Since 2015, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has responded annually to an average of 28,000 unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS) i. Automatic Fire Alarms (AFAs) installed in commercial premises have been regularly triggered by cooking fumes, dust, or a general lack of maintenance, rather than signaling a fire-related event ii.
While workplace safety is paramount, false alarms carry a significant impact on the Scottish economy, often requiring up to nine fire crew members and two fire engines to be mobilised for a non-existent threat iii. There’s also a climate impact consideration. Constituting roughly one-third of the total fire and rescue activity across Scotland, call-outs produce 575 tons of carbon emissions every year iv.
In a bid to prevent these unnecessary journeys, maintain the safety of fire crew, and reduce the carbon impact, a new policy will come into force that allows Scotland’s firefighters to ignore automatic alarms. If an alarm is activated in the workplace ‘duty holders’ responsible for fire safety will be expected conduct a thorough investigation to confirm if there’s a fire or a sign of fire before calling 999 v. Once the fire is confirmed, then only will the Operations Control staff will send any firefighters.
This change has been backed by a public consultation and will come into effect from 1st July 2023. This will bring Scotland in line with most other UK fire and rescue services. However, hospitals, residential care homes, and places that are deemed “sleeping risk” will be exempted from this change and the SFRS will still check these facilities irrespective of whether the alarm was real or false vi.
Preparing for the change
The policy change comes into effect on 1st July 2023, covering a range of commercial premises including factories, offices, shops, museums, and leisure facilities vii. SFRS have encouraged premises to ensure that appropriate fire safety procedures are in place and fit for purpose before the change comes into effect.
Businesses have been asked to follow these points to help reduce false or unwanted alarms viii:
- Duty holders - any person(s) holding responsibility for the safety and management of the property - must ensure that commercial premises are safe for staff, occupants, and visitors in the event of a fire. They are responsible under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 to maintain and equipment and facilities provided. The duty holder should also carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment to identify any risk.
- Automatic Fire Alarm systems (AFAs) must be managed and maintained fully to reduce false alarms. They must get activated at the right time and must achieve the correct response.
- Replace obsolete Automatic Fire Detection (AFD) systems and install modern technologies like ‘multi-sensing’ detectors.
- Check fire detector devices installed in the premises and consult with alarm engineers on whether changing the location or type of detector used, would reduce false activations.
- Callers / ARCs are responsible for determining if there’s a fire (or sign of a fire), and call back if a fire event is confirmed. The SFRS will not respond to alarms generated from non-exempt premises unless the call challenge is complete.
- Assess whether linking to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) and automatic dialing is necessary when the building is occupied at certain times of the day.
Review your insurance and fire safety arrangements
There is still time available to undertake a review of your fire incident response and insurance cover ahead of the 1st July implementation date. Areas to focus on include ix:
- Ensure your fire risk assessment has been reviewed by a competent fire risk assessor.
- Contacting your insurance adviser to discuss what changes, if any, are needed to be done in response to automatic fire alarm (AFA) activations.
- Update your fire incident risk assessment with any changes while consulting with a fire risk assessor.
- Seek advice and further guidance from your servicing agent, alarm system provider and you’re your local fire safety officer.
- Duty holders and staff should be trained on responding to AFA activations safely. They should read the Investigating Fire Alarms guidance made by the Fire Industry Association to better help people at risk.
SFRA support and guidance beyond 1 July
The SFRS has released two initiatives - ‘TAKE5’ and ‘BE AWARE’ x – focused on providing key information to staff and guests on how to act inside the building during a fire alarm, and aiming to reduce unwanted fire alarm signals.
If you would like to speak to our specialist team about fire safety risk assessments or any of the content within this article, please get in touch with us on 0800 138 7538.