It is no exaggeration to say that AOV systems can mean the difference between life and death. Very few people realise that smoke is a bigger killer than the fire itself. Victims become disorientated in the build-up of smoke, affected by the fumes, which often contain toxic materials. The installation of Automatic Opening Vents to draw out the smoke, therefore, increases the chances of escape – and survival.
As with all safety equipment, it requires careful monitoring and maintenance, including regular testing.
When you test the AOV system, you will most probably be doing this alongside other safety equipment. Advice and guidance on the testing and maintenance of these systems can be seen in documents such as BS 9999:2008, and all AOV systems must conform to BS EN 12101 and bear the CE mark. Any system without this mark may not have passed the rigorous testing and could pose a safety risk.
The recommended testing process is as follows:
- Each week, the system should be checked by a ‘person of responsibility’ to ensure that they are operating properly. Mechanical systems that use fans to draw out the smoke need to be tested to make sure the fans are working. In places where a secondary power source is used (in case of power failure), fuel levels in generators should be checked.
- As well as weekly tests, the system should be checked every month, including a simulated ‘failure’ of the main power supply. In these tests, the secondary power supply should automatically take over and be able to run the system for at least one hour. As AOV systems are, as the name implies, automated, it is good practice to override them and use the manual controls. Any ‘failsafe’ mechanisms should be checked, for example, the opening of an emergency exit.
- In addition to the usual monthly tests, every three months – depending on the size of the building – separate zones and floors should be examined individually to ensure each vent and fan is working.
- As well as the usual tests, at the six-month point the system should be checked by a qualified person who will issue a certificate of testing. They should test all actuators, vents, and hinges to ensure they are in good working order, checking each one against a maintenance sheet. All moving parts need to be checked and a manual override test conducted under ‘alarm conditions’. Flow readings should be taken and measured against those specified in the design.
- Once again, the annual test must be carried out by a qualified person. All functions and mechanisms must be checked to ensure they are fully operational and that smoke detection is in line with the design specifications of the AOV system. CO emissions should also be tested and zeroed, with a calibration kit using 50 ppm gas and zero gas.
Not only are these checks common sense and covered by the law, but they may also save lives.