Making noise for fire safety

Health and safety | September 2018

aerial view of busy and noisy cafeteriaNoise and fire safety can be linked: here’s how we helped a client with the audibility of their fire alarm voice address system

Ensuring prompt evacuation from a building in the event of a fire is top priority in fire risk management. This can involve overcoming a number of complex problems – especially in multi-storey, multi-tenanted commercial buildings. Overcoming these challenges requires specialist knowledge of a range of noise and fire safety issues.

A number of fire alarm systems in these types of property include a public-address voice alarm (PAVA) system, to give verbal instructions in the event of an emergency. These verbal systems ensure that evacuations are completed in an appropriate manner based on the type and location of the emergency.

Challenge

Our client, a leading multinational professional services company based in Canary Wharf, had identified a potential audibility issue with the PAVA system in their staff restaurant. Our brief was to assess whether this could be heard and understood, and that it met the requirements of the relevant British Standards for noise and fire safety.

What we did

Our specialist noise and fire safety consultants worked together to identify the extent of the problem and identify a number of possible resolutions.

Noise survey

We began by conducting a noise survey (including creating a sound contour map) of the area where low audibility was claimed to be an issue. Liaising closely with our client, we built-up a detailed understanding of the dynamics of the area, and when peak ambient noise levels could be expected.

Our measurements were made using a calibrated integrating sound level meter, weighted to the hearing range of the human ear, to meet industry standards and best practice. We also took measurements of the PAVA broadcast (without background noise) to establish the difference in the sound pressures.

As part of our report we provided a sound contour map, and our measurements identified that ambient noise during peak times meant that the PAVA system would not broadcast throughout the whole area at a level that could be easily understood.

Further investigation

Our noise and fire safety consultants interviewed affected members of staff, and established that a number of the speakers for the PAVA were mounted above the ceiling panels. This reduced their audibility, while the system was not fitted with ambient noise sensors (that adjust the volume based on the background noise) and were not set at a high enough volume to meet British Standards

“As System Concepts’ specialist noise consultant, I am normally brought in when clients are seeking to reduce noise levels. However, in this case it quickly became apparent that the opposite was required. Working in collaboration with our fire consultant on this project proved highly effective, delivering a successful outcome for our client.”

Brian Bunning | Senior Consultant | System Concepts

Benefits

Our report offered a number of alternative recommendations in order to resolve the client’s issues. These independent recommendations allowed them to make a decision that best fitted their business, from a practical as well as a budgetary perspective.

As this case study shows, complex health and safety issues often demand more than one type of specialist – in this case, experts in both noise and fire safety were needed. Engaging a consultancy like System Concepts enables your organisation to access all the expertise it requires from a single team, providing confidence that you are protecting your people and your wider corporate reputation effectively.

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