The Who, What, Why & How of IoT Building Compliance

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IoT is rapidly changing the face of building compliance. Read on to discover exactly what IoT building compliance means and how it can revolutionise compliance management in your building stock.

Safecility dashboard for compliance managers

IoT “The Internet of Things” is a rapidly growing market around the globe. The worldwide number of IoT-connected devices is projected to increase to 43 billion by 2023 (up almost three times that of 2018), while a recent Fortune Business Insights study on IoT forecast that IoT market size worldwide is projected to hit a staggering USD 1,463.19 billion by 2027.

These emerging trends make sense with the rapid advances in Cloud Computing and computing power in general, as it becomes easier, more efficient and simply more feasible to deploy these devices. 

IoT in industry is a game changer and most, if not all businesses can utilise IoT to create efficiencies and cost savings. However, when it comes to reaping the rewards of wide scale IoT, there’s no area that benefits more than the building and asset management sector. Especially when it comes to compliance.

Who can benefit from IoT building compliance?

For busy asset managers, traditional safety compliance testing is cumbersome. It relies on technicians going to each location one at a time making it a costly and time-consuming exercise. Human error can also be a factor, which is far from ideal for something as vitally important as safety compliance.

This is where IoT comes in. IoT enables automated compliance testing – this means quicker, more reliable results which in turn leads to increased safety and wellbeing for the inhabitants of your buildings. 

Human error

Building safety compliance is a full time job for asset managers that is never ceasing. From a regulatory perspective the future impact of the Hackitt report’s ‘Golden Thread’ following the Grenfell Tower disaster can’t be underestimated. It will no doubt create new sources of pressure for building owners and asset managers on top of their existing compliance obligations.

Building compliance has always been about keeping people safe. The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) became part of the UK legal system in 1974, against the backdrop of particularly dangerous employment conditions across the United Kingdom, but particularly in factories and mines.

Take for example the James Watt Street fire in Glasgow in 1968 which resulted in the deaths of 22 factory workers. The building had previously been used as a whisky bond and security features designed to stop people getting in (such as barred windows) tragically obstructed workers way out when the fire erupted.

Just as incidents like this led to the implementation of the HSWA, modern tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire has led to more rigorous attention to compliance and calls for IoT and other technologies to improve the process. The thread here is that even when buildings remain static, building compliance and safety systems must constantly evolve to keep people safe in our rapidly-changing world.

Fire is classed as one of the major risks within any building. Fire alarms, Emergency Lighting, venting systems and sprinklers are just some of the mechanisms that building owners install to reduce the risk to people and property in the event of a fire.

IoT technology has the potential to demonstrate efficiencies and save costs – and it’s never been more accessible and widely available. So how can IoT and compliance be connected up?

What do you mean by IoT building compliance?

IoT sensor

Building compliance is wide-ranging, but in this context, IoT building compliance or automated building compliance refers to the automation of manual building compliance tasks using sensors and actuators.

Examples of the kind of building compliance we’re talking about include:

- Regular fire alarm testing to make sure the alarms are functioning properly and have sufficient sounders so the warning can be clearly heard by everyone in the building.

- Fire Door inspection to ensure the door, it's seals and fixtures are maintained so that smoke cannot leak through.

- Emergency Lighting testing and inspection to check that the lighting will illuminate in the event of a power cut to guide people to safety.

- Water temperature monitoring so conditions that promote Legionalla growth can be identified early and taps flushed to prevent growth.

Compliance not only includes testing and inspection but also record keeping. Responsibility for compliance falls on owners of all non-private dwellings such as shopping centres, hospitals, office blocks and residential apartment blocks.

Why automated IoT compliance?

Automated compliance is where a manual element of the compliance process is replaced by an automatic process. This automated process may use software, hardware, sensors or a combination of them all.

Most businesses have embraced technology to help them streamline and speed up their day-to-day operations. Accounting and payroll software, digital signatures, video conferencing software and online calendar scheduling are just some of the common examples which have been widely adopted by the industry. While they don’t completely negate the need for manual input, they help save time and resources and make daily tasks easier.

Video conferencing software 1

Research shows that until recently the adoption of technology has been slow-going when it comes to the building sector. Compared to other sectors digital uptake in construction has been low and the trickle-down effect is clear when it comes to routine building compliance. In the vast majority of buildings, compliance inspection of fire alarms, lights and Legionella points is still done in person. 

