Manufacturers set the standard high for new visual alarm devices

Deryck Sayers, Key Accounts Manager, Gent by Honeywell

Whether contractors are working in the domestic, industrial or commercial sectors, complying with the relevant safety standards are a given for every building professional. In the fire industry, every fire detection and alarm (FD&A) product and each element of the design, installation and maintenance process is governed by a multitude of standards and regulations.

One of the more recent standards, EN54-23, was introduced to the industry early last year to specify the performance of Visual Alarm Devices (VADs). The main purpose of the new standard was to set out the conformance criteria for VADs and as this had never been specified before, the industry was faced with a huge challenge. Not only did manufacturers have to familiarise themselves with all of the complexities and the finer details of the standard, they also had to tackle the glaring issue that there were no products on the market that would actually fully comply.

The new standard dictates that if the VADs are used on a fire alarm system as a primary means of alerting the public, they will need to be certified to EN54-23. The standard has set the benchmark for the performance of these devices so that, regardless of the brand, they can now easily be compared across manufacturers.

VADs are used as visual alerts in a range of applications, with the most common installations being in buildings where there are deaf or hard of hearing people present. For several years, VADs have been part of fire alarm systems, either as beacons or sounder/beacons, to signal that a fire alarm has been raised. These types of devices were historically used to satisfy the Equality Act, and subsequently, it was the updated legislation in the Equality Act 2010 that prompted the new EN54-23 standard to be introduced.

Due to the absence of products unable to conform to the new standard, when EN54-23 came into play, manufacturers of any FD&A solutions that used VADs had to subsequently design and produce a range of solutions. Now, all manufacturers have to present their products’ performance data in exactly the same way, so they can be measured in a uniform manner, and their suitability assessed for specific applications.

Under the directive, VADs are classified into three categories based on their intended application. They can be certified as either a wall mounted device or a ceiling mounted device, and there is also an open class category. EN54-23 dictates that each of these categories have specific targets for light distribution patterns in order to be compliant, and every device has to have a precise coverage volume. In simple terms, the standard specifies both a minimum performance criteria for quality of the electronics (such as water and dust protection), as well as the intensity and spread of light throughout the room space.

The mounting position of the VADs determines the different light dispersion characteristics. Wall mounted devices will require a minimum mounting height of 2.4 metres combined with areas of spread of light. For example, if a specification was W-2.4-15, this device would have a 2.4 metre mounting height and a 15 metre spacing.  Ceiling mounted devices must state the height of the ceiling and need to radiate light in a cylinder, so if the specification code was C-6-16, it would be installed at a ceiling height of six metres and would cover a 16 metre diameter.

Each of these categories also have specific targets for light distribution in order to be compliant, and every device has to state the maximum height and area of coverage for which it would achieve an effective illuminance of 0.4 lux throughout.

In terms of specific applications for VADs, aside from providing a main alert or a secondary alert for deaf or hard of hearing people, they are also commonly used in areas with high background noise, such as factories where people have to wear ear defenders to comply with health and safety legislation. Many construction sites would also consider the use of VADs for the noisier areas or if any workers suffer from a hearing impairment.

Other applications include places where it is just not practical to have a loud noise, such as in theatres during a performance, where flashing strobes would be used to alert employees only, to avoid a potential panic situation from the audience. These visual alerts are also commonly used as part of the FDA solutions in hospital environments, in areas where an audible alarm would be ineffective, such as inside operating theatres.

Since EN54-23 launched, manufacturers have carried out a number of installations of their new VADs and some of these latest products actually go beyond the new requirements. Gent by Honeywell redesigned its range of S-Quad and S-Cubed devices to provide a ceiling and wall solution that exceeds the standard.

Importantly the S-Quad VADs have the same spacing equivalent to that of smoke sensors, removing the need to add any extra devices. This makes the design element more straightforward for contractors, and designers can have the peace of mind knowing it will comply with the all of the latest requirements.

Like every new standard that is introduced, the overriding purpose is to protect lives and property and it is critical that anyone involved in the design, commissioning and installation process is familiar with every aspect of the regulation. The performance requirements may sound complex, however it’s clear that the latest solutions launched to market will provide the ultimate protection requirements.

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