2010, a regular biannual inspection is required by a suitably qualified person or company. ASIB represents this. ASIB issues factual reports in order to prevent fire losses. At present, there is no alternative to ASIB in regard to expertise in fixed fire protection in South Africa … regardless of any claims to the contrary.
The current knowledge about fixed fire protection is slim. For over 18 years, ASIB is the only company in South Africa that has run courses in fixed fire protection sprinkler installations. This is the reason why insurers rely on ASIB: they have the proven expertise in this field and it is generally accepted that no other suitably qualified company exists to perform this function as required by SANS 10287:2010.
The alternative is to wait until a fire breaks out to prove or disprove the effectiveness of your sprinkler system … and pray that it works! The inspections are also affordable: roughly about R2000 for two inspections a year. A bargain when compared to the alternative! Myth Busted!
ASIB Myth #3: A sprinkler system can be rationally designed or designed to ASIB
A system is either designed to acceptable standards or it is not. It will either work under demanding fire conditions or it will not. There is no such thing as an “ASIB sprinkler system”, only one approved by the ASIB. When designing to duck and dive around regulations, the end result is usually a hybrid system that will not be approved by any authority, anywhere. ASIB represents good minimum fire protection standards with the safety and protection of lives, buildings and possessions in mind. There is no compromise – neither should any compromise be considered. Myth Busted!