With more fire brigades refusing to attend unconfirmed automatic system signals, we look at some simple steps to avoid adding to the £1 billion annual cost of accidental false alarms. Fire brigades are increasingly (and controversially) adopting call-challenging policies, under which they won’t always turn out to automatic fire alarm signals without confirmation. Brigades also now have the power to charge for false alarm call-outs. From a fire brigade’s perspective, it’s not just the call-out costs; a false alarm can tie up appliances and crews and divert them from real calls.
From an employer’s perspective, false alarms can also be costly; every time there’s an evacuation, there’s lost production. Typically, from evacuation to getting everyone back into work might take about 30 minutes. Perhaps the key issue for employers is the more serious danger that too many false alarms can create “cry wolf” syndrome.
The safety risk, the unnecessary costs and the changes in fire brigade policies (including potential charging) should be enough to convince most of you that it’s in your Company’s interests to minimise the chance of false alarms. The starting point for any false alarm reduction strategy is to ensure you have the right detectors for the environment, and they are sited correctly. You also need a system for recording and investigating false signals, so that you can identify and eliminate the causes. A simple management strategy should include:
• Setting target levels for false alarms, aiming for zero
• Keeping a record of each event (date, time, location of trigger device, category of false alarm, activity or events contributing to the alarm)
• Investigating all false alarms
• Identifying causes and making changes
• Regularly maintaining the alarm system
• Assessing changes in a building’s use/layout
• Controlling any work in the building.
Our advice is that every time you make a change (to building, process, activities etc) you need to evaluate what effects these changes might have on your current protection measures and that you make any necessary changes, so you don’t generate future problems.