Fire alarms for offices

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One of the most important responsibilities as an employer is to ensure the safety of your employees. While fire alarms can provide both staff and business premises with a higher level of fire safety, many business owners wonder whether their specific space requires a fire alarm system and, if so, what kind.

Through this article, we hope to answer questions that you might have on a potential fire alarm system in your office space, including:

  • Does my office need a fire alarm system?
  • What type of alarm do I need?
  • Who is responsible for making sure we have the right fire alarm system in place?
  • Are fire alarms expensive?
  • Can I install a fire alarm system myself?
  • How often should a fire alarm be serviced?
  • Why is servicing important?
  • How often do fire alarms have to be tested?
  • How do I carry out a weekly fire alarm test?
  • What should I do if something goes wrong with my fire alarm?


Does my office need a fire alarm?

In the UK, fire safety regulations stipulate that offices have to be equipped with ‘appropriate fire detection systems’ that allow for a potential outbreak of fire to be easily detected and for occupants to be warned. That, however, does not mean that absolutely every office space requires an entire fire alarm system.

If your space fulfils the below requirements, it might not need a fire alarm system:

  • Your premises are small, simple, and single-storey or open-plan,
  • You don’t store any high-risk substances, such as chemicals,
  • You don’t undertake any high-risk activities, such as cooking,
  • You don’t have any vulnerable occupants, such as the very young, elderly or disabled,
  • A fire would be easily spotted if it broke out anywhere in the premises,
  • A shout of ‘fire!’ would be easily heard by all occupants.

If, however, one or more of the above statements do not apply to your business, it is very likely that you may need a fire alarm system.

Spaces, where fire could start unobserved, require automatic fire detection systems which include smoke and heat detectors.

Carrying out a Fire Risk Assessment should define the need and specifications of your fire safety measures, including fire alarm systems. If Fire Risk Assessment has not been performed for your space, we recommend carrying one out before investing in fire alarm systems.

What type of alarm do I need?

The type of fire alarms suitable for your space should be determined by a survey from a competent person, or by recommendations of a fire risk assessment. There are 3 main types of fire alarm system: conventional, addressable, and wireless.

Conventional Fire Alarm

  • divides your premises into broad zones,
  • in the event of an alert, the fire alarm panel identifies the zone, but not the precise area,
  • most suitable for smaller or lower risk environments.

Addressable Fire Alarm

  • each individual device has its own unique electronic address,
  • if one activates, the fire alarm panel specifies the problem area,
  • most suitable for larger or higher risk environments – e.g schools, care homes, hospitals.

Wireless Fire Alarm

  • uses a secure wireless link between the sensors and the fire alarm panel,
  • typically, works like an addressable system, just without the wires,
  • most suitable for premises that do not wish to display much wiring – e.g. churches, historic buildings.

UK fire alarm legislation does not exactly specify types of fire alarm systems suitable for various kinds of premises. Determining the appropriate type of fire alarm system requires taking into consideration various aspects of your space. However, in general types fire alarm systems may depend on the size of the premises:

  • Smaller premises typically have a zonal, conventional fire alarm system.
  • Larger premises may have an addressable system that gives more precise information on the specific location of an alert.
  • Higher risk premises, such as nursing homes, will always have addressable systems covering all areas.

To make sure you get the right fire alarm system to meet UK fire alarm regulations, it is recommended that you use a reputable fire safety company to design it.

Who is responsible for making sure we have the right fire alarm system in place?

The Responsible Person for the premises. They will usually follow the recommendations of a fire risk assessment or have a survey carried out by a competent company.

Are fire alarms expensive?

Fire alarm systems do not have to cost much. It is important to ensure that the right type and category of fire alarms is installed in order to limit any unnecessary spending. Of course, the cost depends on the size and specific requirements of your space. Carrying out Fire Risk Assessment should help determine the exact fire safety needs.

Can I install a fire alarm system myself?

