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

Daniel Bennett

Product Administrator

Daniel is one of our product administrators. He has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to emergency lighting, fire alarms and smart products.

Keeping property guardians safe

home-safety-kitRising rents are forcing many people in the UK to consider other options – such as becoming property guardians. They move into abandoned homes, maybe for a month, maybe for years. From the owner’s point of view, an occupied building is less likely to be burgled or destroyed; the guardians obtain low-cost accommodation.

Safelincs works with a property management company that specialises in bringing together owners and potential guardians. There are thousands of empty properties in the UK, including flats, houses, churches, libraries and offices. They may be empty for many reasons – waiting to be sold, waiting for planning permission, or needing to be looked after while the owners are overseas. The property management company puts these buildings back into use, helping both the property owner and people looking for short term, low-cost accommodation.

For some time, Safelincs has been providing bespoke fire safety equipment kits which the company issued to its live-in guardians. These consisted of a fire blanket, a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, smoke alarms, a CO alarm, a wind-up torch and a bespoke fire action sign. The company recently decided to take its fire safety provisions to an even higher level and approached Safelincs to work out a solution.

Risk assessments are now carried out on all properties where guardians are being installed. This assessment identifies the fire safety equipment required for each individual property. Safelincs then supplies the appropriate fire safety services and equipment including fire extinguishers, appropriate signage, smoke and CO alarms (usually radio-interlinked), door closers, fire door accessories and other fire safety equipment. By working with Safelincs, the company is able to create a more bespoke fire safety plan for each property.

Safelincs provide sensible and practical advice for the safety equipment required at each location. Its role has become more that of a strategic partner than simply a supplier.

Fire risk assessments for churches

Safelincs has produced a series of videos about fire risk assessment in churches and general fire safety specifically for those with a responsibility for churches. Starting with a three minute video examining the risk assessment process for a church, it is followed by further videos of similar length concisely covering each aspect of church fire safety. These are:

• Sources of ignition
• Flammable materials
• People at risk
• Escape plans and evacuation
• Fire Exits
• Unsupervised visitors
• Arson risks
• Emergency lighting
• Fire safety procedures
• Fire doors
• Fire-fighting equipment
• Fire detection
• Testing of fire equipment

Churches and church halls all have a legal requirement to carry out fire risk assessments. Areas that need special attention are electrical wiring and the careful management of extension leads (frequently used since churches tend not to have many power sockets). Heating systems and any additional heaters need to be regularly maintained and of course candles, in regular use in churches, need to be adequately controlled.
Churches may be at increased risk of fire is when repair or restoration work is being undertaken.

Another consideration is that more churches that are incorporating cafes and hence cooking areas.

church-fire-risk-assessments

Whatever the size or age of church, these “bite-sized” videos will be invaluable for anyone responsible for the general management of a church.

Fire risk assessments for Church of England retirement homes

Church of England Pensions BoardSafelincs has undertaken fire risk assessments for retirement homes operated by the Church of England Pensions Board.
There are seven supported housing schemes around the country in the Midlands, West Sussex, Devon, Gloucestershire, Surrey, North Yorkshire and Lancashire. Each has approximately 30 self-contained flats for retired members of the clergy. In addition, all of them have large kitchens where communal meals are prepared, chapels, small offices, dining rooms and most of them also have residents’ lounges.
Under the Regulatory Fire Safety Order 2005 it is a requirement for all employers or owners of premises to carry out a fire risk assessment (FRA) for every workplace or premises for which they are responsible.

One of Safelincs’ professional fire risk assessors visited each of the seven locations, undertook a site analysis, recorded the findings and explained them to the person with responsibility for each site. The assessments looked at measures to reduce the risk of fire on the premises, reducing any potential spread of fire and the effective means of escape should a fire break out. Hazards were identified and eliminated or reduced.

A written FRA report was produced along with the necessary forms to allow each site to update its report in the future and to document any corrective actions that were carried out.

Safelincs obtained the work through the Parish Buying website, operated by the Church of England, which offers negotiated rates from core suppliers contracted by the Church of England on behalf of parishes, church schools and other church organisations. Safelincs is the selected supplier for all fire safety and H+S items and services. This includes a range of over 3500 fire safety products, such as fire safes, fire doors and fire alarm systems.

Ian Grace, Supported Housing Operations Manager for the Church of England Pensions Board commented: “Safelincs staff were courteous, easy to do business with and completed the work in a timely fashion.”

One stop fire safety shop

When Stanbridge Associates, a Lincoln-based firm of accountants, specialising in the medical profession, moved to newly renovated premises in the city they needed to be sure that the premises were fulfilling all fire safety regulations.

The building, a Victorian office conversion, was visited by a fire risk assessor from Safelincs who carried out the full fire risk assessment. Safelincs also surveyed the fire extinguisher arrangements, carried out a fire alarm system test and made recommendations for improvements to suit the way the building would be used.

