Alarm Bells Ringing

Martyn Keenan, business manager at Gent by Honeywell offers his top tips for complying with EN54-23

The new European legislation, EN54-23, governing the design and installation of visual alarm devices (VADs) was officially implemented in January 2014. The standard essentially acts as a benchmark for the performance of VADs to ensure conformity across manufacturers. Where VADs are used within a fire alarm and detection system as the primary source of alerting people, they must conform to the new standard.

VADs are typically used in settings where sounders are not an effective means to alert people to fires. These applications include large public areas, environments with high noise such as manufacturing plants and engineering works where employees wear ear defenders, care homes or schools, and critical settings like operating theatres.

In the lead up to January 2014 manufacturers of fire alarm devices, installers and designers have undergone significant changes in preparation for compliance. From a manufacturers point of view it has been a three year process to adapt the VADs. More than that, the legislation has had an effect on the way fire alarm and detection systems are designed and installed, with engineers considering a multitude of factors when carrying out the implementation.

All you need to know to comply:

• EN54 as a standard governs fire detection and alarm systems, whereas EN54-23 deals specifically with VADs.

• VADs incorporate the use of strobe lights to alert, for the most part, hearing impaired people of potential fire risks, and as such the legislation has been driven largely by the Equality Act 2010.

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• Only VADs that are the primary means of alert within a fire system must be EN54-23 compliant. The risk assessment, conducted prior to the system’s design, will determine if the VADs are primary or secondary alerts.

• The standard only applies to VADs used in installations from January 2014 onwards.

• VADs are now classified according to how they are installed within a system – wall-mounted, ceiling-mounted and open class. Each of these classes of VAD has specific requirements for the light distribution of the devices and, as a result, must meet the precise coverage volume demands. Previously VADs featured a strobe light; now, however, the light used on the VAD must instead fill the room with a minimum light level in order to alert its occupants.

• The successful design and implementation of a fire detection and alarm system depends on three aspects; selecting the right device for the job, installing it correctly and maintaining compliance. EN54-23 has not changed these objectives, only the methods of meeting them.

• The performance of VADs depends on ambient light levels of the area, the viewing angle of the VAD and the height of the room. Therefore the type of device chosen – for example, wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted VAD – will have a direct impact on the design of the system.

• Determining light levels for ceiling-mounted VADs is done based on a cylindrical shape. The maximum height that these devices can be installed is determined by the manufacturer as 3, 6 or 9 metres.

• Determining light levels for wall-mounted VADs is done based on a cube shape. These devices have a minimum mounting distance of 2.4 metres from the floor.

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• The Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) code of practice contains a comprehensive overview of the standard.

• CPD courses are being run by manufacturers for installers, designers and engineers on the standard, its intricacies and how it affects the development and implantation of a fire detection and alarm system.

• Red and white lights may be used in the EN54-23 compliant VAD. Many manufacturers are offering dual options.

• When it comes to presenting the performance data of VADs, manufacturers are now required to do this in a unified manner to ensure consistency and enabling engineers or end users to more easily compare products.

The implementation of EN54-23 has been a long time coming. While there have been significant changes to devices, design approaches and the installation of fire detection and alarm systems, one thing remains – the purpose of VADs; and that is to save lives and make working environments and public spaces safer.

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