Don’t panic – false alarm


Don’t get us wrong – we are always pleased to hear there is not actually a fire but UFAS (Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals) are a concern to both business and fire and rescue services.

The majority of fire alarm systems cause no problems but those that do cause false alarms can do so repeatedly and frequently.  It is estimated that false alarms cost the UK in excess of £1 billion a year.

Why do false alarms happen?

Manual break glass boxes can be activated maliciously. These very rarely cause a false alarm because they are faulty.

Consider if your break glass box is in an appropriate area – is it in a place which makes it prone to vandalism?  Could it be better placed or could the box be modified. They can be fitted with a protective cover with an integrated sounder. Sometimes called a ‘screamer’ – this activates a sound when the flap is lifted before the glass is broken and can deter vandals. Depending on your business and layout of your premises you may be able to install break boxes which only members of staff can access.

On occasions they may be activated by a maliciously by a staff member. A ‘screamer’ may help with this but it is important you keep a record of when alarms are activated and where and investigate who might be responsible.

A break glass box might be situated in an area when it is prone to accidental knocks which activate it. Something as simple as a stopper cover would reduce the chances of an accidental knock triggering the alarm.

Smoke detectors can be activated but other pollutants. Cooking fumes, insects and steam or dust are all common things which can activate the smoke detector. Make sure staff and contractors are aware of what detectors are where so they can be mindful where carrying out tasks. If works are taking place consider isolating the zone for the duration of the works.

Also consider whether you have the right detector in the right place. Is a smoke detector appropriate for the office kitchen where simple things such as steam from a dishwasher and burnt toast can activate the alarm system?  It may be best to have a heat detector in such areas linked to the alarm system. This would greatly reduce to chances of false alarms.

The maintenance of the system is important and any faults should be looked at immediately. This also includes ensure the systems is free from dust which can cause false alarms.  Your system should be maintained by a competent person such as a BAFE approved fire alarm engineer.

What should I do if my business has a problem with false alarms?

Review procedures – does your alarm need to be on auto dial during occupied hours? Are staff aware when the alarm is being tested and can you isolate areas whilst testing. Train staff to safely investigate the causes of any alarm so you can confirm an incident.

Make sure your alarm is fit for purpose. If your business has changed or rooms have changed uses you may need to review the types of detectors you have and where they are positioned. An aging alarm might need replacing.

You can find lots of useful information on the Fire Industry Association’s website on this link

The chances are if you have persistent problem your local fire service may actually have been in touch. Many areas will charge businesses if these incidents keep occurring. But first they will aim to address the problem with you. So please do get in touch with your local fire service and ask for advice.

False alarms are not only a financial problem for businesses and the fire service but they also put lives at risk. Not only for the firefighters who  respond to them but business  staff can get complacent if they work in an environment where false alarms are frequent. One day the alarm may not be crying wolf.


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