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How To Test A Fire Alarm - Checking & Maintenance Tips

Fire alarm installation and testing is an integral part of any fire safety plan; it’s a requirement for commercial premises such as warehouses, retail outlets and offices, and can be essential for landlords in many residential properties. Our guide runs through a comprehensive fire alarm plan – from testing to maintenance and conforming to the latest government legislation.

How To Test A Fire Alarm

For residential properties, both private and rented (particularly HMOs), the testing process is relatively straightforward. Follow these steps for a quick but effective fire alarm test:

  • Press and hold the ‘test’ button until it sounds weekly
  • Ensure the alarm sounds clearly and for enough time
  • Make sure so no ‘warning’ alarms to indicate a low battery
  • If the alarm is mains powered, still ensure a backup battery is fitted

Commercial property alarm systems are slightly more complicated; most maintenance work and troubleshooting should really be done by a professional firm. However, regular testing itself can easily be carried out by the ‘responsible person’ in charge of the building’s safety or a senior member of building/office management.

Weekly testing is recommended to ensure the system works, and random fire drills should be conducted at least once every 3-6 months ensure evacuation processes are effective and fire marshals are appropriately trained.

Are Fire Alarms A Legal Requirement?

In most instances for residential properties there isn’t any legal requirement for smoke and fire alarms to be installed. The only exception is in HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) and this instance it is a requirement that detection equipment (ie. fire alarms) must be installed, and these ideally must be powered by mains and not batteries.

For commercial premises the rules are slightly different, and the legislation which applies dictates that detection equipment is a legal requirement. Commercial buildings are subject to The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which dictates what a ‘responsible individual’ (which could be a building or department manager, delegated fire safety individual or a member of HR) should do to ensure a building conforms to a set of fire safety standards.

This includes a fire safety risk assessment, involving the assessment of fire-fighting and fire detection equipment. The Order states that the ‘responsible person’ must ensure that:

“The premises are, to the extent that it is appropriate, equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment and with fire detectors and alarms”

The confusion can arise as the what standards the alarms should follow, and this is entirely dependent on the building, what the risks might be and which type of fire detection will be the best; it’s a case-by-case basis. The main accepted standard, however, is BS5839 pt1:2013.

How To Check It’s Fully Working

Checking and inspecting fire alarms is slightly different to testing; testing ensures the alarm works as expected, whereas an inspection will troubleshoot in much more detail and recommend repairs or replacements where necessary.

For domestic alarms for private or rented properties, simple maintenance includes regular battery replacement (at least once a year, but more if required), cleaning to ensure sensors aren’t blocked with dust, and periodic replacement of the whole unit – 10 years is a typical recommendation.

While some of this checking and maintenance is likely to be carried out by those occupying a residential property, landlords still have an obligation to check systems to ensure they are working.

For larger commercial systems maintenance, troubleshooting and repair/replacement work should always be carried out by a specialist – BAFE and NSI are two accrediting organisations dealing with fire protection and security, which can help with ensuring chosen firms are trained and experienced to safely maintain systems and their security.

You can see the rest of our fire safety infographic here, and any of our special offers to ensure the best possible protection for your property; detection is just one piece of the puzzle and you always need a full strategy!

Image Sources:
"one is the fire alarm. the other is a light switch." twak - Flickr
"Fire!" by Anna & Michal - Flickr
"Break Glass" by Sherman Geronimo-Tan - Flickr

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