• January 31, 2023

    Fire alarms can save lives and protect workplaces from the devastating impacts of fire. The benefits are clear, but what are the legal obligations for businesses surrounding workplace fire alarms? If you’re wondering what are the minimum requirements for workplace fire alarms, keep reading. From a set of British Standards to the Fire Safety Order, there is a lot of information to take in, so we’ve cut through it all and identified what you need to know to stay compliant.

    What do workplace fire alarms consist of?

    A workplace fire alarm system can look different for every company and every site. Each site may have different needs and the type and size of a workplace will influence the type of fire alarm needed. However, a workplace fire alarm system will always consist of the following components: 

    • A control panel
    • Fire sensors and detectors 
    • Alarm or bell box

    Why do workplace fire alarms need to be regulated?

    The main reason why it is important for workplace fire alarms to be regulated is so that they remain working effectively and protect people, sites and workplaces. If a workplace’s fire alarm system stops working or suffers a fault, then if a fire did break out, it may not notify those on-site that a fire has broken out, increasing the risk of mortality or injury as well as damage to any buildings or other assets.

    The Fire Protection Association (FPA) stated that within just one year, commercial and industrial workplaces claimed £940m in workplace fire damages, showing just how costly the impacts of fire are and the importance of regulating workplace fire alarm systems. 

    What is the regulating body for workplace fire alarms?

    The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is the main fire safety law in the UK. If you own or manage a business in England or Wales, then you will need to comply with its contents. The UK government also inputs on workplace fire alarms and states that a fire alarm system should be installed and maintained in line with the British Standard, BS 5839.

    What is the Fire Safety Reform (2005)? 

    The Fire Safety Reform (2005) ensures that a workplace premise has reached the required standards in terms of fire safety and that all employees are provided with adequate fire safety training. 

    Adequate fire safety training will vary with every workplace and the nature of the business. For instance, a restaurant will have varying fire safety training for their staff compared to those working in an office environment. However, training will likely cover:

    • General fire awareness and safety training
    • Periodic fire training to keep employees up to date with any changes in the status of fire risk in the workplace
    • Training to help individuals meet their fire safety duties e.g. fire warden training
    • Training to help build appropriate skills within the workplace to aid fire safety e.g. fire extinguisher training 

    At BusinessWatch, we provide several fire safety training courses for all types of workplaces and businesses. Find out more here.

    The Fire Safety Reform (2005) also states that all businesses must carry out a fire risk assessment, to determine whether a fire alarm system is needed and what type. 

    What does the British Standard, BS 5839 entail? 

    The BS 5839 is a set of standards and a code of practice for designing, installing, commissioning and servicing fire alarm systems for commercial buildings. They are not legal requirements but do contain recommendations for where the systems should be placed based on the type of business and site. With 8 different categories of fire alarms, a fire risk assessment will determine which systems your workplace requires.

    The BS 5839 also states that within each workplace, a single ‘responsible person’ should be entrusted with all matters of the fire alarm system, ensuring it is properly maintained and tested in line with the British Standards. 

    Does every business need a fire alarm?

    UK fire alarm regulations state that all workplaces must have an ‘appropriate fire detection system in place’. This means that if a fire were to break out, it can be easily detected and employees and others on site can be easily notified. 

    However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that every workplace legally needs a fire alarm system. If any of the following statements are true about your workplace, it is unlikely that you require one:

    • Your premises are small, simple in design, single-storey or open plan
    • A fire could easily be spotted if it broke out anywhere on the premises
    • Shouting ‘fire!’ would be easily heard by all those on site
    • There are no high-risk substances on site
    • No high-risk activities take place on site, e.g. cooking
    • There are no vulnerable people on site, such as children, the elderly or disabled

    If none of the above statements applies to your workplace, then you will likely need to install a fire alarm system. If you are still unsure, we recommend you carry out a professional fire risk assessment. 

    What type of fire alarm is needed?

    Your fire risk assessment will indicate which type of fire alarm systems your workplace legally needs. There are various types and different categories, so we recommend getting a professional fire risk assessment carried out to make sure you have the right system for your business. 

    What is the minimum requirement for workplace fire alarms?

    We’ve already established that not every site needs a fire alarm system, however, what are the absolute minimum requirements for workplaces when it comes to workplace fire alarms? 

    1. Fire needs to be easily detected

    Although a fire alarm system isn’t a legal requirement, having an ‘appropriate fire detection system’ in place is. This means that there must be some type of system or procedure in place to detect that a fire has broken out. As we have already covered, if you are in a small, open-plan space with no high-risk substances, no vulnerable people and no high-risk activities being carried out, it’s likely to be obvious if a fire breaks out. Therefore your detection system can be the visual eye. 

    However, if you do have any of the above at your workplace, you will need a fire detection system, such as a fire alarm

    2. Fire alarms must be checked & tested regularly

    If you do have a fire alarm system installed at your workplace, then it must be checked and tested regularly to ensure it is working correctly in the event of a fire. Regulations state that a business should:

    • Visually check their fire alarm control panel for any faults daily
    • Test their fire alarm weekly & record the test in the fire alarm log book.

    3. Fire alarms need to be serviced regularly

    Fire alarm servicing is important as it ensures the system is maintained correctly and that there are no faults. Another benefit of regular servicing is that it will improve the lifespan of the system too. Workplaces should:

    • Carry out a maintenance check every 6 months, to be completed by a competent person e.g. a qualified security company. All tests must be recorded within the fire alarm log book to remain compliant. 

    What happens if my workplace isn’t compliant? 

    If it is found that your workplace isn’t compliant, it not only puts your employees, visitors, site and business at risk, but it also may have critical legal complications. Depending on the severity, those responsible may be prosecuted in court, fined or even imprisoned. 

    Who can install a workplace fire alarm system? 

    A professional security and fire safety company can install a workplace fire alarm system. Make sure that the company you choose are working to the BS 5839 and is also NSI approved, to guarantee that your fire alarm system is being designed and installed to the highest and most stringent industry standards. 

    At BusinessWatch, we have been awarded an NSI Gold accreditation and have over 30 years of experience installing workplace fire alarm systems. As well as installation, we also offer full servicing and maintenance, as well as remote monitoring options. 

    If you’re interested in finding out more, get in touch with the team on 0330 094 7404.