One of the questions we are often asked by responsible individuals when we are on-site carrying out maintenance inspections of fire and security systems is related to the best policies and practices to adopt in respect of the use of e-cigarettes and vaping inside or outside company buildings.
In the UK, it has been illegal to smoke in any enclosed workplace, public building or on public transport since the smoke-free legislation was passed in 2006 and enacted from 1 July 2007. However, this law does not apply to e-cigarettes and employers can decide if they can be used on their premises or not.
Public Health England has produced a helpful guide to using e-cigarettes at work which may help you define your workplace policy on smoking and the use of e-cigarettes. It provides some fundamental principles to guide decision-making.
The guidance is very clear that any policy that excludes the use of e-cigarettes must be evidence-based and that the policies for smoking and the use of e-cigarettes should be entirely separate. In this article, we have provided some areas to consider regarding fire risk and false alarm activations which may help support your policy decision-making.
When a fire alarm system is installed great care will have been taken to install the most appropriate fire detection devices in the right locations according to business operations. These detectors are extremely sensitive to the signals of fire which include smoke, heat, and gases or vapours.
E-cigarettes produce a vapour, including flavoured aromas either with or without nicotine. Should the performance of fire detection devices be affected by the emissions from an e-cigarette a fire may not be detected and be able to spread more quickly.
Factors to consider therefore are the risk that vapours emitted from an e-cigarette might trigger false alarms. There is also evidence that the emissions from e-cigarettes can contaminate and leave residue particles on detectors that may impair performance. This could not only mean false activations – it could also lead to the device not working at all and warnings to alert of a real fire will not occur – placing lives in danger!
We have written several articles outlining the causes and dangers of false alarm activations and their impact on productivity and brand reputation. A false fire alarm can be classified as any reason why the fire alarm sounded without there being an actual fire. The causes can be technical faults, activations caused by malicious intent and of course, activations caused by signals of fire being interpreted by the detectors when no fire is present – as would be the case in vape emissions.
Having to evacuate the building of staff, customers and other visitors represents a huge inconvenience with subsequent impacts on productivity, profits and brand perception. Therefore any activities that could potentially cause a false fire alarm activation need to be minimised.
According to the fire triangle, a fire requires three elements to remain ignited, namely:
Whilst instances are uncommon, e-cigarettes are unregulated and as such counterfeit devices have proven to cause a fire risk as they are more prone to explode and may cause a fire.
The London Fire Service has provided some very useful advice which highlights the fire risks associated with vaping and e-cigarettes. They highlight best practice for the care and storage of batteries, charging the device, the need to buy a product that has been safety assured and that the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions are rigorously followed.
Employers should be clear about their rules on the use of E-cigarettes at work. If there are policies on smoking, drugs and alcohol, then having a separate policy about using E-cigarettes and vaping should also be considered.
Also, when introducing new rules, employers would be wise to consult with any recognised union or elected representatives, and their employees to make sure they understand what the new rules mean and what may apply to them.
Where vaping is restricted, employers may want to put up signs or notices in the workplace which make it clear where it is allowed and where it is banned. These should include any rules that relate to the use of E-cigarettes at work.
Tecserv UK offers over 20 years of commercial fire and security alarm installation and maintenance expertise and has a UK-wide team of fully certified engineers who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
If you would like to review the effectiveness of your fire and security system please get in touch.
Mick has over 30 years experience working within the Fire and Security industry. Starting as an installation engineer and quickly progressing into both operational and sales management roles.