The safety of your business premises and its occupants can be greatly enhanced by the installation of an Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System. When properly installed, used and maintained, it can be a significant factor in reducing the risk to life and limiting damage to your property, due to its fast response in detecting a fire. Unfortunately, the very features that provide this fast response can also produce false alarms, arising from other sources, such as cooking, steam, smoking, etc.

What is a false alarm?

A false alarm is a fire alarm signal from an Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System, due to a cause other than an actual fire.

 

Who is responsible for reducing false alarms?

If you are the ‘responsible person’ you have a legal responsibility to manage the fire protection measures in your premises. Failure to do so competently can lead to prosecution under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
This includes making sure that appropriate Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm Systems are fitted (where necessary) and that the premises, facilities, equipment and devices are maintained effectively and regularly and are in working order in order to safeguard the safety of people in the premises. The responsible person must also, where necessary, nominate a competent person to implement these measures.

 

Potential impact of false alarms on your business

The latest figures published by the government estimate that the cost of false alarms in the UK is around £1 billion a year. Much of this cost is borne from lost production and interruptions to business activities.

  • Major disruption to business effectiveness, efficiency, profitability & services.
  • Frequent false alarms in a building can cause staff to become complacent and less willing to react when a fire alarm actuates.

Impact of false alarms on South Wales Fire & Rescue Service

False alarms affect South Wales Fire & Rescue Service by:

  • Diverting essential services from real emergencies (putting life and property at risk
  • Unnecessary risk to fire crews and the public whilst responding to false alarms.
  • Disruption to risk reduction activities (e.g. education, home safety checks, community engagement, inspections, etc.).
  • Disruption to training for operational personnel.
  • Impact on the environment from unnecessary vehicle movements (e.g. noise, CO2 emissions, etc.).
  • Drain on public finances.

 

How can you prevent false alarms?

If your system is monitored, before testing or doing any maintenance work on your Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System you must inform your alarm receiving centre that the testing and maintenance is taking place and inform them when it is completed.

  • Ensure the contractor used for installation and/or maintenance is third party certified, thus ensuring competency. This should ensure the system will be designed and serviced correctly.
  • Consider replacing single-sensor detectors with multi-sensors. These are able to identify other phenomena (such as steam) and should not activate the alarm unnecessarily.
  • Use appropriate, approved detectors that are correctly located, thus ensuring correct operation of the system.
  • Consider relocating any inappropriately sited detector heads or manual call points if they are generating false alarms, following advice of a competent fire risk assessor.
  • Use protective covers over approved manual call points with adequate signage and CCTV where required.
  • Improve the control of contractors, ensure they are third party accredited for the service provided. This should provide more rigorous maintenance of the system and give you good advice and recommendations.
  • Ensure adequate training is provided to those who will carry out weekly testing and periodic checks.
  • Educate your staff regarding false alarm reduction.

Also, ensure that:

  • Where you identify a false alarm, contact the Fire and Rescue Service immediately (via 999) to prevent fire appliances attending unnecessarily.
  • Your Fire Risk Assessment is up to date and reflects the current use and conditions of your premises.
  • The Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System has been correctly designed, installed and commissioned and that it is properly managed, tested and maintained.
  • The causes of false alarms are investigated and appropriate corrective action is taken where necessary.
  • False alarms are recorded in the fire alarm log book along with any remedial action taken.
  • Your procedures include the designation of specific suitably trained staff to check whether or not there is a genuine fire when the fire alarm activates.
  • Competent persons should be appointed to assist in the investigation of the alarms activation. They should have an understanding of the alarm system and be confident in their ability to carry out the investigation.

 

How to investigate an alarm activation safely

Having an effective investigation procedure when the Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System activates can limit the disruption caused to your business by false alarms.
Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm Systems are excellent at detecting a fire in the early stages. By having a strategy to investigate the cause of an activation the moment it happens, your staff can quickly identify false alarms, reset the system and return to work.
If you discover a fire or smoke as part of your investigation, do not put yourself or others at risk. Leave the premises quickly and safely, dial 999 and ask for the Fire & Rescue Service.
Please liaise with your Fire Risk Assessor in relation to the above.

 

Resetting alarms

NOTE: South Wales Fire and Rescue Service does not reset Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm Systems. Resetting the System without proper investigation could reduce the effectiveness of the subsequent investigation into the cause of the false alarm by a competent engineer.

 

Further guidance

For additional advice on reducing the number of false alarms please contact your fire risk assessor and your fire alarm maintenance company.
Additional advice can be found via the links below: