Causes and potential solutions to avoid false alarms from Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) Systems

Many false alarms result from activities carried out near to fire detectors, particularly smoke detectors. To prevent unwanted false alarms, you should consider the following common causes and solutions and do something to stop them from happening in your premises.

  1. 1.   Cooking fumes

Ensure cooking is only allowed in designated locations which have appropriate detection (usually heat). Correct use of extractor fans and the closing of doors between designated cooking areas and detector heads can further prevent false alarms. Toasters often cause false alarms and careful consideration must be given to where they are used.

2. Steam (from shower rooms)

Ensure there is adequate ventilation in the shower room and keep doors to outer rooms closed. Sometimes signage can help guests / staff; understand the need to close doors and take action to avoid build-up of excessive steam.

  1. 3.   Steam (From industrial processes)

Ensure an appropriate detector type is fitted; seek advice from a qualified alarm engineer.

4.  Smoking (cigarettes)

Smoking should only be allowed in designated locations protected by appropriate detectors which are designed to be suitable for the risk whilst not being susceptible to actuation from cigarette smoke. Smoking under smoke detectors will set them off!

5. Aerosol sprays

Where possible, you should prevent the use of aerosols in the vicinity of fire alarm detector heads, where this cannot be avoided use of alternative products should be considered. Products such as deodorant and hair spray will commonly set off smoke detectors.

6. Hot work/dusty work

Consider fitting temporary covers on detectors while the activity is being carried out. Temporary covers should only be fitted by approved staff and removed immediately after the activity has ended. Whilst detectors are covered in this way, staff working in the area (including contractors) should be briefed to activate a 'break glass' call point if they see a fire. Dust can also prevent detectors working effectively in the future. It is important to plan carefully all hot and dusty work.

7. Accidental and / or malicious damage to a 'Break Glass' call point

Consider protecting susceptible break glass call points with approved covers or guards to prevent accidental damage. In some cases the call point will need to be moved to a suitable location to reduce the likelihood of damage. CCTV for security purposes can deter malicious actuations.

8. Testing and Maintenance

Prior to commencing any testing or maintenance you must, if your system is monitored, inform your alarm centre that the testing and maintenance is taking place and inform them when it is completed.

9. Changes to the use or layout of the building

When changes are planned the fire risk assessment should be reviewed to ensure that the fire-detection system is appropriate for how the building is used.

10. Faulty detectors

Detectors may develop faults and this can result in repeated unexplained AFA actuations. A competent person should check the fire alarm system and carryout any necessary remedial work such as replacing the faulty detector head.

11. Incorrect positioning of detectors

If the wrong detector is used false alarms may result. If a detector is positioned too close to areas where environmental conditions can cause activation consideration may need to be given to moving the detector. This work should be carried out by a competent person. An example is when a smoke detector is fitted in a car garage where a heat detector may be more suitable.

Some of the solutions above relate to how a building is used and can be resolved by management actions alone. Others rely on changes to the fire alarm system.

Changes to fire alarm systems should only be undertaken by a competent person or contractor. Any such changes should only be undertaken after the fire risk assessment has reviewed in light of the identified problems or changes.  All changes to the fire alarm system should be documented and the appropriate certification kept in your fire safety logbook.

Fire protection products and services should be fit for their purposes and properly installed and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions or a relevant standard. Third party certification schemes for fire protection products are an effective means of providing the best possible assurances offering a level of quality and reliability that non-certificated products may lack.

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