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Preventing Unwanted Fire Signals

Users of automatic fire alarm systems are required by law to demonstrate satisfactory management of false alarms. To satisfactorily demonstrate the management of false alarms, users must log all false alarms and categorise them into one of the following five categories:

  1. Unwanted alarms- Alarms caused by fumes from cooking, steam, tobacco smoke, dust insects etc.
  2. Equipment false alarms- Alarms caused by faults with the equipment.
  3. Malicious false alarms- Alarms arising from the unauthorized or malicious use of the equipment.
  4. False alarms of good intent- These occur when an individual suspects there is a fire and raises the alarm.
  5. Unknown - Should only be used for false alarms that do not fall into any of the above categories.

Recording this information enables your system installer/service provider to investigate any system faults or problems that you may have with your equipment.

Failure to demonstrate satisfactory management of false alarms may lead to:

  • Invalidated insurance policies
  • Charges being made for an attendance by the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Reduced attendance or non-attendance by the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Formal action taken under articles 13 and/or 17 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Whilst attending an unwanted fire signal our crews will check the fire safety measures of the premises. This audit will be a simple check of the means of escape, signage, fire detection and warning, staff training, emergency lighting and any general concerns the crew may have.

Any problems highlighted may lead to a full fire safety audit being carried out by a specialist fire safety officer and enforcement action being taken if appropriate.

Are your fire alarm system and staff processes working?

By using the check list below you can ensure that your fire alarm system and responsible staff members are performing within acceptable limits.

If any of the points are in doubt an alarm system review should take place.

  • Is there a designated person who has responsibility for the fire alarm system?
  • Is the fire alarm serviced and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and the British Standard (or equivalent) by a competent person?
  • Are any faults dealt with quickly and efficiently?
  • Is the system effectively managed to prevent false alarms and unwanted fire signals. e.g. when testing, contractors on site etc?
  • Are records kept of all testing, servicing and causes of false alarms? (keeping such records will aid in providing compliance with the law)
  • Are all false alarms investigated to identify the cause of the actuation before the fire service is called?
  • Is remedial action taken to prevent any re-occurrence of the false alarm?

Main causes of unwanted fire signals

The main causes of false alarms and unwanted fire signals are:

  • Cooking Fumes - being detected by a detector in an adjacent area. e.g. a smoke detector located in a corridor outside a kitchen.
  • Steam and aerosol sprays - activating smoke detectors
  • Incorrect type of detector - used to protect an area. A typical example is where a room protected with a smoke detector has its use changed and a toaster or kettle is introduced.
  • Contractors working on site - causing dust or electrical disturbances which affect the fire alarm system.
  • Failure to notify the alarm monitoring centre - when the system is being tested or maintained.
  • Unsatisfactory maintenance / testing programme - where detectors are rarely cleaned and serviced.
  • Incorrect siting of a detector - in an area where there is excessive air movement due to mechanical heating, ventilation or open windows.
  • Lack of effective management - in taking responsibility for the fire alarm system, being proactive and reactive to causes of false alarms and managing an initial investigation into the cause of an alarm before the fire service are called.
  • Human activity - the biggest cause of false alarms, people need to be made aware of their actions and responsibilities with regards to fire alarm and detection systems.

Minimising the number of false alarms

There are a number of ways that you can help to minimise the number of false fire alarms and unwanted fire signals. Use the list below to promote best practice.

  • Correct Design - Installation, commissioning, acceptance, maintenance and management of the system should minimise false alarms.
  • Cooking - Only done in designated areas, use conveyor type toasters to prevent likely hood of burning.
  • Appropriate Detectors - Such as heat sensors in kitchens.
  • Adequate Extraction / Ventilation - Consider the use of a Cookmiser system.
  • Appropriate Sensor Placement - Adjacent detectors should NOT be ionisation, use optical/multi sensor.
  • Doors not wedged open - Consider use of an open door alarm.
  • Smoke Detectors - Provision of local, mains powered, self contained smoke detectors to warn occupants of smoke prior to main system actuating.

Points to remember when employing contractors

When there are going to be contractors on the premises it is important to take note of the following points to minimise the risk of accidental false alarms.

  • Do contractors have appropriate permits to work system
  • Can the area be isolated or can the system be taken 'off line'
  • Schedule of work should contain details of how contractor will prevent false alarms
  • Cover detectors (and uncover when completed for day)
  • If the work will generate heat the risk assessment should include false alarms
  • Management controls to review performance penalty clauses for infringements
  • If steam will be produced, venting and extraction should be adequate
  • Can detector placement be changed or the type of detector changed to avoid false alarms?
  • Be aware of illicit smoking and design smoking areas to avoid working areas
  • If work will be carried out near a manual call point, can it be moved temporarily or permanently?
  • Use of lift covers / flaps to be considered, audible warning boxes could be fitted

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