Managing False Alarms

Managing false alarms is a public safety issue. As reported by the BBC, in 2020 the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) at Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue – Les Britzman – asked business owners to take more care and responsibility in managing 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 stated that organisations should “have systems in place to go and check those buildings themselves” before calling 999 if a fire is discovered.

Despite this, a National Statistics report shows that FRSs in the UK attended 246,529 fire false alarms in 2023. This was a 3.1% increase on the previous year, and a 6.3% increase on figures 5 years ago. Last year (2023) saw the largest number of false alarms attended since 2011. This diverts essential resources from real emergencies and puts people at risk due to avoidable blue light journeys.

Islington Fire Station, London.
Islington Fire Station, London. The station is part of the London Fire Brigade network of emergency responders.

Further to wasting public resources, management and mitigation of false alarms ensures that time is not wasted by needless evacuations. Unnecessary evacuations may cause downtime of machinery, and potentially a loss of earnings. If false alarms are allowed to persist, there occupants may become desensitized to the sound. This puts lives at risk, as in a real emergency, occupants may fail to react properly.

The importance of managing false alarms

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. Therefore, managing fire alarms is recommended for organisations to demonstrate that they are acting responsibly to prevent fires.  To achieve this, the Responsible Person must ensure that all false alarms on a system are logged. Each false alarm must also be investigated for a root cause, which must be addressed. Mitigating work must be undertaken as necessary to prevent the same incident occurring again. To learn more about this Standard, see our summary of BS 5839-1: 2017.

Should a real fire occur, documentation including a record of, and mitigation work following past false alarms will be required during the investigation. The maintenance of these records is not a legal requirement. However, correct documentation can prevent prosecutions of negligence. It is also highly likely that insurers will require these records when processing a claim.

How to prevent false alarms

Preventing false alarms can be as simple as fitting flip covers to manual call points to prevent accidental activations. Indeed, this is now a recommendation in the Standard, though not a requirement. However, if a false alarm occurred because a manual call point was accidently triggered, the need to mitigate against repeat occurrences may necessitate their installation.

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

Another fundamental part of managing false alarms in existing fire alarm systems is to ensure they are maintained. This includes regular testing, inspections, and servicing. This will reduce the risks of false alarms caused by faulty or improperly installed equipment, as well as ensuring that the system is effective in an emergency.

Premises with a change of use should be professionally inspected to identify whether the existing fire alarm system remains suitable. For example, replacing optical beam detectors with a system of point heat detectors would prevent false alarms in a storage warehouse that has been converted into a factory with machinery that creates a lot of dust.

Optimising new fire alarm systems

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. This ensures 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. 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.

Identifying design shortcomings is not generally the responsibility of an installer. However, 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.

Fire Risk Assessments must be kept up to date and carried out by a competent person.
Fire alarm systems should be tailored to the building. It should account for the risks identified in the building’s fire risk assessment.

False alarms put unnecessary strain on UK fire services, diverting essential resources away from real fires, and putting lives at risk. Managing false alarms is in the interest of organisations as it prevents disruption.

Safelincs provide nationwide fire alarm system servicing and maintenance contracts at competitive pricing. View our Servicing and Maintenance page or call our Servicing team on 0800 612 4827 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

Managing False Alarms19th March 2024

Emergency lighting guide

This post was written in 2011 and a more recent version exists. Please read our new guide: what you need to know about emergency lighting.

Planning your emergency lighting can be quite daunting and appear very complicated. We have developed an emergency lighting guide to help with all the issues of planning where to install your emergency lights.

The guide has been developed through answering customer questions on emergency lighting installation, ensuring that we are answering the questions you want to ask.  The guide covers topics such as planning, location, types of lights, signs and testing your emergency lights.

The emergency lighting planning section goes through six steps to ensure that you comply to the most update legislation, including the Health & Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The guide is designed to help proprietors or people responsible for emergency lighting provisions to think about the many aspects of evacuation and escape.

The section on where to locate your emergency lighting covers every day areas such as corridors and junctions, where there may be a change in direction to stairways, steps and ramps as well as exits and fire and first aid points. There is also a section for areas that are not so common, covering large open areas, generators or heavy machinery, escalators and lifts. Each of the sections gives a comprehensive guide to which compliant emergency light is available, giving you the overview and possibility to choose the correct lighting not only for location but also in accordance with your budget.

Emergency lighting is only one section of this guide. The guide also covers the installation of safety signs, again giving advice in accordance with the Health & Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.  It covers the requirement of externally illuminated signs or  internally illuminated fire exit signs.

Once the type of emergency lighting has been selected and the correct emergency exit or fire exit signs have been purchased it is critical to have some knowledge of the testing requirements as set down in the British Standard BS 5266-1:1999.

The emergency lighting guide looks at monthly testing, half yearly testing and testing of appliances that are three years old. It is the role of the designated responsible person to ensure that the emergency lighting, once it is installed, is working according to the legislation. When purchasing emergency lighting from Safelincs you can choose to register for a reminder at the end of the checkout process and we will automatically send you reminders to test your emergency lighting when the lighting is coming up for testing.

For recording your emergency lighting tests you can also download our free fire safety log book.

To make your assessment and planning of your emergency lighting as problem free as possible view the comprehensive guide