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Frequently asked questions

According to BS 5839, fire alarm systems should be inspected at least every 6 months. For larger premises where more complex systems may be utilised, quarterly inspections are recommended.

Current UK fire alarm regulations state that all business premises must have ‘an appropriate fire detection system’.

This basically means that an outbreak of fire can easily be detected, and occupants can easily be warned. This does not necessarily mean that all business premises will need a fire alarm system.

You are unlikely to need a fire alarm system if all of the following statements are true:

  • Your premises are small, simple, and single-storey or open-plan
  • You don’t store any high-risk substances, such as chemicals
  • You don’t undertake any high-risk activities, such as cooking
  • You don’t have any vulnerable occupants, such as the very young, elderly or disabled
  • A fire would be easily spotted if it broke out anywhere in the premises
  • A shout of ‘fire!’ would be easily heard by all occupants

 

If one or more of these statements does not apply to your business, then you probably need a fire alarm system.

If you are in any doubt, then your Fire Risk Assessment should specifically state whether you should or shouldn’t install automatic fire detection.

If you don’t have a Fire Risk Assessment then we would recommend you carry one out first, as this is the cornerstone of your business’s fire safety plan (read more about fire safety legislation here).

There are 3 main types of fire alarm system: conventional, addressable, and wireless:

Conventional Fire Alarm

  • divides your premises into broad zones
  • in the event of an alert, the fire alarm panel identifies the zone, but not the precise area

 

Most suitable for smaller or lower risk environments

Addressable Fire Alarm

  • each individual device has its own unique electronic address
  • if one activates, the fire alarm panel tells you precisely where the problem is
  • most suitable for larger or higher risk environments – e.g schools, care homes, hospitals

 

Wireless Fire Alarm

  • uses a secure wireless link between the sensors and the fire alarm panel
  • typically works like an addressable system, just without the wires
  • most suitable for premises which don’t want lots of cable – e.g. churches, historic buildings

 

UK fire alarm legislation doesn’t specify exactly which each type of fire alarm system should be used in which types of premises, again, it comes down to what is ‘appropriate’ for your particular business.

To make sure you get the right fire alarm system to meet UK fire alarm regulations, it is recommended that you use a reputable fire safety company to design it.

You should also make sure they design to BS 5839 specifications (the relevant British Standard), otherwise, you may not be covered for regulatory or insurance purposes.

The period between successive inspection and servicing visits should not exceed six months. There is currently no relaxation on this. Even if it’s just one day.

UK fire alarm regulations only state that your fire alarm system must be ‘adequately maintained’, however BS 5839 recommends that a fire alarm system should be inspected by a competent person at least every 6 months and the government recommends following this standard.

In fact, if you work out of large premises, we would recommend a quarterly service, as there are many more components to your fire alarm system, and therefore more opportunities for something to go wrong.

There is no predetermined or fixed lifetime for a fire detection and alarm system however most manufacturers recommend fire alarm system be replaced after 10 years.

Generally, equipment manufacturers will be the best guide to an expected lifetime for a particular product in a particular environment. In most situations the expected life of a systems and its components can be extended by carrying out regular and appropriate maintenance.

There are 2 main reasons to keep your fire alarm in working order:       

  1. To alert occupants in the event of fire and so prevent loss of life

  2. To prevent false alarms


Whilst the 1st reason may seem obvious, the 2nd reason is less well known.

The fact is that false alarms account for a huge number of fire brigade call-outs.  This incurs a lot of expense and, more importantly, could mean that the fire brigade is otherwise occupied when a real emergency arises.

The fire brigade has now imposed charges for call-outs at premises which have a high number of false alarms, as an incentive for businesses to keep their fire alarms better maintained.

Weekly testing is different to fire alarm servicing, which we describe in section 6.  Both are required.

Whilst a fire alarm service is a thorough investigation of the whole fire alarm system, weekly testing is more of a ‘spot check’.  It’s purpose is to quickly test that your fire alarm is in working order and help identify any issues.

Having a fully operational fire alarm is a regulatory requirement for those premises that need them, which is why regular testing is important.

The guidance to test weekly comes from British Standard BS 5839.  This the standard that the UK government recommends should be followed with regards to fire alarm maintenance.

You could decide to test less frequently, however you would need to explain why you’ve deviated from BS 5389 to any investigating fire officers, should they pay a visit.

If your fire alarm goes wrong, for example: –    an alarm is sounding but there’s no fire

  • a light on your fire alarm panel says there is a fault

  • your fire alarm panel is beeping

  • there’s no power going to your fire alarm panel

 

Then you must report it immediately to your fire protection company.  This is because the system can’t be considered to be ‘adequately maintained’ if there is a fault and you would therefore be non-compliant with fire alarm regulations.

 

 

 

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