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BS 5839-6 is the key standard for fire detection in dwellings. It is written to assist the non-specialist in compliance and will help make installations easier to audit. The standard is used by enforcing authorities and contractors, and applies to a range of dwellings of all sizes.
Each clause of the document is split into 2 parts. Firstly, there is the commentary – in italics – this sets out the reasoning behind what at first sight may appear to be arbitrary recommendations. The recommendations are in normal type, so it is quite possible to simply refer to these alone. The intention is to make the document easier to use; whether it succeeds in this aim is a matter of personal perception.
BS 5839: Pt.6 is not intended for householders themselves, but to provide guidance and recommendations for architects and other building professionals, enforcing authorities, contractors and others responsible for implementing fire precautions in buildings.
The Code of Practice should not be quoted as if it was a specification and the standard itself warns that particular care should be taken to ensure that claims of compliance are not misleading.
It is also pointed out that compliance with a British Standard cannot automatically confer legal immunity. However, for a landlord or installer, compliance with the latest Code is obviously the best line of defence in any claim made against them.
This Code of practice covers every type of fire detection ‘system’, from a simple self-contained battery smoke alarm right through to major hard wired 24V systems.
BS 5839: Pt.6 also covers almost every conceivable type of premises, including:
Individual sheltered accommodation
Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)
NHS housing in the community
Both new and existing dwellings are covered.
Communal parts of flats, maisonettes, sheltered accommodation and hostels are not included; neither are caravans.
BS 5839: Pt.6 is primarily concerned with saving lives and reducing injuries. However, it does contain within it recommendations for helping to reduce property damage too. Good fire safety practice and adherence to the Code can give the best possible early warning of fire and so reduce the financial impact as well as human suffering.
Relates to system engineering, not level of protection.
BS 5839: Pt.6 grades fire detection systems from Grade F up to Grade A. Generally speaking, the greater the fire risk and the more demanding the application, the more comprehensive the system needs to be.
The changes from the previous edition are relatively small: Grade A & B now refer to the latest European Standards and there are minor changes in requirements. Grade C now requires central control of the system. Grades E, D & F now have reference to heat alarms in addition to smoke alarms.
Concerned by problems with battery powered units in Grade F, the prescriptive advice in the Code now recommends a minimum five year battery life and batteries that are secured so that a special tool is required to remove them for use in tenanted single storey properties.
As the overwhelming number of residential applications in the UK will fall into the D to F categories, this is the area on which this guide will naturally focus. If you are particularly interested in unusual grades of protection, you are invited to look further at the relevant clauses of the Code.
Of course, installers and specifiers may install a system with greater safety features than laid down in the letter of the Code. For example, rather than a Grade E system landlords might think it prudent to install a Grade D system instead. This is especially true considering the many restrictions that apply to the use of Grade E systems.
BS 5839: Pt.6 acknowledges the advantages of the single, battery operated smoke alarm. They are simple to install and offer protection at very low cost. Battery operated smoke alarms conforming to BS 5446: Pt.1 are recommended. Battery operated smoke alarms are suitable for owner-occupied buildings with up to two storeys, as well as for rented bungalows and flats. However, battery operated smoke/heat alarms do have drawbacks. Occupants on a tight budget may not be able to afford to replace the batteries. A significant number of tenants have also been shown to remove the batteries to prevent false alarms or to use in other battery powered devices and then forget to replace them. For this reason, the Code recommends that these alarms should not be used to protect tenants in properties of more than one storey – and even then the batteries should be sealed-in and have a life in excess of 5 years.
As an aside, landlords have now been found liable in cases where tenants themselves have disabled an alarm. For this reason, it is unlikely that landlords will be able to trust tenants to adequately look after the alarms. The Code highlights the fact that battery powered alarms are only suitable for owner-occupied properties if the likelihood is, that batteries will be replaced within five days of a low battery signal.
The Code states that interlinked, mains powered smoke alarms are potentially more reliable and are recommended to be installed in existing dwellings occupied by people who are unlikely to be able to change a smoke alarm’s battery.
However, mains powered systems without battery backup (Grade E) have their serious drawbacks: power cuts or the termination of supply for whatever reason disables them totally. They can also be rendered useless by the tripping of a protective device, or even - in some cases - by the fire itself. Householders may also disable them at the mains all too easily if false alarms are a problem. Safelincs Ltd is therefore only offering mains-powered smoke alarms WITH backup battery.
The problems outlined above can be overcome by using mains powered alarms that incorporate, within each alarm, a stand-by supply such as a primary or rechargeable battery.The alarms have to be interconnected either through wiring or radio-interlink.
Grade D is required for new, owner-occupied buildings of up to three storeys, two storey rented properties and existing, owner-occupied buildings of more than two storeys. Very large storeys (>200m2) might require Grade B alarm system.
A question remains for landlords - can they be sure that their tenants are paying their electricity bills? Given that many tenants may have low incomes (in many local authorities, 70% or more of all tenants are on subsidised incomes), they may well experience periods of disconnection - and yet the landlord could well be liable if the alarm fails to sound because the tenant has not paid his or her bills! Unfair or not, as the law stands, it obviously makes good commercial sense to ensure that a reliable, high quality back-up battery facility is in place.
The minimum back-up duration recommended is 72 hours, and the Code acknowledges that there could well be circumstances where a longer stand-by period is justified e.g. tenants’ inability to pay their electricity bill.
More expensive high specification systems can offer connection of all fire detection devices to a common power supply via low voltage transformers, or interlinked fire and security systems. Again, a minimum 72 hour back-up is recommended by the Code. Due to the complexity of A, B and C Grades, we have omitted the descriptions from this short guide.
This was previously referred to as ‘type’ of system. It relates to the level of protection afforded by the system.
Within the A - F grades defined earlier, the Code identifies three different categories of protection:
Apart from the change of name, there are no changes to the ‘Categories’ from the previous version of the code.
It is noted that an LD3 type system is intended to protect escape routes for those not directly involved in the fire and may not save the life of anyone in the immediate vicinity of the fire.
Only by quoting Grade and Category can a meaningful and effective alarm system be specified, e.g. Grade D, Category LD2.
You can buy the full BS 5839-6:2004 standard online.
When first introduced in 1995, the BS 5839: Pt.6 Code of Practice became the most important set of recommendations ever made on fire safety in the home.
It had an immediate impact on architects, system designers, installers and landlords in the private or public sector, all of whom were required to familiarise themselves with these important recommendations. Landlords in particular needed to abide by these recommendations, as legal liability with regard to ‘duty of care’would undoubtedly become a serious issue should a fire occur in an inadequately protected property.
In short, BS 5839: Pt.6 became the essential guide to providing adequate fire protection in all dwelling types.
In September 2004, the Code of Practice was extensively revised and updated by the publication of BS 5839: Pt.6: 2004 and immediately superseded BS 5839: Pt.6: 1995, which is now withdrawn. The changes therein are important and need to be fully understood and appreciated by all those with responsibility for fire safety in domestic dwellings.
The new 2004 Code further takes into consideration “changes in technology, custom and practice, and changes in guidance that supports national building regulations” since 1995.