Fire Detection & Alarms

The need to provide a means to give occupants in buildings a clear warning of a fire is a fundamental aspect of fire safety. This requirement to giving adequate warning has traditionally been enshrined in fire legislation. It was, for example, a requirements of the (now repealed) fire precautions Act 1971 for premises for which a fire certificate was required.

In England and Wales, the regulatory reform (fire safety) order 2005 requires ‘measures in relation to the means for detecting fire and giving warning in case of fire’. (The same requirement applies elsewhere in the UK.) Specifically, there is a requirement that, where necessary, the premises must, “to the extent that it is appropriate, be equipped with appropriate fire detectors and alarms”. The extent to which “it is appropriate” is presumably determined from a fire risk assessment of the premises.

The use of the term ‘fire detectors’, which was also used within the (now revoked) fire precautions (workplace) regulations 1997, is potentially misleading. In effect, since the principles of fire safety were not changed by the introduction of the new legislation, nothing has basically changed in terms of regulatory requirements for fire warning systems in buildings.

In a small, single storey building, means of giving warning might comprise manually operated mechanical devices, such as a turn-handle rotary gong or electronic battery operated smoke alarms. If the premises were small enough (e.g. a single unit small shop), it might even be sufficient for persons just to shout ‘fire’! In any other building, an electrically operated fire alarm installation is likely to be required to ensure the fire warning is broadcast throughout the premises.

If the premises were first certificated under the fire precautions act within the last few years, the certificate will be a useful basis to determine requirements in respect of fire warning systems. The corollary is that, if the premises were certificated many years ago, the measures shown in the fire certificate may not now be adequate. An example would be hotels with no automatic fire detection system whatsoever yet still certificated in the early days of the fire precautions act. The absence of automatic fire detection would not now be regarded as acceptable for compliance with the safety order.

Similarly, in small workplaces that did not require certification under the act, there was no requirement to provide a fire alarm warning. In non residential premises it was traditionally held that there would be no general need for automatic fire detection and alarm. However, when some such premises, particularly those of more than one storey, are examined in the light of a risk assessment, it could well be determined that there is now a need for a fire alarm system.

Government Guidance on the (now revoked) fire precautions (workplace) regulations, previously suggested that domestic- type smoke alarms could be acceptable as a means of giving warning of fire in small workplaces. These smoke alarms are battery operated or wired. The new guides under the Fire Safety Order do not refer to domestic smoke alarms other than in the case of, for example, small HMO’S and bed and breakfast establishments.

Elsewhere, caution should be taken in the use of these devices, as this would be outside the scope of both BS- 5839-1 and BS 5839-6. Accordingly, they would be a need for careful justification of the use of smoke alarms within a small workplace in the fire risk assessment. In the exceptional cases when this work is acceptable, the smoke alarms would need to be mains powered with a standby battery or capacitor in order to meet the requirements of the health and safety (safety signs & signals) regulations 2006.

Smoke Free Legislation
The smoke free (premises and enforcement) regulation 2006 and associated legislation came into force in England on the 1st July 2007. Equivalent legislation was already in force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the effect that it is now illegal to smoke in virtually all enclosed or substantially enclosed premises, and in public and work vehicles anywhere in the UK.

There are very few exceptions to the new smoke free legislation; the main exclusions are designated smoking rooms in hotels, hostels etc, and designated bedrooms or smoking rooms in residential care and similar Premises. Elsewhere, designated smoking rooms (e.g. in workplaces) are no longer allowed under the legislation. This legislation could well have a positive effect on fire safety and prevention as “fires started by smoking materials” currently represent a significant proportion of reported fire events statistics that could in future reduce substantially.

A major requirement under the new legislation relates to the provision of signs. Most importantly, all “smoke free” premises are required to display no-smoking signs prominently at entrances that meet the requirements of the new law. A full range of fire safety signs and safety notices is available from Fire and Safety Centre