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Servicing and PPM are Dead!

Servicing and PPM are Dead!

Now first off, let me start by saying that, obviously, servicing and PPM are not dead. It plays a very important role in building maintenance and absolutely has its place. What I’ve done here is that annoying thing of using a textbook hook that’s a little outrageous to get you to actually click on this blog to find out how on earth this idiot (me) can possibly justify that servicing and PPM is dead…. So sorry about that.

GCSE English: Ungraded!

This whole blogging thing is new to me and not exactly in my comfort zone (think GCSE ‘Ungraded’ for English). I started a digital building management company that’s all techy and IoT, and I don’t quite recall when I was briefed on the fact that to do that also meant having to become an author, but apparently, it’s important, and the marketing team will tell me off if I don’t, so really, it’s their fault.

On the blogging note, quickly, as you’ll probably have noticed, if you’ve got this far (thank you), is that other than the odd textbook hook to get people to check it out, my blogs will actually be honest thoughts from yours truly. They won’t be super polished marketing weapons, as much as the marketing team won’t like them (other than a proofread, I won’t have them edited at all, in fact). So I won’t be offended if you don’t like them, or me for that fact, there are lots of other blogs out there for you if that’s the case, but I’m more than happy to have challenges and feedback and generally constructive conversations if you so wish.

Anyway, let’s get back to that outrageous hook that got us here in the first place and the whole point of this blog, shall we?…

Wait a minute – what actually is servicing and PPM?

So servicing and planned preventative maintenance, what actually is that then? (For the purpose of this, let’s treat them as one and the same. I know technically you can argue – with examples probably – that they’re different, but life’s too short, frankly, so let’s get on with it).

Systems such as fire alarms, automatic opening vents, fire doors (on some buildings now since the Fire Safety Act made it a requirement as of 23rd January), electrical installations, and so on all need to be kept in good working order to actually do their job. When they fail, they either pose a significant risk to residents or significant hassle, or both, so we typically rely on regular servicing and maintenance to do this. Generally speaking, the frequency of visits is dictated by a British Standard or similar, and generally speaking, most organisations do things pretty consistently.

Sounds sensible, doesn’t it – so what’s my actual issue with it?

I have two observations (I’m not going to say issues or concerns as there’s nothing wrong with servicing and PPM – as I said up top remember). These are:

  • First, the actual physical task:

Now remember, I’m not opposed to servicing and PPM (in fact, I started my career as an electrician and did EICRs for many years, proudly too, and to a good standard, not just ticking boxes!) but for a lot of systems, the actual tasks carried out to certify and sign off a system for another few months or so can be quite minimal. And often, things that really should be looked at aren’t – and I’m not suggesting that’s through engineer laziness or anything. Let’s consider the electrical metering equipment, for example, the bit where most fires occur because of bigger cables that have compressed and the most current etc. This equipment is owned by the distributor, and most sparks won’t touch it. Technically they can’t, and when was the last time the distributor knocked on your door to carry out a regular inspection?? Similarly, with a fire alarm system (Grade A), as per BS5839, we should inspect 50% of the system at least twice a year. Often organisations do quarterly visits, so in theory, 25% each quarter, which is absolutely by the book and great stuff, but it still leaves a significant amount of the system not checked each time.

  • And second, we have our reliance on this approach:

This is my biggest ‘observation’ by far… In the context of building safety (which, my waffle aside, is what we’re talking about here), the purpose of servicing and PPM is ultimately to keep residents safe. It’s as simple as that. Yes, we’d like to maximise the life of an asset to reduce capital spend etc., but ultimately that’s nice to have. The absolute priority is keeping people safe. Now I’m not for one second suggesting we do a bad job of that in the sector (I’m immensely proud to work in the sector, and for what the sector does, yes, we have a long way to go and a lot to do, but that doesn’t take away from the good stuff we do) but over time where servicing and PPM have become the norm we’ve become utterly reliant on it to have peace of mind residents are safe. “As long as we’ve serviced it and we’re 100% compliant, we’ve done all we can”.

Now here’s the whole point of this blog (taken a while to get here, hasn’t it, sorry about that, and hats off if you’re still with me)….

How do we actually know residents are safe in their building?

Let’s look at the number of inspections over a year for a second, and let’s assume this is a high-rise building subject to the new FSA requirements of monthly checks and fire door inspections.

  • Grade A Fire alarm system
    • 4 x quarterly service visits
    • 12 x monthly checks (let’s be generous and assume they’re on top of the servicing visits)
    • Total of 16 visits a year
  • Communal fire doors
    • 4 x quarterly service visits
    • Total of 4 visits a year
  • Electrical inspection
    • 1 x 3 yearly inspection (let’s assume it is inspection year)
    • Total of 1 visit a year

So for the fire alarm system, a staggering 349 days of the year, we are left to assume the system is working and will save lives. And give or take 700 hours between checks.

361 days for communal fire doors and 364 for dwellings. (I should say I’m a massive supporter of the FSA requirements to check fire doors and the general increase in awareness around them. They play such an important role and have been so badly overlooked for years – you only have to look at the fact two-thirds of fire doors were not self-closing as they should in Grenfell to know this focus is a good thing).

And yeah, you’ve guessed it, 364 for electrical, although actually, there would be 1,094 days between inspections there (a bit less, most likely as it would be done before the due date, but still, you get the point).

And let’s not forget that the second the engineer walks out, the fire alarm or other system could fail, and if not reported, no one is noticing that until the next service visit or monthly check.

Funnily enough, with my GCSE results, I’m not a legal expert…

Now in yesterday’s world doing our quarterly services or three yearly communal EICRs etc., was absolutely all we could do. And actually, even today, I imagine as long as you do that and have carried out repairs etc., in good time, then should the worst happen, the law will be relatively on your side even if the system didn’t work (funnily enough, with my ungraded English GCSE I’m not a legal expert that’s purely an assumption).

And where we’re a little obsessed with KPI’s the pressure on us to focus on hitting that 100% is pretty great, combine this with the incredible pressure and focus on the sector generally and the staggering costs we face over the coming years with Net Zero and the building safety crisis, having the time and resource to do more or do anything differently is a pipe dream for many unfortunately.

So are we actually doing enough here?

Let’s go back to the fundamental purpose of servicing and PPM in this context – to keep people safe in their buildings. Is 349 days of assuming the system will work really enough?

I don’t think it is.

Are we confident and comfortable that fire doors will play their role in a fire because we checked them up to 90 days ago, and they worked then?

I don’t think we should be.

Okay, so let’s say you have a point here; what can we realistically do about it today?

I think the answer is in embracing technology (funny that, given I’ve started a tech company doing this, but seriously bear with me…).

Technology such as IoT sensor technology can enable us to see if a system is working remotely, in real-time, 24/7. We can see a fire alarm system is fine, be alerted to a system fault or activation, we can be sure fire doors are closing properly, can see Co2 levels, and can monitor temperatures on electrical circuits and equipment. We can literally keep a virtual eye on just about anything. And because the world has moved at such a pace over the last few years, we can do this really cost-effectively, really quickly and really easily.

With technology, we don’t need to assume anymore. We don’t need to go 700 hours between checks without actually knowing the residents are safe.

Now we can have absolute peace of mind that our residents are safe.

Jack Bernard