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False Fire Alarms: Their Causes, Consequences, and How to Prevent Them

A fire alarm system is a vital piece of equipment for the adequate detection and warning of a fire within the premises.

In the UK, as the responsible person of a business or non-domestic premise, you need a fire alarm system. Government requirements state that you are legally responsible for fire safety – meaning you are required to provide adequate fire safety equipment within the premises, including a fully-functioning fire detection system.

But just having a fire alarm system isn’t where it ends for fire safety, as false fire alarms from fire alarm systems are a problem worldwide.

According to Gov.uk, in the year ending June 2018, 556,884 incidents were attended by UK Fire and Rescue Services, 41% of which were from a result of false fire alarms. That’s a huge amount of call-outs for the fire and rescue services to be wasting their time on.

Total incidents attended by type of incident, England; year ending June 2018

That’s why we have produced a handy guide on how to minimise false fire alarms, so you can ensure that your premises’ fire safety standards are where they should be.

False fire alarms

A false fire alarm is an alarm signal from a fire detection or fire alarm system which is not caused by a fire. This is not the same as a fire drill or fire test; as a false fire alarm is not planned or scheduled.

Causes of false fire alarms

There are many factors that can contribute to a false fire alarm occurring, and identifying the cause is important before taking any actionable measures as you could do more harm than good, especially considering that modern properly maintained systems rarely suffer equipment malfunction.

Mismanagement of fire alarm systems is the main culprit of false fire alarms occurring, so being educated on how to properly maintain a fire alarm system and being aware of possible triggers is really important.

Common triggers or reasons for false fire alarms (particularly around smoke detectors) includes:

  • Aerosols
  • Humidity/steam
  • Dust build up
  • Poor installation/maintenance
  • Equipment malfunction
  • Smoking materials
  • Accidental damage or deliberate activation from manual call point

An infographic by the Fire Industry Association

Why are false fire alarms a problem?

False fire alarms can cause many problems, from endangering lives to being incredibly costly to the economy.

In fact, it is estimated that false fire alarms cost the UK in excess of £1 billion a year (FIA). False fire alarms can cost a business:

  • Loss of productivity (& lost production of physical pieces of work/products)
  • Disruption due to staff evacuation
  • An unnecessary release of retained firefighters
  • Possible future call-out charges for the attendance of fire and rescue services
  • Increased insurance premiums

Repeat offenders face the risk of having to pay call-out charges to the fire service as mentioned above. But from a safety point of view, false alarms can be a risk and annoyance to the Fire and Rescue Services as they waste the time of firefighters who may be needed at a genuine emergency elsewhere.

How to prevent false fire alarms

There are several approaches you can take to help prevent false fire alarms in your premises. Being able to manage your fire alarm system or have a third-party contractor such as Fireline manage your fire alarm system properly is necessary for preventing false fire alarms.

To reduce false fire alarms, the best practices are:

1.     Maintaining your fire alarm system

Regular servicing and maintenance of your fire alarm system are crucial, not only to ensure that your fire alarm system is working adequately to be able to protect your premises by warning you of a fire, but also because a fire alarm system that is working correctly is less likely to have a false alarm take place.

UK fire alarm regulations state that your fire alarm system must be ‘adequately maintained’. And the British Standard BS 5839-1:2017 publication recommends that a fire alarm system should be inspected at least every 6 months.

2.     Adapting your fire alarm system

Your fire alarm system can be adapted in a way that can reduce the chance of false fire alarms from occurring. Fire alarm systems are made up of fire detectors and the control panel, and there are settings that can be altered to suit the needs of your premises.

Things to consider for fire detectors & manual call points:

  • Select the right detector for the location
  • Ensure your detectors are located in sensible places
  • Check manual call points can’t be knocked by mistake
  • Consider varying the performance level of your detector
  • Have your fire system maintained and serviced regularly by a third party certificated company

Control panels can ‘filter’ signals from detectors with:

  • Disablements; switching off parts of the system at certain times of the day or when something, in particular, is going to happen
  • Delays; delays can be set which would allow the fire warden to check the area before an alarm is sounded which could result in the Fire and Rescue Services being notified
  • Coincident detection/multiple signals; a signal is delayed until the control panel receives a second confirmation signal from the same area (more than one detection signal is needed) before sounding the alarm

Please note: filtering detection signals will slow the response of the fire alarm system, so adapting the control panel of your system must only be done following a fire risk assessment to ensure that this is a safe and appropriate action for your premises.

 

Minimise false fire alarms in your premises

False fire alarms carry negative impacts not only for your business but for the UK economy and for the safety of the general public as discussed earlier in this article. That’s why it’s essential that your business’s premises have taken the correct actionable measures to ensure false fire alarms are minimised as much as possible.

If you are interested in staff training, hiring a professional risk assessor, essential fire safety equipment or anything else we have mentioned above, contact us here.

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