Employers, businesses, and commercial property owners have several legal obligations related to fire safety, many of which were introduced as part of The Fire Safety Act 2005.
How often should commercial fire alarms be tested? Fire alarms in any commercial building should be tested weekly.
The regulations say that a company should appoint somebody as the responsible person. The designated individual is usually a manager but can be a colleague or senior person who is on-site most of the time and can oversee fire alarm testing procedures.
This appointed individual is also responsible for ensuring the property has the correct fire alarms and detectors and organising regular checks to ensure the system is in good working order.
Legal Requirements for Commercial Fire Alarms
The law is vague because no specific legislation says every commercial building must have a fire alarm. However, fire alarm regulations applicable across the UK detail the need for an ‘appropriate fire detection system’.
If there were a fire on a commercial premise, the business must have some method of detecting smoke or fire, warning employees or service users, and allowing them to evacuate.
There are also requirements for employers responsible for fire safety in any place where staff work. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 covers further obligations for employers relating to fire safety and servicing alarms regularly.
Failure to install a working, tested and inspected fire alarm or fire system could mean exposure to liability claims, fines, penalties and health and safety-related prosecution through any of these regulations.
Testing Rules for Fire Alarms in Commercial Buildings
Fire alarms must be tested regularly – there are multiple possible issues or errors that could mean an alarm doesn’t sound, isn’t triggered at all, or is ineffective in an emergency. Regular tests mitigate these risks by checking that the alarms are working in all operational areas of the building.
Anybody can be designated the responsible person, provided they have the authority, competence and training to conduct checks correctly and complete an ongoing log.
Businesses and commercial property owners can also delegate responsibility to a third party, such as a fire alarm company, which is ideal if they are not on-site every week or oversee the health and safety provisions of the building remotely.
British Standard BS 5839 says that all fire alarms should be tested once per week, using the test to identify any possible faults and ensure compliance. Weekly alarm tests apply to every business or site, so if you have a property with several separate buildings, each must have an independent alarm, which is tested on a weekly basis.
Weekly Commercial Fire Alarm Test Requirements
During the test, the responsible person should activate at least one, but possibly more, call-points. They need to check that the alarm is activated and audible and that the control panel recognises the fire alarm.
Other requirements include the following:
- Testing one manual fire alarm call point per week during normal working hours.
- Using a different call point every week – provided there is more than one.
- Voice alarm systems should be checked during the same weekly process.
Businesses with fire alarms connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre or the local fire brigade must set up a scheduled weekly testing time or notify the centre beforehand to ensure an emergency response is not deployed.
Requirements for Monthly Fire Alarms Tests
In addition to weekly tests, businesses and employers should also perform a more in-depth test once per month, which looks at every aspect of a fire system, such as emergency lighting, standby power supplies and other assets.
Fire alarm tests should be recorded in a fire logbook or other record-keeping log, which details any faults identified, action taken, or a successful test with no problems found.
If any part of the system does not work effectively, such as an alarm being too quiet to be heard throughout the building, the responsible person must state what action they have taken to correct the fault.
Keeping up-to-date fire safety logs is crucial for commercial property owners because this proves adherence to health and safety standards.
Organising Fire Drills for Commercial Properties
Another component of a robust fire safety policy is to hold at least one fire drill every year, which checks that staff know how to exit the building, where the nearest emergency exit is, whether employees gather at the allocated point, and how quickly they evacuate.
Full diagnostic tests can be carried out at the same time, although these should be performed once every six months, but more usually every quarter.
A suitably experienced and accredited provider should carry out a comprehensive check to ensure that the system is fully compliant with British Standards.
Choosing the Right Fire Alarms for a Business
There are multiple fire alarm units suitable for commercial properties. However, the right option depends on your fire risk assessment, the nature of the building, and the wiring systems in place.
Higher-risk properties such as restaurants normally have more robust fire safety policies to mitigate the potential risks of cooking equipment in commercial kitchens.
Likewise, a data room with multiple servers running at higher heats, manufacturing units and engineering plants may need different fire alarms than a low-risk office environment.
Commercial fire alarms fall into three main categories:
- Conventional alarms – activated by any device and record which zone or floor the alarm has come from, although not which specific call point.
- Addressable fire alarms – note the exact device that has been activated and where it is, to direct fire marshals or emergency services to the right place.
- Wireless fire alarms – work as an addressable alarm system. The difference is that they are wirefree and ideal for properties without a mains power supply or where the building is high-risk but vacant for extended periods.
Commercial Alarm systems also have a grade assigned, from Grade A to Grade F, which indicates how the alarm system is installed and may depend on the regulations specific to the building use, location or type.
For more help and advice regarding commercial fire alarm installation and servicing please speak to a specialist at Clearway.