We all know how important fire alarms are for keeping us safe. They’ve saved countless lives by being the so-called ‘canary in a coal mine’, giving early warning that residents or workers need to evacuate their building.
But, just as a canary needs feeding to stay fit and well, your fire alarm system needs maintaining and testing to make sure it can keep on doing its job.
Neglecting your fire alarm maintenance is not only dangerous and foolhardy, it’s also illegal, as bosses at a Somerset care home recently learned to their cost.
Almondsbury Care Ltd were fined £100,000 in March for a series of fire safety breaches.
A routine Fire Service inspection of a house used to accommodate staff at Hillview Nursing Home in Burnham-on-Sea uncovered a number of potential fatal faults, including a fire alarm that did not work, inadequate emergency lighting, a fire exit door that couldn’t be opened and blocked escape routes.
During a trial at Taunton Magistrates’ Court, the company was shown to have failed to make a proper fire risk assessment, and the fire risk assessment that they had carried out clearly identified deficiencies which had been ignored. The court also found that the business had allowed people to stay in premises they knew placed people at risk of death or serious injury.
So how frequently should fire alarms be tested?
It is vital that testing of your fire alarm system is carried out on a regular basis.
If your fire alarm system is connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) for alerting the fire brigade, you must remember to notify them before and after carrying out your routine test.
- Manual call points must be tested once a week to ensure the control panel and alarm sounders are working as they should. It’s important to test a different manual call point each week, so that in due course every point in the building will be checked.
- Voice alarm systems should also be tested weekly.
- Automatic generators or vented batteries used as standby power for the fire alarm system must be inspected and tested once a month.
What about fire alarm maintenance?
Servicing of fire alarm systems must only be carried out by competent professionals.
The frequency of your fire alarm system’s servicing will be prescribed by a thorough fire risk assessment, but the maximum period between servicing should never be more than six months.
Standard fire alarm maintenance encompasses a wide range of tests and checks, including checking batteries, control panel function, fault indicators and facilities for automatic transmission of alarm signals to an alarm receiving centre.
Vented batteries should be inspected every three months and topped up if necessary.
In addition to the ongoing standard maintenance and checks, your fire alarm system will also need non-routine maintenance from time to time. This could include repairing any faults that arise; modifying the system to take into account any changes in occupancy, alterations or extensions; or taking action to address a high rate of false alarms.
Due to the labour-intensive and specialist nature of fire alarm maintenance, it is best to engage professionals with expertise in this specific field.
Employing organisations with third-party certification from UKAS-accredited bodies, such as BAFE or the FIA, means you can be assured your fire alarm maintenance will be carried out with the appropriate level of competence.
Expert Fire Solutions’ engineers are certified by a range of respected bodies, so you can trust that they are fully accredited and experienced to carry out inspections and servicing of fire alarm systems.