Although the sector has been labelled as technologically conservative, building owners and asset managers don’t completely shy away from technology.

The use of phones, tablets and maintenance scheduling software to improve the efficiency of reporting results and completing repairs are common, but while useful, they still require technicians to visit the site frequently, and most importantly from a compliance perspective they don’t eliminate human error.

There are a number of ways to approach automating compliance but the optimum way to make sure nothing is overlooked and compliance is achieved is using an end-to-end automated process. Sensors and hardware that actuate testing at a perfect schedule and report and collate the results automatically will save time, money and stress for building owners to give them complete confidence in their compliance and safety status.

Examples of automated IoT building compliance.

Emergency Lighting 1200x565 1

Emergency Lighting

At Safecility we first jumped into building compliance automation by way of Emergency Lighting. Emergency Lighting is a safety system that’s vital but often overlooked in terms of seriousness. Legally required in nearly all buildings, it expands far beyond the green exit lights most of us are familiar with.

Emergency Lighting needs to be installed throughout buildings so if there’s a power cut people are not plunged into darkness and can safely make their way out.

All Emergency Lighting needs to be tested at least monthly so that if the worst were to happen the lights and their batteries would function correctly. Long story short, keeping up with the testing and maintenance of every single one of these lights is a huge undertaking.

We built a wireless sensor that plugs into existing Emergency Lighting to automate testing and report the results to a software platform. Basically, technicians no longer have to attend the site unnecessarily to inspect and test the lights and log test results.

Without having to leave their desk the building owner, or responsible person gets a clear immediate message letting them know if their lights either passed or failed testing.

If the light failed, the cause of the failure is indicated so technicians can be sent to repair it with the exact parts needed. This saves countless hours of back and forth testing lights, logging results, ordering parts and returning to the site to fix any problems.

Legionella Monitoring

The life of an asset manager or large building owner is busy. Legionella monitoring is another compliance task that’s piled on top of an already endless list of jobs.

Legionella can’t grow without the optimum conditions to do so – it needs stagnant tepid water to thrive. Eliminating these conditions by flushing the taps with hot water will get rid of the risk of Legionnaires disease. 

Legionella in social housing

This sounds simple, but for asset managers like Housing Associations and Local Councils with hundreds of buildings, attending every tap to flush them on a regular basis is not feasible and in most dwellings where hot water is used often, it’s completely unnecessary.

Sensors placed on pipes can constantly read water temperature and alert to incidences where hot water has not been flowing through the pipes. Instead of non-selective flushing of all taps, selective manual intervention takes its place to achieve the same goal much faster and with fewer resources.

Fire Doors

Another legally required element of building compliance is the installation and inspection of Fire Doors. Fire Doors hold back smoke and fire giving occupants crucial additional escape time. They are typically used every day which over time can become a problem. Wear and tear from constant use can negatively impact the effectiveness of the door so it no longer works as intended.

A Fire Door sensor that monitors door to frame gap can unlock the power of data insights to ensure Fire Doors remain in top shape. Changes in the door gap caused by degradation of the door seal, hinges or closers will be spotted immediately.

Sensors can also monitor whether Fire Doors are open or closed. This gives an early warning when doors are propped open or are not closing correctly. Inspection of Fire Doors is mandated at 6 monthly intervals but with IoT technology real-time compliance is supported.

Compliance software vs IoT compliance – what’s the difference?

The term automated compliance is broad and doesn’t really differentiate between the levels of automation offered.

There are lots of software solutions available to building owners that can automate some of their common compliance jobs.

By acting as an electronic logbook, software is able to keep track of compliance documents and certificates, and alert building owners when compliance deadlines are approaching.

Compliance softwares also serve as a central repository for all documents relating to compliance so that viewing and sharing them is easier. Software goes some of the way towards automating compliance, however, complications can still arise when there’s still a reliance on manual testing as part of the process.

QR code asset tag
When a technician uses a tablet to scan a QR code at a fire alarm panel to record an inspection, automation of data entry has taken place. This sounds good - but doesn't change the fact the alarm was still tested manually. As mentioned previously, if testing or data entry is carried out manually, then some human error has to be expected.