To allow for better wheelchair access, ventilation and all-round convenience without jeopardising safety or breaking the law, fire door retainers were fitted. These allow fire doors to be kept open safely, while automatically closing them in the event of a fire.

The existing fire extinguishers were replaced with P50 service free extinguishers which will save Stanbridge Associates the annual cost of servicing since they have been designed so that a simple visual inspection once a year is all that is required. This can be easily carried out by one of Stanbridge’s employees and the Safelincs engineer trained staff in this simple process at the time of installation. P50 extinguishers also do not require a refill after five years and can be refurbished after ten years to last a further ten years.

Safelincs put in place the necessary fire safety signs and, as a final touch, handed over a free emergency lighting test key, which means that Stanbridge will be able to test the emergency lighting system themselves in future without needing to call out an external engineer.

“Safelincs provided us with a ‘one stop shop’ to enable us to meet all our fire safety requirements when we moved into our new offices,” said Catherine Cullen, Account Manager, Stanbridge Associates. “Their professional, friendly approach not only completed the work on time but also saved us money.”

Landlord fire safety obligations

Just like employers, landlords have certain obligations when it comes to fire safety and protection in their properties. However, it is not as simple as ensuring there are a couple of fire extinguishers to hand – fire safety largely depends on the potential risks and the different types of buildings can cause confusion. For example, a building that is used for a single tenancy will differ to one which is shared across commercial and residential lettings.

Legislation requires that landlords carry out fire risk assessments in all common areas of properties. This process will identify any fire hazards and who is at risk and decide if anything can be done to minimise or remove that risk.

Smoke detectors must be installed, and in larger properties this must be a mains-operated smoke alarm. However, who is responsible for testing the alarm (and replacing batteries where applicable) may depend from the type of property and must be clearly advised and documented, especially if it is the tenant. In a building with multiple tenants, it will also be necessary to clearly signpost escape routes through signs and emergency lighting, and to ensure that there are enough escape routes to allow all tenants to evacuate. If there aren’t enough natural escape routes, you may need to install fire escape ladders.

You should also provide fire extinguishers or fire blankets, particularly in cooking areas. We would recommend that you install extinguishers with a broad application and that are simple to use, such as dry water mist extinguishers.

New! Free Fire Risk Assessment Form

Completing your own fire risk assessment is permissible by law, but finding the right risk assessment form can be tricky. There are a wide range of forms available from local fire brigades to commercial risk assessors. Not all of them give you enough guidance to allow you to confidently complete your risk assessment without missing out any areas.

We have gathered a wide range of different forms and pulled the best parts out of each one to create a new fire risk assessment form that guides you through each area of the assessment. Our own risk assessors are now using this form and we have made it available for you free of charge to use to complete your own fire risk assessment

It is easy to use and highlights the areas that are important to fire risk assessments. This form will limit the risk of you missing anything out in your own assessment, although you must still read the official guides available before embarking on your own fire risk assessment.

Professional register for fire risk assessors opens for registration

Although it is not a necessity to employ a registered fire risk assessor or indeed to use an external assessor at all to carry out your fire risk assessment, it has been recognised for a while now that there is a need for a more in-depth system of control to be in place for those offering this service. The Institute of  Fire Safety Managers (IFSM) is launching the new professional register for fire risk assessors today, December 1, 2011.

In June 2011 a document, Competency Criteria for Fire Risk Assessors, was drawn up by the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council, which highlighted concerns of the standard of work carried out by fire risk assessors on a third party basis. As a result of this the IFSM are launching this new register.

It is hoped that the register will provide those wishing to outsource the task of carrying out their fire risk assessment with a database of qualified assessors to ensure that the contracted risk assessor is able to carry out an adequate fire risk assessment.  There have been several fatalities from fires at premises that had a fire risk assessment carried out by a third party, which was found to be of an inadequate standard.

http://www.info4fire.com/news-content/full/new-fire-risk-assessor-professional-register-launched

http://www.britishfireconsortium.org.uk/pdf/fire_risk_assessment_competency.pdf

Landlord jailed for two and a half years

Michael Billings was found guilty of numerous breaches of fire safety, health and safety and gas safety regulations. His actions lead to a young woman being severely burnt when a fire broke out in a house of multiple occupancy that Mr Billings owned.

The fire broke out on 14 April 2009 in Miss Skalli’s bedsit. Due to the sash window of her room not opening more than 4 inches, Miss Skalli was unable to escape from the fire. She was found in the room with her hands covering her face, this was the only part of her body not burnt from the intense heat of the fire.

Fire fighters were anxious that Miss Skalli would not survive as she had suffered 80% deep tissue burns to almost all of her skin below her neck.

Other occupants of the building were either rescued by firefighters or used a drainpipe to climb to safety.

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