The Importance of Managing False Alarms – Fire Services & BS 5839 Part 1

As reported by the BBC, the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) at Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue – Les Britzman – is asking business owners to take more care and responsibility in regards to false alarms. Provided that there are no hazardous materials in the premises and there is no immediate risk to life or the community, the CFO says they should “have systems in place to go and check those buildings themselves” before calling 999. This is inline with information and advice from the London Fire Brigade who attended around 38,000 false alarms in 2017 alone, diverting resources from real emergencies and putting people at risk due to avoidable blue light journeys.

BS 5839 Part 1, the Code of Practice for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire alarm systems in non-domestic premises, has a focus on managing false alarms, which means doing so is necessary to maintain compliance. The Responsible Person must ensure that all false alarms on a system are logged and investigated for a root cause, and that mitigating work is undertaken as necessary. This could be fitting simple flip covers to manual call points, a recommendation in the Standard, to prevent accidental activation.

Another fundamental part of managing false alarms in existing fire alarm systems is to ensure they are tested, inspected, and serviced at regular intervals. This will reduce the risks of false alarms caused by faulty or improperly installed equipment, as well as identifying detectors which have become unsuitable due to a change in the purpose of a room after the system was installed. For example, swapping optical beam detectors to point heat detectors in a building that was repurposed from warehousing into a factory with machinery that creates a lot of dust.

Fire Alarm System Testing & Maintenance
Functional testing of point smoke detectors with a Solo aerosol dispenser and access pole.

For new fire alarm systems, during the design stage the full details of the Fire Risk Assessment, the building, and its intended / current use should be made available so that the most suitable types of detector can be selected and positioned in the correct way. Suitable detectors in the correct locations are one of the easiest methods for managing false alarms as, for example, installing an optical smoke detector near kitchens or bathrooms could result in false alarms due to steam from cooking or baths and showers. While identifying design shortcomings is not generally the responsibility of an installer, the Standard does state that any issues noticed during installation – particularly those arising from features of the building that might not have been known to the designer – should be brought to the attention of the designer or Responsible Person. An example of this could be certain machinery in a room which, during normal operation, creates excessive heat that would activate a Class A1 heat detector (54 – 65°C activation) and therefore making the use of a Class B detector (69 – 85°C) more appropriate.

Managing false alarms properly ensures that time is not wasted by needless evacuations of the premises, which may also cause downtime of machinery and potentially a loss of earnings. There is also a chance that occupants may get used to hearing false alarms and fail to react properly in the event of a real emergency. Should a real fire incident occur, documentation showing full compliance will be required during the investigation and it is highly likely that insurers will also require this when processing a claim.

Safelincs provide nationwide fire alarm system servicing and maintenance contracts at competitive pricing. View our Servicing and Maintenance page, call our Servicing team on 0800 612 4827, or see our summary of BS 5839-1: 2017 for more information.

Daniel Bennett

Senior Product Manager

Daniel is our Senior Product Manager. He has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to emergency lighting, fire alarms, smart products, and fire extinguishers.

Latest Posts by Daniel Bennett

The Importance of Managing False Alarms – Fire Services & BS 5839 Part 17th February 2020

Smoke Alarms versus Fire Alarms in HMOs

flatsDefined under BS 5839: Pt. 6 a house of multiple occupancy (HMO) is “a house that is occupied by persons who do not form a single household.” These are typically large houses that have been converted into flats or bedsits. Many of our customers ask what type of smoke alarm system is suitable for this type of property. According to the British Standard, the recommendations are as follows:

For one or two storey HMOs where the individual floor area is no more than 200sqm, a Grade D, category LD3 smoke alarm system should be installed.  Grade D refers to mains powered smoke and heat alarms with a built-in back up battery power supply, and the alarms can be interconnected either by wire or by radio signal. That means that fire alarm panels are not required. Ei Electronics and Kidde offer both RF and wired mains powered alarm systems as well as a range of accessories that can help you to test, locate and hush alarms easily.

Category LD3 (level of coverage) is the minimum requirement and defines where alarms should be installed. LD3 requires smoke alarms in all circulation spaces that form part of the escape routes from the dwelling, i.e. hallways and landings. If justified during a fire risk assessment, the level of cover may be increased to LD2 which requires smoke or heat alarms to be installed in specified high fire risk rooms and areas. Dependent on the specifier, this can include living rooms, kitchens and possibly bedrooms.

For Grade D system it is becoming more and more acceptable (especially if retrofitted) to install radio-interlinked smoke and heat alarms with 10 year sealed batteries rather than mains powered smoke and heat alarms. This saves the cost for the electrician and systems like this can be installed very quickly. We still recommend that you ask for confirmation by building control or the relevant council department before installing these systems.

For HMOs of 3 storeys or higher, there are two options available.  The first is to have Grade A fire alarm system installed throughout the building.  Grade A consists of a conventional or addressable fire alarm panel, and then fire alarm detectors, call points, sounders and beacons are specified according to the layout and requirements of the property.  The second option is to have a mixed system.  This would comprise of  Grade D, category LD3 in the individual dwellings (see above) and a separate Grade A system in the communal areas.  Again, the category of cover in the individual dwellings can be upped to LD2 if needed.  Both of these options have pros and cons depending on the requirements and the owner’s access to each of the dwellings.  A mixed system appears to have become the preference, as it is likely to reduce the impact of nuisance alarms from individual flats on other occupants.

For additional guidance, please visit our Smoke Alarm Help and Information, BS 5839-6 and BS 5839-1 summary pages.

BS 5839-1 fire alarm system standard explained

fire-alarm-panel-kitsBS 5839 Part 1 ‘Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings. Code of practice for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of systems in non-domestic premises‘  is the key Standard for commercial fire alarm systems with central control panels. It helps customers and installers to specify, design, install and maintain fire alarm systems.

It is a substantial document and to help our customers find their way through it we have created a summary of the Standard. The summary covers:

  • Why might I need a fire detection / fire alarm system for my premises?
  • What are fire detection and fire alarm systems?
  • What is meant by ‘category of system’?
  • What are the main design considerations for an appropriate fire detection / fire alarm system?
  • What are the main installation issues?
  • What happens once the installation is complete?
  • Commissioning, documentation, and certification
  • Maintaining the system: what is involved?
  • User’s responsibilities and premises management: who does what?

Safelincs, the UK’s most progressive and customer friendly fire safety company offers its customers nationwide maintenance of fire alarm systems as well as a range of fire alarm system components:

For quotations for a new fire alarm system, please ring our friendly customer care team on 0800 612 6537.

To arrange your fire alarm system maintenance visit, please ring 0800 612 4827.