With the rise of IoT, fully automated compliance testing is now a reality. Sensors execute tests and report the results. Bad data which is inaccurate or inconsistent is eliminated and building owners can know with 100% certainty that nothing has been missed.

The ultimate goal of building compliance automation is, well…compliance. Despite our best efforts and diligent process management, manual testing is open to error and in the worst-case scenario neglect of testing duties or even falsification of results. With end-to-end technology, true and verifiable compliance can be accomplished.

Does automated IoT compliance work for all buildings?

Automated compliance in social housing

In short, yes. IoT sensors that support compliance processes are wireless so they can be easily installed in all types of buildings at a far lower cost than wired alternatives.

When it comes to automating manual compliance, serious benefits can be seen for large scale building owners who no longer have to travel from site to site unnecessarily. But that’s not to say that automated compliance is not beneficial for smaller organisations too. IoT offers financial and operational benefits for any size business wanting to address key challenges in their compliance process – not to mention the added bonus of increased positive social impact of safer buildings.

Why is automated compliance important?

The type of compliance we’re talking about in this post, compliance with standards relating to Fire Alarms, Emergency Lighting and Legionella among others is of the utmost importance. Why? Because these systems save lives.

After the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, Dame Judith Hackitt completed a full investigation into building safety standards in the UK. She was shocked to find negligence of compliance obligations was rife in the industry, with many building owners completely unaware of what level of maintenance and testing was expected of them.

Dame Judith commented, “As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and how it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”

Automated compliance saves lives

Automated compliance doesn’t do the bare minimum to achieve compliance or make accidental mistakes. It completes compliance testing to a perfect schedule and allows for quick reactive maintenance that saves mountains of time for already stretched compliance teams. As we’ve discussed it can certainly make life easier, but ultimately, automated building compliance keeps the people inside the buildings safer – and isn’t this the ultimate goal of compliance after all?

How to do automated IoT building compliance.

1. Do an audit of current manual compliance processes. Pay particular attention to tasks that are simple but must be carried out frequently and take up significant resources.

2. Review each compliance task and/or process that you identified. Try to pinpoint any bottlenecks in your current process that can be automated.

3. Figure out man-hours and cost involved in the task you would like to automate. If you want to see what you’re spending on Emergency Lighting testing and compliance our free savings calculator may help – click here to give it a try.

4. Decide what type of IoT network you want to use. There are many different options for wireless communication, some more suitable in certain situations than others – for more guidance read our post about Low Powered Wide Area Networks for IoT compliance.

Not all IoT networks are created equal. A common wireless technology we’re all familiar with – Wifi – is totally unsuitable for deployment at scale because of its low range and high power consumption.

In recent years Low Powered Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) have established themselves in the market to solve this exact problem. They allow wide deployment of low-powered devices across wide geographic areas making them ideal for automated building compliance.

LPWAN Infographic for Blog Post

Today there exists a multitude of networks with varying degrees of performance in factors such as security and power consumption.

There are always going to be external factors that may influence what type of IoT device is best for you. You may already have LoRAWAN coverage in your area which you want to take advantage of. Alternatively, you may have buildings with basement areas or thick walls where a network with deep coverage like NBIoT would be more appropriate.

I’m ready to start automating my building compliance tasks – what’s next?

As a company that develops IoT sensors to automate compliance, our goal is to build products that are easy to retrofit to existing buildings that automate compliance testing, from testing all the way to final reporting, in a stress-free way.

Our sensors are designed to be retrofitted and require no wiring which means installation will be equally swift and easy. Furthermore, we offer the flexibility to order as few or as many sensors are desired. Multiple buildings? No problem. All our devices across your building portfolio can be controlled from one dashboard or via an API to your existing building management software.

While we offer solutions for Emergency Lighting, Fire Door and Legionella testing we know that there are more areas of difficulty or bottlenecks when it comes to building compliance.

Try as we might, there are some issues we are not yet aware of. That’s where we need your help. If there are any issues you think we could tackle, or  you think needs more light shed on them, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. Help us help you by bringing our attention to an issue and we’ll get to work creating a suitable automated IoT solution.

Ultimately we want to make buildings safer and easier to manage for building owners. If you have any compliance struggles please get in touch today to see how we can help.

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