Most firehose reels are not dependable, despite bearing the SABS mark. The quality of imported equipment, and the SANS 543 standard itself is compromised.
A SABS official said they would “address all the concerns about the firehose reel standard at the SABS Technical Committee on 19 March 2015, as a platform to table proposals, changes or comments.” Public comment on the current revised draft closed in January 2015.
Some members of the workgroup drafting standards and amendments to the standard for firehose reels, represent the interests of suppliers and manufacturers, at the cost of public safety, says health and safety consultant Johan Cilliers.
“There are conflicts of interest in the workgroup, and in various draft amendments. I have found many faulty and even non-compliant firehose reels, and some owners were served with Department of Labour Prohibition Notices, but the state is not taking decisive action.”
SA National Standard (SANS) 543 does not give effect to the legal safety obligations of building owners and managers, and is even lowering the former requirements for some crucial components of first-line fire-fighting equipment.
The SABS working group consists of SABS official Patrick Qwabe, Charles van Niekerk, FPA official Bevan Wolff, Duncan Boyes, J Kellet, James Speedy, Johan Pretorius and Tom Fest. The ‘whistleblower’, Johan Cilliers, attended one meeting on invitation.
Some other fire safety specialists say that there are also problems with the drawn-out revision of the National Building Regulations, including fire suppression and spray systems, that have more potential impact on fire safety than the ‘first line response’ of extinguishers and hose reels.
A larger worldwide trend is that Chinese suppliers dominate some ISO standard bodies. Most SANS standards are overwritten, in whole or in part, from ISO standards to keep current with supply specifications.
Already three years ago, suspicions about the safety of certain firehose reels were raised on ETV News (28 July 2012). Cilliers informed the SABS National Committee on Fire Fighting Equipment, that the matter was inspected, and referred to the DOL Chief Inspector, who ordered a Prohibition Notice against the suppliers of faulty units at buildings such as the SAPS.
Faulty units were then also identified in the Concilium Building, where some Labour inspectors themselves work, at Centurion Mall, and many schools, hospitals, and old age homes.
“It is doubtful whether there could be a single firehose reel anywhere that conforms fully to all the legal requirements,” said Cilliers. He proposed revisions for SANS 543:2004 to meet minimum legal safety requirements.
A typical SABS-marked fire hose reel (FHR) bought from a supplier in Kempton Park had several anomalies:
 From the centre (axle) of the reel the gooseneck pipe extends to bend around the drum onto which the rubber hose is attached by a steel clamp. The bend in the pipe is insufficient and points away from the drum. This results in the rubber pipe pinching off the flow when wound on the drum, and the pipe weakening.
 The steel clamp was not fitted in the right position and may cause damage to the hose, or the incorrect type of clamp is used. The clamp could cut into the hand of the user. The loose screw-type clamps could fail when tightened.
 The control valves (nozzles) at the front of the hose were of various designs, non-compliant to SANS 543 2004. There were visible leaks when the nozzle was shut. Of and On positions and directions were not clearly marked. Nozzles did not have optional Closed; Spray; and Jet settings, or not in this sequence. Some were of very poor quality and only a Jet setting.
Firehose reel safety compromises
In April last year, a SANS 543 110314 (firehose reels with semi-rigid hose) draft review proposed to change the 2004 version, but some proposals compromised quality and safety;
 Reduce the maximum diameter of firehose reel discs from 800mm to 700mm, making it more difficult to wind the hose back on the reel.
 Including a minimum reel disc diameter of 550mm, that could be too small.
 Changing the 19mm hose to 20mm hose, as the 19mm was a carryover from the EN standard. However most piping, fittings, connectors, nozzles and taps are 19mm diameter, and 20mm piping would leak at the connections and seals.
 Goosenecks should allow maximum flow of water, however the need to position the connection to the hose parallel to the drum, and close to the drum to prevent a knick-point, was not addressed.
 Hose crimping was removed, in the interest of service providers, not in the interest of quality or safety. Ordinary clamps are not adequate.
 Nozzle setting to Spray was made optional, despite the frequent need for spray and/or Jet options in fire-fighting.
