How often should a fire alarm be tested in the workplace?
The answer to the question, “How often should a fire alarm be tested in the workplace?” is answered by the The British Standard regulations which state that fire alarms should be tested once a week by the responsible person or persons.
Fire alarm testing legal requirements
This requirement appears under Article 17 of the 2005 Fire Order Safety Act. The test itself is conducted on top of any other maintenance or testing carried out by the installer of the building’s fire alarm system. The objective of a fire alarm test is to ensure that the entire fire alarm system is operational.
The responsible person in most circumstances will have some discretion to nominate another individual to carry out the test. This third party person ought to have sufficient knowledge and authority to identify and/or predict any issues with the fire alarm system.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all premises in England and Wales used for non-domestic purposes, with a small number of exceptions, must abide by these regulations.
Most commercial properties will require a fire alarm system under the Regulations, with the exception of smaller premises that do not store high-risk substances, where it is easy to see a fire developing and where a shout of ‘fire’ would be heard by all occupants. Higher risk businesses, however, (e.g. restaurants), are well-advised to install alarms as an additional safeguard.
The Regulations provide that every effort is made to ensure a fire alarm system is suitably maintained in good working order; that it is regularly tested; that the person undertaking the testing and maintenance is competent and, in some cases, that the person is certified and approved to industry standards.
Fire alarm servicing is also an obligation for employers under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.
Recording the results of fire alarm tests
The responsible person is obliged to ensure that any fire alarm test log books are kept up to date. The log book needs to record the following data accurately:
- The dates, time, cause and duration of all occasions where alarms have been triggered.
- The action taken in the event that there is a fault with the alarm. This includes to whom the fault was reported, and the nature of the defect.
- The dates and times of the weekly test, and any additional servicing or maintenance.
- The dates and times of any occasion where the fire alarm was disconnected, irrespective of the reason.
- The dates and times of any occasion where the fire alarm system was altered.
- This date must be made available to the relevant enforcing authorities as and when required, and should be shown explicitly, so that when the responsible person is asked, “How often should a fire alarm be tested?”, they can provide the correct documentation.
The Fire Alarm Test
The fire alarm test is usually carried out by activating a fire alarm. This commonly happens on a cyclical basis. This practice ensures that each alarm is connected to the fire alarm system. If an alarm does not function, this can be recorded in the log book and the appropriate action taken. Once the fire alarm has been activated, and it is established that the system is functioning properly it must be deactivated and restored to its default or ready position, thus returning the whole system to normal. In addition, it is prudent to ensure that the fire brigade is aware of the date and time of scheduled test so that they are not called to the scene of the test.
How many fire drills should be held annually?
At least one fire drill should be conducted each year to ensure your fire alarm system is fully operational. A further consideration in answering our question, “How often should fire alarms be tested?”, is to ensure that the system and emergency lighting operates in the event of a power cut or mains failure. This is the primary function of the monthly fire alarm test. Any portable (battery) power source, along with its connections to the system should be checked every three months.
The maximum limit for a complete system diagnostic test is once every six months, although many premises require a quarterly check. In this case, it is the responsibility of the employer to ascertain how often such checks should be carried out. Furthermore, these comprehensive checks need to be undertaken by a UKAS certificated organisation.
In conclusion, any deviation from the above stipulations will mean that the system does not comply with the appropriate British Standards and that the employer is almost certain to be breaking the law.
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