Do I need a fire alarm?

Do I need a fire alarm? we hear you cry! It’s a fact of life that most businesses do.

Do I need a fire alarm is one of the most common questions we get asked. In a competitive world, protecting your business with fire alarms will never rank top of the ‘to do’ list. It’s not that you don’t care, it’s just that there are sales targets, costs to squeeze , deals to find, expansion plans . . . the list goes on. Installing or upgrading fire detection is something you’ll get around to one day.

However, putting off fire safety measurers puts your staff and premises at serious risk and could put you in breach of the law. In 2004, according to a UK government study, there were 33,400 fires in commercial buildings across England and Wales in which 38 people died and 1,300 were injured. Aside from the human tragedy, the overall cost was estimated at a staggering 2.5 billion pounds.

Some businesses require higher levels of fire protection because of their size, the material they handle or their trading activities. Question is, which fire alarm system is right for your needs?

The first step is to carry out a risk assessment. For instance, what’s the furthest anyone must travel to reach an exit? What about the building layout and the challenges of staircases, basements and narrow corridors? Could a fire cut off the sole means of escape?

Getting advice tailored to your premises from experts could be time well spent.  It’s also worth browsing the UK government’s general advice on fire safety in the workplace, as well as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) 2005 order.

Next, the legal position. The 2005 Fire Safety order is a complex document but it’s anchored on two key principles.

  • Owners of companies and buildings must appoint a ‘responsible person’ to ensure compliance with the law and heighten awareness of fire protection.
  • There must be ‘adequate’ means of detecting fire and raising the alarm.

While a ‘responsible person’ could be you, it could also be a professional fire safety business. As for deciding what’s ‘adequate’, well, it all depends.

For a few employees, working in a small, single storey, open plan office, shouting ‘fire’ is probably fine providing there’s no loud equipment running. Remember, though, that fire spreads fast and exits can get cut off.

So for the vast majority of businesses sounding the alarm and fire detection needs to be more reliable and effective than shouting. There are three main methods to consider:

  • Site alarms, so called because they’re often used on building sites. Typical examples include hand-turned gongs, air horns and even whistles.
  • Wired or wireless break-glass alarms; these need to be installed to British Standard specifications. The  number needed and their placement is crucial, as is a commissioning certificate to show fire inspectors.
  • Automatic smoke and heat detectors, which work in various ways (ionisation, optical, heat or a combination) but are the surest method since they don’t depend on someone discovering a fire and must be fitted if a fire could start undetected and compromise an escape route.

All businesses accommodating people – B&B’s, pubs, hotels, boarding schools, conference rooms and hostels – will need to install automatic fire detection equipment. For residential care homes these should also normally be linked to an automatic 999 dialling system.

If this all sounds like a costly regulatory minefield then think about getting in touch with a professional fire protection business. Generally speaking, costs start from around a thousand pounds to install a fire alarm system depending on the size of your premises – it could be the best investment your business ever makes.