 Lever-operated nozzles were allowed, despite being cumbersome and incapable of spray and jet settings.
 Mounting frames were considered an installation issue, however all firehose reels are mounted the same way, with four mounting bolts into bricks, not into the cement joint between bricks.
 Spray angle was less defined, however some requirements refer to Conical Spray Sheet.
 Shank diameter became too narrow. The hose on the reel had a bore of 20mm, while the shank of the nozzle inserted in the hose is 19mm. A high pressure system up to bursting pressure at 3.0 MPa (30 Bar) as per SANS 543, would leak or burst here. Some nozzles could even be pulled off by hand.
 A nozzle tested does give Spray and Jet functions, but in the wrong sequence, with no function markings, and no function positional click.
 Cheaper imported FHRs and components are sold and used in manufacture in SA. FHRs from various suppliers all have similar difficulties.
 Many SA suppliers are retailers only, with no maintenance service and no recourse.
 Reel assembly water supply pipes enter the back of the reel through a white nylon or PVC bush. This pipe in some cases is bent at a radius that does not allow the pipe to enter the bush at a proper right angle, causing the pipe to excessively wear and rub on the bush. Should the procedure in terms of paragraph 18.104.22.168 of SANS 543 be followed, wear on the bush will cause misalignment with the front end of the axle where the gooseneck connects, and may cause a leakage. The supply pipe should therefore not be bent at an angle but welded to connect at a proper right angle.
 No regulatory body exists to monitor the effectiveness of the standards.
 Potentially faulty FHRs are installed in schools, old age homes, hospitals, crèches, high rise buildings, malls.
 Firehose reels must be SANS compliant in terms of Section 10(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, yet they are mostly not.
Firehose reel safety recommendations
Cilliers proposed a number of regulatory and practical measures to raise firehose reel quality and safety;
 Water supply pipes that form part of the framework must be assembled or welded in a T-shape to ensure that the pipe enters in a straight line through the nylon bush at a proper right angle to the upright support of the framework.
 After fitting of the hose there shall be a clearance of not more than 3mm between the crimping sleeve of the hose, and the drum on which the hose is wound.
 The front end of the gooseneck shall have at least four ribs. The ribs shall be of a certain design, suitable for crimping the hose to the gooseneck, similar to crimping hydraulic hoses to fittings. Screw clamps are specifically prohibited.
 The nozzle on the other end of the hose shall also be fitted to the hose by means a crimping process.
 The nozzle may be constructed of either metal or a suitably strong plastic or PVC type material. If non-metal, cognisance shall be taken of the strength of the shank with ribs that is inserted in the hose to be crimped. The shank shall be strong enough to withstand at least twice the pressure of the crimping process. Plastics materials shall remain in compliance with the requirements of paragraph 22.214.171.124 as well as 4.2.2 of the current standards.
 The nozzle shall be a shut-off nozzle with all of these control settings: Shut; Spray; Jet. Nozzles shall operate in the same sequence. Individual settings shall be controlled and clearly identifiable by mechanical, palpable and/or audible means and be clearly marked on the nozzle. On rotary operated nozzles the direction of closing and opening the nozzle shall be clearly marked on the body, in a permanent manner.
 The body of the nozzle, excluding the shank that fits inside the hose, shall have a length of not less than 105mm, and a consistent outside diameter of not less than 38mm. The body shall have a suitable surface to allow for proper gripping without slipping when wet.
 Inform the public, businesses, government departments, schools etc, to replace their FHRs by a given date.
 Relevant manufacturers, importers, distributors and suppliers will have to accept part of the responsibility.
It will not be ideal to issue prohibition notices to owners and occupiers of premises and buildings where these faulty FHR’s are currently installed, unless a procedure is put in place.
It is better to have firehoses on the premises, even if it performs less than the standard, than to have none at all. However owners, employees and the public should be aware of the risk until the situation is rectified, and perhaps labelled by re-inspection tags.
• See a list of other SANS standards and regulations, in posts on health and safety law updates, on Sheqafrica.com
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• See other posts on SABS and NRCS problems regarding imported condoms, and imported electrical equipment, on EE Publishers, and on Sheqafrica.com.
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