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Common Causes of False Fire Alarms & How They Can Be Prevented

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Having a fire alarm system isn’t the end of ensuring fire safety – false fire alarms are a problem across the UK and beyond.

Automatic fire alarms

Automatic fire detection alarms are situated in a range of commercial, industrial, and multi-family residences around the UK to keep properties and their residents safe from the catastrophic consequences of fire.

According to government regulations, as the responsible person for a company or non-domestic property in the United Kingdom, you are legally responsible for fire safety. This means you must have suitable fire safety equipment within the premises, including a fully functional fire detection system.

Automatic fire alarms detect a rise in heat or the presence of smoke and issues an audio or, if necessary, visual warning, in the event of a suspected fire.

Why are they needed?

Automatic fire detection systems are an extremely vital, and sometimes life-saving, piece of fire protection equipment that may react to triggers that are not always a sign of fire. Steam, cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays, and cooking smoke, for example, are all typical causes of fire alarms going off when they shouldn’t, and are categorised as false alarms when they go off for reasons other than an actual fire.

False alarms: The stats 

According to Gov.uk, 556,884 incidents were responded to by UK Fire and Rescue Services in the year ending June 2018, with false fire alarms accounting for 41% of them. That’s a lot of call-outs for the fire and rescue services that weren’t needed.

Causes of false fire alarms

Several incidents might lead to a false fire alarm, and determining the cause is critical before taking any decisive actions, as you may end up doing more harm than good, especially given that modern, properly maintained systems seldom have equipment malfunction.

Mismanagement of fire alarm systems is the leading cause of false fire alarms, and so learning how to properly maintain a fire alarm system and being aware of potential triggers is essential.

Common causes of false fire alarms and smoke detectors include:

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

The consequences

False fire alarms can lead to several problems, ranging from risking lives to being extremely costly to the economy.

False fire alarms are predicted to cost the UK more than £1 billion every year. (FIA). False fire alarms can cost a business:

  • Increased insurance premiums
  • Waste of fire and rescue resources
  • Possible future call-out charges for the attendance of fire and rescue services
  • Loss of productivity and equipment/products

They are especially problematic in buildings when the alarm leads to evacuations. Businesses suspend work during the evacuation, resulting in reduced productivity and, in retail and commercial establishments such as stores and restaurants, a loss of earnings and consumers.

The long-term repercussions of false fire alarms can be disastrous. Firstly, they lead to the public becoming complacenet, as employees, residents, and customers alike become accustomed to false alarms and, as a result, are less likely to respond appropriately when needed. Secondly, they also mean that when the fire brigade is called out to false alarms, their team, equipment, and resources are not available for real emergencies occurring elsewhere.

The solution

According to Lee Philpotts, deputy assistant commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, when their team is “out dealing with false fire alarms, they are unavailable to attend genuine emergencies or carry out training or community safety work.” He went on to emphasise the need for high-quality, well-installed, and well-managed fire alarm systems, stating that it is “in everyone’s best interests to guarantee that alarms are properly fitted and maintained.”

Specialists in the fire industry believe that this is one of the most effective ways of drastically lowering false fire alarms, and as a consequence, several laws and campaigns have been enacted to encourage companies and multiple-resident environments to implement this.

Penalising false alarms: The Localism Act

The Fire Industry Association has recently begun a nationwide effort to eliminate false alarms and has created a new section on its website to assist organisations in better managing their fire alarm systems.

Another motivation for companies to install efficient fire alarm systems is the Localism Act 2011. This declares that the Fire and Rescue Service can now charge for attendance at false alarms caused by repeat offenders using an automated fire alarm. If the false alarm occurs on non-domestic property and the complaint is made as a direct or indirect result of warning equipment malfunctioning or being installed wrongly, the fine may be levied.

As a result, companies and organisations must verify they have taken all necessary precautions to avoid a false fire alarm. This includes ensuring that fire risk assessments are current and thorough, and that fire alarm and detection systems are appropriately designedinstalledcommissioned, and maintained.

How you can prevent false fire alarms

There are several steps you may take to assist reduce false fire alarms in your business. To prevent false fire alarms, you must be able to control your fire alarm system or have a third-party provider, such as M&G Fire, operate your fire alarm system appropriately.

Fire professionals advocate hiring a professional to conduct a Risk Assessment because they have the experience and knowledge required to ensure that they are carried out thoroughly and can then take any corrective action to prevent the recurrence of false alarms and evacuations. This can involve the installation of new and cutting-edge equipment such as early warning systems, which aim to avoid unnecessary fire brigade call-outs and evacuations.

Regular service and maintenance of your fire alarm system are critical, not only to ensure that your fire alarm system is working effectively to safeguard your premises by informing you of a fire, but also because a properly functioning fire alarm system is less likely to produce a false alarm.

According to UK fire alarm regulations, your fire alarm system must be ‘adequately maintained.’ In addition, the British Standard BS 5839-1:2017 publication advises that a fire alarm system be examined at least once every six months.

Minimise false fire alarms on your premises 

If you own, manage, or are responsible for commercial fire safety and fire protection equipment and are interested in staff training, hiring a professional risk assessor, vital fire safety equipment, or anything else we have stated above, get in touch today.