Learn and live

Neil Perdell, national technical manager at Aico Ltd., looks at why specifying a quality smoke alarm isn’t enough to meet your Duty of Care. When it comes to domestic fire safety, alarm installation training is essential

If you work in the housing sector and are involved in tenant safety, you may well find that one of the most common complaints from tenants relates to their smoke alarms going off when there isn’t a fire. The danger is that the tenant will try to remove the battery from the alarm, or worse, remove the alarm completely. Of course, that puts a stop to the alarms providing a potentially life-saving service, especially if you rely on alarms powered by battery only.

The most important thing you can do to prevent this situation is to fit quality mains powered smoke alarms. However, even with the best alarm in the world, incorrect installation can com-promise the effectiveness of that alarm. This could mean regular false alarms and call outs to fix the problem – which is expensive and time consuming – or so much worse: it could prevent the alarm from detecting a fire, putting tenants’ lives at risk.

That’s why the second most important part to a successful smoke alarm system is to ensure the alarms are correctly sited and fitted.

But knowing where best to locate the alarm, what alarm type to use and what the latest standards and regulations say can be complex. There is considerable room for error here, which is why it is essential that the contractors you use are fully trained in domestic smoke alarm systems; you may find you could also benefit considerably as well.

Many companies developed their own training schemes to raise the standards of installation of domestic fire alarm systems. This was partly as a result of the poor state of many alarm installations we regularly came across and partly due to demand from both social housing providers and their contractors who wanted a bespoke smoke alarm installation training scheme.

So what should you expect to learn under a smoke alarm training scheme that you won’t glean from reading the instructions that come with the alarm?

First and foremost are the standards that relate to domestic smoke alarm installation, namely BS 5839: Pt.6: 2013 and Building Regulations. If you are involved in specifying smoke alarms, it’s vital you have a thorough comprehension of these. For your installers, they need to be familiar with the overall standards while having a more in depth understanding in the specific areas of alarm siting and installation; and they need to be able to apply that knowledge in the field.

A good training scheme will be able to identify the most the pertinent parts of the standards in regards to installation best practice and ‘translate’ them into working examples that can be used by your installers going forward.

For inexperienced contractors it comes as a surprise to learn there are different types of fire and therefore different types of alarm sensors to detect them. Training must therefore cover information on the types of smoke, heat and fire alarms for use in different applications.

Other considerations that can have a significant impact on the quality of an installation are siting of alarms within a room. The main points to note are that smoke alarms should be fitted on the ceiling, centrally, but never directly next to or above heaters or vents. That’s easy enough, but what about rooms that have peaked ceilings or beams, or even larger obstructions? A correctly trained contractor will know the answer to these quandaries.

In terms of installation guidance, make sure the alarms you use come with detailed installation instructions at the very least as every manufacturers’ alarm will have different requirements. The one thing that won’t change though is the wiring, as this must be done in accordance with the 17th Edition Wiring Regulations.

A good training scheme should also provide ongoing support, such as digital and printed reference materials and updates on changes to regulations and standards which are almost certain to have an impact on alarm installation.

The social housing sector has championed tenant safety and regularly goes well beyond the minimum requirements and guidelines for smoke alarm systems. If you are specifying good quality mains powered smoke alarms, then hats off to you. But don’t negate the effectiveness of those alarms by risking installation in inappropriate locations and fitting them incorrectly. Make sure your contractors are well trained in smoke alarm installation to make the most of your alarm investment and to provide your tenants with the very best protection.