UK fire alarm regulations stipulate that you must be ‘competent’ to install a fire alarm system, though they do not specifically require any certifications. Insurance companies and Building Control require fire alarm systems to be installed and commissioned by competent engineers.

This, therefore, means that the person or company, who installs your fire alarm, should:

  • understand the various types of fire alarm systems and how they work,
  • be familiar with the makes and models of fire alarms,
  • be able to identify which grade and category of fire alarm system you need,
  • be able to design a fire alarm system to meet the grade and category requirements,
  • have a good understanding of British Standard BS 5839,
  • be able to design a system to meet BS 5839 requirements,
  • have sound electrical knowledge.

How often should a fire alarm be serviced?

UK fire alarm regulations only state that your fire alarm system must be ‘adequately maintained’. British Standard BS 5839, however, recommends that a fire alarm system should be inspected by a competent person at least every 6 months and the government recommends following this standard.

Some properties such as larger hotels and blocks of flats where detection is also within flats, often have a quarterly service. Whilst not obligatory, 4 visits per year will mean we are more likely to be able to access all of the rooms at least once per year.

Why is servicing important?

There are 2 main reasons to keep your fire alarm in working order:

  1. To alert occupants in the event of fire and so prevent loss of life.
  2. To prevent false alarms.

False alarms account for a large number of fire brigade call-outs. This incurs unnecessary expenses and, most importantly, lowers fire brigade availability when a real emergency arises.

The fire brigade may impose charges for call-outs at premises which have a high number of false alarms as an incentive for businesses to keep their fire alarms better maintained.

How often do fire alarms have to be tested?

Fire alarm servicing and testing are not equivalent. While a fire alarm service is a thorough investigation of the whole fire alarm system, weekly testing is more of a ‘spot check’. Its purpose is to quickly test that your fire alarm is in working order and help you identify any issues.

Fire alarm systems should be tested on a weekly basis using manual call points (a different call point each week, in rotation). This testing should be entered into the fire log book.

Having a fully operational fire alarm is a regulatory requirement premises that are required to have them, which means that both regular servicing and testing are required. It is the Responsible Person’s duty to ensure that the fire alarm system is in good order by testing it on a weekly basis and making sure that maintenance is carried out periodically.

The guidance to test weekly comes from British Standard BS 5839 which is the standard that the UK government recommends to followed with regards to fire alarm maintenance. Should you decide to test less frequently, be aware that you may need to explain why you have deviated from BS 5389 to any investigating fire officers.

How do I carry out a weekly fire alarm test?

Your ‘responsible person’ can carry out your weekly fire alarm test. Although, if you look after a number of properties, you may prefer to ask your fire alarm company to do this for you.

  1. In each weekly test, you should activate at least one fire alarm call-point and check that the alarm sounds and the panel receives the signal. Each week you should test a different call-point.
  2. Once you’ve performed a successful check, you can re-set your fire alarm panel. If you have encountered problem, you should contact your fire safety company.
  3. Finally, record the test in your fire alarm log book, including the location of the call-point(s) that you tested.

What should I do if something goes wrong with my fire alarm?

If you believe you have a faulty fire alarm system, you should report that immediately to your fire protection company. Examples of system errors include, but are not limited to:

  • an alarm is sounding but there’s no fire,
  • a light on your fire alarm panel says there is a fault,
  • your fire alarm panel is beeping,
  • there’s no power going to your fire alarm panel.

If a fault occurs, your fire alarm system will not be considered ‘adequately maintained’ which will cause your premises to be non-compliant with fire alarm regulations. Your fire alarm company should attend site within 8 hours; ideally for serious faults, where the fire alarm system is not working, this should be within 4 hours.

What can Surrey Fire & Safety do to help?

We can carry out a free site survey.  Alternatively, a Fire Risk Assessment visit will verify whether you have a suitable fire alarm system. Should you wish to ensure that the system you have is working correctly, you may also choose a service visit by one of our competent engineers.

Check out more of our office fire safety guides below:

What fire extinguishers does my office need?

Fire Safety in the Office and Workplace