Fire Alarms – Common Causes of False Alarms


It’s estimated that false fire alarm signals cost the UK more than £1billion every year. No wonder then, that these unwanted false alarms are a major concern for both businesses and the Fire & Rescue Services.

So, what causes false alarms and how can we minimise them?

Activation of Manual Break Glass Call Points

Manual break glass call points are often activated maliciously or through mischievousness. Rarely are false alarms raised through faulty call points. Steps can be taken to attempt to minimise activations such as:

  • Checking if the call point is in an appropriate area, or if it’s in a place which makes it prone to vandalism.
  • Considering whether the call point could be located in a more suitable place, or whether a cover could be fitted to deter vandalism.

It may be an option to install manual call points which only authorised people can access. However, this is subject to a comprehensive fire risk assessment, the nature of your business and layout of the premises.

Activations may also be caused regularly by accident – for example, if the call point is sited in a place where it’s prone to being hit by delivery cages, then it may be an option to fit call point covers or to reposition the call point in a better location.

Activation of Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are another common cause of false alarm activations. Airborne pollutants, steam, or dust in busy working environments, along with cooking fumes or insects can all cause a detector to activate. Ensure employees are aware of where detectors are so they can be mindful when carrying out certain tasks. If works are taking place in a specific area, it may be worthwhile isolating that specific fire alarm zone for the duration of the works.

If false alarms from detectors are an issue, you should consider the type of detectors you have installed. Smoke detectors may not be the best choice for all areas of your workplace. With many other options such as beam detectors, heat detectors and air aspirating detectors amongst others, it may be that another type of detector is more suited to specific locations. This could greatly reduce to chances of false alarms.

Will fire alarm maintenance help prevent false alarms?

A regular maintenance programme for your fire alarm system is vital. It’s important to ensure your maintenance is carried out by a service provider with third party accreditation such as NSI or BAFE. This ensures that only competent people work on your system, and that it is serviced correctly and checked thoroughly for faults. Any faults found should be investigated and resolved immediately to ensure correct functioning of the fire alarm system.

Ageing systems and components

Generally, detectors should be replaced every 10-15 years, although this varies depending on the manufacturer. When ageing equipment starts to fail, it can become the source of false alarm activations. If this becomes the case and your detectors or main fire alarm panel is beginning to fail, it may be time to weigh up the cost of call out charges and the disruption caused against the cost of a new fire alarm system, especially if your current system is now obsolete and replacement parts are not readily available.

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

Once you’ve reviewed your call point locations, detector locations and types, and the age of your system, there’s a few other things that can be done.

  • Review your fire safety procedures – is your alarm on auto-dial during occupied hours, and does it need to be? Are employees aware of when the system is being tested? Can you isolate areas during testing? And have all employees received fire safety training and are aware of what to do in the event of a fire?
  • Ensure your alarm is fit for purpose – has your business activity changed or has there been any modifications to the building itself? If so, you should have your fire risk assessment reviewed to ensure you’re fully protected against the threat of fire, and that your fire alarm system doesn’t need replacing or updating.

Not only do false alarms cost money, but they also put lives at risk. Employees can quickly become complacent if false alarms are a regular occurrence. If a real fire occurred, there’s a serious risk that not everyone would make it out of the building in time. And it’s not just your employees that are at risk. There’s a very real chance that the Fire and Rescue Service could be attending a false alarm activation instead of attending to a real fire elsewhere!

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Has your fire risk assessment been reviewed in the last three years?
  2. Have all your employees received fire safety training?
  3. Is your fire alarm system subject to a regular maintenance programme?
  4. Is your fire alarm system ageing and in need of updating or replacing?

For any of the fire safety services mentioned above, please complete your details to request a no-obligation quotation.

For expert advice on your current fire alarm systems, or if you have any other concerns you would like to discuss then please contact us on 0808 108 0882, and one of our Fire Safety Consultants will be on hand to take your call.  Get a Quote


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