Fire safety equipment: Internet buyer beware!

Fire safety equipment: Internet buyer beware!

A personal view, by Keith Minster, sales manager UK & Ireland, Morley-IAS-by-Honeywell

Keeping your head above water in difficult economic times makes for some tough decisions on expenditure across all aspects of the business. And this is especially true for smaller companies in such areas as retail or hospitality, where standard operating margins are tight.

In recent years, the rapid growth in online sales has in large part been due to the fact that a wide range of products and services have become available at much cheaper prices than if purchased on the high street or via a wholesale distributor. The success of this alternative route to market is that in most cases there is little or no downside risk to buying on the Internet, as long as the purchaser ‘does their homework’.

However, when it comes to buying fire safety equipment, the old saying ‘caveat emptor’, or buyer beware, becomes critical. End users can often buy reputable brands on the web at extremely cheap prices. And with cost a key driver in what for many will seem a grudge purchase – unavoidable yet adding little to the business – the idea of buying as cheaply as possible and perhaps getting a local electrician to fit the system may superficially look very attractive.

As with any purchase, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Yet unlike other expenditure, the risks of getting it wrong are great: the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) places a clear accountability with the ‘responsible person’ in the end user organisation to ensure that any life safety system, including the designer and the installer of that system are both competent and the equipment utilised approved by a third party. And, as any quick Internet search will show, the courts have not been afraid to come down hard on businesses of all sizes who failed to comply with the regulations.

So what does this mean for a typical end user? First, the responsible person must be able to prove that they have purchased an approved product and be able to show where it has been acquired from. For example, second hand or pre-used equipment bought on the web may appear to have third party approval but lack the manufacturer’s warranty and is unlikely to satisfy the regulator as to its origin.

The designer, installer and maintainer of any system must also be able to demonstrate that they have the necessary professional competence and skills, from both the relevant manufacturers and the FIA. A designer, installer and maintainer with an independent accreditation such as BAFE SP203 will be able to demonstrate competence at all levels ensuring that all the component parts are compatible and that the system is suited to the environment in which it will be used. It is therefore essential that the end user must always check the credentials of an installer to ensure these rigorous requirements are met.

The answer is that there are no short cuts where life safety is concerned. Purchasing direct from a manufacturer or accredited installer is likely to be the safest way to stay on the right side of the law.

However, the Internet is simply a route to market just like any other and it is possible to purchase fire safety equipment and source installation specialists on the web. However, it does bring with it certain risks and a purchaser adopting this route must carry out the necessary checks on both the equipment and installer.

Should any problem arise which puts lives at risk, the building operator will not be able to hide behind an electrician or maintenance engineer unless all these checks are in place. In the eyes of the law, the buck stops firmly with the end user. It is up to the buyer to ensure that they choose a supplier which can offer the most robust level of fire protection and installation. With an approved product and accredited installer you are buying more than just the fire alarm; you are also acquiring expertise. This is the only way for the end user to firmly guarantee the efficiency of the system that they have purchased.

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