Common maintenance issues that can cause a smoke control system to fail.

Posted by Tom Archer on 22/04/22 10:00

Inspecting a smoke control system control panelWe frequently write about why it is important to maintain your building’s smoke control systems properly, but less so about what might cause a smoke control system to fail or not function properly when needed if proper maintenance is not upheld. In this blog, we aim to give building owners and operators a better understanding of common issues they should look out for and how they can help keep buildings safe.

Why the maintenance of smoke control systems is important

How smoke control systems keep people safe

Before we get started on what could go wrong with your smoke control system, let’s recap on why properly functioning systems are so important and how they keep buildings and people safe.

Smoke Control systems are considered “life-safety systems”. As the name suggests, they are installed to help preserve lives and protect building occupants from the harm and dangerous side-effects that are associated with smoke. Fire often grabs more headlines, but statistically, it is the smoke that more frequently causes serious injury and death in the case of a fire. In fact, it is estimated that the mortality rate following smoke inhalation ranges from 45% - 78%. Smoke control systems keep common areas such as corridors and escape routes in buildings clear of smoke by venting it to the outside world, thereby limiting the levels of toxic fumes and gases inhaled by occupants, as well as increasing visibility and aiding a quick escape.

Smoke control system testingThe following are common issues that cause smoke control systems to fail - These could either prevent the system from performing at the correct level, operating in the wrong way or in the wrong location, failing to meet the design objectives or preventing the system from operating altogether.

* Poor initial installation of equipment – always ensure you have employed a certified company with a proper understanding of smoke control systems.

* Lack of testing/maintenance and/or no record – without regular maintenance and testing, certain elements of your system could fail and stop it from working properly in a fire situation, even though it seemingly still “turns on” when a quick operational test is done. It is imperative to stick to a regular maintenance schedule.

* Inappropriate operation setup – we frequently come across systems that have been set up incorrectly upon installation by inexperienced companies who do not specialise in smoke control.

* System disconnected or not reset after fault or activation – if possible, always double check that your system has been connected/reset after it has been activated - leaving the system unable to respond to incoming fire activation signals will prevent it from operating effectively in an emergency.

* Inappropriate equipment, e.g. Non fire-rated cables – unfortunately, this is another issue we often come across when inspecting work done by other companies. If possible, double check that the cabling used is fire-rated.

* Batteries well past shelf life – this is a big problem, for obvious reasons. Regular, competent maintenance and tests will ensure that this doesn’t happen. Batteries should be clearly marked when they were last changed and when they should next be changed.

* Improper use of equipment, e.g. smoke extract used for day-to-day ventilation – smoke control systems are not meant to be used purely for day-to-day ventilation, but occasionally we come across buildings where that is exactly what is happening. Some smoke control systems are designed with a dual purpose function, with controls that allow daily ventilation but will be overridden in a fire - speak with our engineers if you would like to investigate this.

* Repairs, maintenance and battery changes not always taken up by customers when they are needed – this is a very dangerous approach to take to the maintenance of your systems. If you have been putting off doing certain repairs, we urge you to get in touch with us and arrange a consultation or engineer visit.

* Misuse of smoke equipment by tenants, e.g. fire alarm disconnected, smoke detectors removed, smoke ventilators forced open – as a building owner or manager, you should check these and educate building residents accordingly to prevent issues in the event of a fire.

* Incorrect advice from unqualified maintenance contractors. Be sure to check that any companies you employ hold the required certifications and accreditations.

* Confusing a smoke test with a service. A successful smoke test will show that your system is working now, but there may be elements within it that are not functioning properly or are reaching the end of their life. Regular servicing is essential.

System not respondingWho is responsible for your building’s fire safety system maintenance?

Under the RRO (The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005), the “Responsible Person” is responsible for the maintenance of fire safety systems in the building – this includes the smoke control systems. You are the Responsible Person if you’re:

  • an employer
  • the owner
  • the landlord
  • an occupier
  • anyone else with control of the premises, for example a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent or risk assessor

If there is more than one responsible person for the building you manage, you must work together to meet your responsibilities collectively. If there is a clear failure of the system in a fire and this was down to incorrect or no maintenance, then you could face heavy fines or even imprisonment depending on the results of the fire. To avoid the possibility of this happening, we strongly advise that you get a professional opinion on your smoke control system maintenance from an accredited provider such as Colt.

Smoke Control Maintenance Requirements and Regulations

For life safety equipment such as smoke control systems, building owners and operators must ensure they are maintained in an efficient state, in full working order and in good repair. This ensures that they will operate as expected in case of a fire and is required by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO). Furthermore BS 7346-8 recommends that you get your smoke ventilation system checked once per year by a qualified engineer and weekly testing should also be conducted. It is your responsibility to check that contractors have the qualifications, accreditations and training to work in accordance with the regulations.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) suggests that the “smoke control system should be maintained by a competent person who is familiar with the fire engineering performance specifications of that specific system”. Also, under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the “Responsible Person” must always keep an accurate record of any maintenance done to the system. In the event of a fire, these records may be requested, for example, to make an insurance claim. Therefore, it is important that you keep a log of all maintenance and repairs to the system.

If you are the Responsible Person for your building, don’t risk finding out the hard way that your systems were not properly maintained or functioning as they should in the event of a fire.

Talk to a Colt maintenance professional today to ensure you have a robust maintenance schedule in place to protect your buildings and their occupants. Call us on 02392 491735

Or email us on for a free consultation.

Topics: service, smoke control maintenance