The current UK Legislation was brought into effect in October 2006, known as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 details everything you need to do in order to comply with the law.
But fire alarm regulations aren’t always easy to understand, especially for commercial premises. As a business owner you may be aware that you have certain responsibilities, but it can be hard to clearly define what they are.
The full details of fire safety requirements can be found at legislation.gov.uk but in short:
- If you employ more than five people who work on site, you must have some form of fire alarm system installed
- Your fire alarm systems should be installed by a competent professional (ideally British Standard BS 5839 compliant and BAFE Registered)
- A professional fire alarms expert should inspect your alarm system every six months, and relevant maintenance and repairs made according to the service engineer’s recommendations
- You should also keep a record of all fire alarm maintenance and servicing in your logbook
- Businesses need to appoint a fire safety marshal, carry out regular fire risk assessments, ensure that staff understand all fire safety procedures, and conduct regular fire drills.
Who is responsible for fire safety?
In short you are responsible for the fire safety of the business if you are the owner, employer, landlord, occupier, or anyone that is in a controlling position. In many cases there can be more than one responsible person, and, in this instance, you have to work together and take equal responsibility to meet the regulations.
As a responsible person, you must undertake a thorough risk assessment (or arrange for a third-party fire risk assessment company to conduct one for you) of your premises which includes:
- Identifying the potential hazards
- Identifying those at risk
- Evaluating the extent of risk and removing it
- Recording the findings and preparing an action plan
- Reviewing and updating the assessment as necessary
The purpose of the fire risk assessment is to understand a property’s unique fire safety requirements, ways to prevent hazards and minimise risks.
How Often should a Fire alarm systems be tested (Serviced/Maintained)?
A fire alarm is a major lifeline and whilst the best equipment can be installed, without regular maintenance there is always a chance of underperformance. To ensure your systems run at peak efficiency it is recommended that 2 types of testing is completed at different stages throughout the year.
- Inspections by the owner – Usually the responsible person
- Inspections and maintenance by a trained engineer
Inspections by the owner (Responsible person)
Daily checks should be completed by carrying out a basic inspection of the fire panel upon entering the building to ensure no faults have occurred since the previous day.
Weekly tests are recommended to ensure that all the devices and components of the fire alarm system work effectively this test will determine that there are no issues with signal from the device to control panel and that the alarm sound can be heard throughout the building. To carry out this testing one manual call point (MCP) and one smoke detector should be tested on a rotational basis until every device has been tested, the results of these tests should be recorded into a logbook along with the location of each device. Any faults that are found should be rectified immediately. It is also recommended to visually check fire extinguishers (check that they are present and not obstructed; fire exits (check for obstructions and ensure the correct signage is still visible), and if applicable sprinkler systems (Check for blockages and that the water supply is sufficient).
During monthly tests it is advised to check the back-up power systems, most fire alarms have a battery that will kick in should there be an interruption in the power supply, it should be logged when the battery was last changed along with any carbon monoxide detector batteries.
Bi-annual tests include conducting a fire drill, during this test the alarm should be activated without prior knowledge to others in the building to emulate a fire being present. The time to evacuate should be recorded and all staff/visitors registered outside the building at the evacuation point, the outcomes of this test should be recorded in the logbook and if there are obvious failures during the test it is worth conducting it again within a few weeks once refresher training has been provided. The aim of these tests is to ensure that the fire evacuation plan for your building is up to date and to ensure that everyone present knows where to exit the building.
If at any point during any of the testing carried out the responsible person deems there to be damaged or deterioration of the alarm it is advised that a professional is called in as soon as possible before it has a detrimental effect on the system as a whole.
Inspections and maintenance by a trained engineer
Legal requirements state that a commercial fire alarm must be tested and inspected periodically by a competent (trained) person so that any faults can be identified, and corrective action can be taken to ensure efficiency and reliability on the system.
Under the BS 5839 legislation all detectors, call points, panels and circuits must be tested every six months by a ‘competent’ person (a person with specialist knowledge of fire systems and smoke detectors). The duration between tests is dependent on the size and scale of any one system, for larger and higher-risk premises it is recommended to have these systems tested every 4 months instead.
During a maintenance visit it is possible to remain in the building and continue to work but there is usually some minor disruption, in essence the engineer needs to set off the alarm and every device in the building in order to check for any defects or signal faults. Once this part of the testing is completed the engineer will inspect the history recorded in the logbook and carry out visual checks of the building.
- Emergency lighting a monthly check consists of a flick test and an annual check involves a 3-hour test during which the main lights will be switched off and emergency lights left on to be in line with BS5266-1:2016.
- Firefighting equipment (such as extinguishers and blankets) need to be serviced annually to conform to BS5306-3:2017
- If applicable to your premises, sprinkler systems need to be serviced annually to comply with BS9251:2014, this servicing will aim to provide a certificate of compliance renewal if no defects are reported.
Why Should you maintain your fire alarm system?
Not only is it a legal requirement to do so, but fire alarm maintenance is also necessary in order to protect your staff, customers, and company assets. These systems are put in place to save lives, it seems there is little point in installing an alarm system if you’re not prepared to ensure they are functional at all times. Ultimately fire alarms and the regulations for them are put in place to safeguard people who are employed by you and/or visit your premises that are under your care whilst they are on site. It is also worth remembering that not testing and regularly servicing you alarm can result in faults that cause false alarms and in turn this could have an impact on your business causing disruption and loss of productivity.
Understanding the legal requirements is vital to the safety of your business. Not only do you have a duty of care for employees, customers, and assets but minor breaches of compliancy can land you with up to £5,000 in fines. Any business found to have major breaches can face even tougher unlimited fines and possibly up to two years in prison.