Where to install smoke detectors in commercial buildings

May 30th, 2018

When answering the question of where to install smoke detectors in commercial buildings, it is probably wise to firstly clarify the differences between the terms ‘smoke detector’ and ‘smoke alarm’ and ‘fire alarm’ as sometimes these terms can be used to incorrectly mean the same thing.

A ‘smoke detector’ does what it says on the tin – it is there to detect when smoke is present within the vicinity of its detection capability.

A ‘smoke alarm’ is the audible sound, and often the visible warning, that is activated once the smoke detector has detected smoke. The detector then sends a signal to the fire alarm control panel which in turn activates the required response – which is usually to set off the ‘fire alarms’.

A term ‘fire alarm’ can therefore be interpreted to mean a multitude of different things from the full fire alarm system to the fact an alarm has sounded indicating the occupants of the building should enact a response to their fire drill which is normally to evacuate the area.

In a commercial environment, each building may present a variety of fire risks and therefore the detectors need to be able to sense all the potential indicators of a potential fire risk which include: smoke, heat, gas, air changes and flame.

Consequently, the terms ‘detection device’ or an ‘fire alarm device’ are preferred by qualified professionals working in the fire industry.

Legal requirements for fire detection devices and fire alarm systems

Commercial buildings are required by law to have equipment and procedures in place to detect, alert and notify building occupants to take action in the event of a fire.

An appropriate fire alarm system with the appropriate detection devices are essential fire safety features that commercial properties should have installed.

Depending on the type of commercial property and the business activities taking pace within the building, detection devices must be installed either in every room of the property, or on every storey of the property.

Important considerations should also be made with regards to the installation, commissioning, and maintenance of smoke alarms. If no fire safety systems are currently in place within a commercial property, a fire risk assessment should be carried out to identify the level of protection required under BS 5839-1:2013 (L1, L2, L3, L4, L5, M, P1, or P2).

Legal requirements for commercial fire alarm systems

 As you can imagine, there is a lot more legislation governing the installation, placement, testing and maintenance of fire alarms in commercial premises than in residential buildings. British Standards provide guidelines that should be complied with and failure to do so is seen as a breach of a responsibility towards safety and can be punishable by law.

Types of Fire Detection Devices

The environment in which the fire alarm system and the fire detection devices will be installed will determine which fire detection device should be installed.

For example, offices should be ok with smoke detectors, whereas in a restaurant or kitchen where food is being cooked over flame hobs,  the last thing you want is the fire alarms to be activated because the device has sensed fire. In these scenario’s a heat sensitive detector is more likely to be installed which are then set to activate at precise heat sensitive parameters.

Fire alarms systems play such a key safety role in commercial buildings and are a legal requirement to protect people, processes and property. Many lives are potentially at stake if the fire alarm system and its component parts such as detection sensors are not correctly specified according to the type of fire risk.

It is vital that a fire risk assessment is carried out by a competent person, because if the fire alarm systems are found to be inadequate, the responsible individual(s) will face harsh penalties, including large fines and in cases of extreme negligence, this can even result a prison sentence if lives are lost as a result of an ineffective approach to fire safety.

Also, if a fire does occur in commercial premises insurance policies may be voided if it can be proved that the fire alarm and fire detection devices were ineffective.

If you would like further advice on where to install smoke detectors in commercial buildings, please complete the contact form below.

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