Fire … New ISO standard will take its breath away

Fire … New ISO standard will take its breath away

Prevention is always better than cure, and there are few better examples than with fires. If fires can only survive when there is oxygen to fuel them, removing it from the air is an effective way to ensure that the environment remains fire-free. Oxygen reduction systems (ORS) do that by creating atmospheres where there is not enough oxygen for a fire to break out, but enough for humans to breathe easily and is considered to be one of the most effective ways of preventing fires in buildings is to reduce the level of oxygen in the air. 

Now the world’s first International Standard for oxygen reduction systems has just been published ISO 20338- 2019 Oxygen reduction systems for fire prevention — Design, installation, planning and maintenance.

Oxygen reduction systems are designed to prevent fires from starting or spreading, by means of the introduction of oxygen reduced air and creating an atmosphere in an area which is having lower permanent oxygen concentration in respect to ambient conditions. Oxygen reduction systems are not designed to extinguish fires. The design and installation is based on detailed knowledge of the protected area, its occupancy and the materials in question. It is important to suit the fire protection measures to the hazard as a whole.

However, installing such systems can be a complex business, and requires in-depth knowledge of the space being protected, how it is used and by whom.

Currently, there are various national standards and technical guidelines in place, mainly in Europe, but what has been missing is an internationally agreed set of requirements for quality, safety and performance that everyone can use. Until now … ISO 20338,  Oxygen reduction systems for fire prevention  –  Design, installation, planning and maintenance,  specifies minimum requirements and defines the specifications for the design, installation and maintenance of fixed oxygen reduction systems. It applies to those systems that use nitrogen-enriched air used for fire prevention in buildings and industrial production plants, and can be used for new systems as well as for the extension and modification of existing systems.

This document does not apply to:

  • oxygen reduction systems that use water mist or combustion gases;
  • explosion suppression systems;
  • explosion prevention systems, in case of chemicals or materials containing their own supply of oxygen, such as cellulose nitrate;
  • fire extinguishing systems using gaseous extinguishing agents;
  • inertisation of portable containers;
  • systems in which oxygen levels are reduced for reasons other than fire prevention (e.g. steel processing in the presence of inert gas to avoid the formation of oxide film);
  • inerting required during repair work on systems or equipment (e.g. welding) in order to eliminate the risk of fire or explosion.

In addition to the conditions for the actual oxygen reduction system and its individual components, it also covers certain structural specifications for the protected area.

The space protected by an oxygen reduction system is a controlled and continuously monitored indoor climate for extended occupation and this does not cover unventilated confined spaces that can contain hazardous gases.

The elements covered by this latest ISO 20338:2019 are predictably comprehensive addressing system requirements; design including qualification of the designer; pipework; monitoring, alarms and notifications; control equipment; installation, operation and maintenance.

Alan Elder, chair of the ISO technical subcommittee that developed the standard, said it will be useful to users of ORS, such as facilities owners, as well as for meeting regulatory requirements.

It can be purchased from 

Safety signage standards updated

From no-go areas on construction sites to emergency exits,  ISO 7010,  Graphical symbols  –  Safety colours and safety signs  –  Registered safety signs, prescribes safety signs for the purposes of accident prevention, fire protection, health hazard information and emergency evacuation. Introduced in 2011, and updated in 2018, this has now been updated ISO 7010:2019.  

It features the shape and colour of the sign as referenced in  ISO 3864-1,  Graphical symbols  – Safety colours and safety signs  – Part 1: Design principles for safety signs and safety markings,  and the design of the symbol is according to  ISO 3864-3,  Graphical symbols  –  Safety colours and safety signs  – Part 3: Design principles for graphical symbols for use in safety signs.

Mr  Jan-Bernd Stell, Chair of the ISO technical committee that developed the standard, said lack of harmonisation and standardisation in this area could lead to confusion and accidents.

“International standardisation of safety signs means everyone speaks the same language when it comes to safety. This provides a simple solution for everyone, both in workplaces and public areas like airports where many nationalities converge.

Examples of safety signs documented in the standard include everything from warnings around deep water, electricity or barbed wire to instructions such as ‘do not walk or stand here’, or to not use lifts in the event of a fire.”

It is available for purchase here :