False fires | Fire services in Scotland to stop attending automatic alarm call outs from 1 July
Written by Ian Watson on 6 June 2023
Automatic fire detection and alarm systems protect buildings and their occupants by detecting a fire at an early stage.
In Scotland, a total of 48,000 fire alarm signals are generated each year. These signals account for about 45% of all fire and rescue activity in the region. However, despite this large number, only a small portion of these signals – less than 2% of them in fact – are actually caused by a real fire. The remaining 98% are what’s known as “Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals” (UFAS) or false alarms.
As you can imagine, this places huge strain on the fire service. For this reason, from 1 July 2023, the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) will stop attending automatic fire alarm (AFA) call outs to commercial business and workplace premises, unless a fire has been confirmed.
It is hoped that by reducing false alarms, emergency services can allocate their resources more effectively and prioritise their response to genuine fire incidents, thereby ensuring the safety of the public.
What is a false alarm?
False alarms refer to situations where a fire alarm system is triggered, but there is no actual fire or emergency situation that requires immediate intervention from the fire and rescue services. They can be caused by various factors such as accidental activation, malfunctioning equipment, human error, or environmental conditions like smoke from cooking, steam, dust, or even extreme weather conditions.
Although not indicating a real fire, false alarms still require attention and investigation to ensure public safety and rule out any potential risks.
Efforts are continuously made to minimise false alarms through improved fire alarm systems, enhanced maintenance practices, education and awareness campaigns, and better understanding of the causes of false alarms, to reduce the burden on the fire service.
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What happens now when a fire alarm sounds?
From 1 July in Scotland, when a fire alarm sounds, dutyholders with responsibility for workplace premises should safely investigate before calling 999.
Control room operators will ask for confirmation of an actual fire, or signs of fire, before sending the nearest resource.
Signs of fire include visible flames, the smell of smoke, the smell of burning, or any other fire alarm signal (other than a single smoke detector).
What premises do these changes apply to, and are there any exemptions?
The new rules apply to commercial business and workplace premises, such as factories, offices, shops and leisure facilities.
The only premises not affected are those that have sleeping accommodation, such as hospitals, care homes, hotels or domestic dwellings. These premises will continue to get an emergency response from SFRS on an alarm activation.
What should employers do now?
There are a number of steps employers and dutyholders should take to prepare for changes to UFAS rules in Scotland:
- Contact your insurance company and Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC): If your fire alarm system is connected to an ARC, get in touch with them and discuss the changes in response to Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) activations. It’s important to understand how the new rules will affect the response from the SFRS (remember, SFRS will always attend a confirmed fire).
- Review your fire risk assessment: Work with your fire risk assessor to ensure that your fire risk assessment is up to date. Consider the changes in UFAS rules and review your fire safety measures accordingly. This will help you identify any necessary adjustments or improvements to your fire alarm system and overall fire safety procedures.
- Raise awareness among staff and occupants: It’s crucial to ensure that all staff members and occupants of the premises are well-informed about the changes and how to respond safely to AFA activations. Conduct training sessions or provide informational materials that explain the new procedures to follow in the event of a fire alarm. Emphasise the importance of calmly and safely investigating the situation before confirming any signs of the presence of fire.
- Maintain adherence to evacuation procedures: Even with the changes in the response to AFA activations, it remains critical for staff to adhere to the established alarm procedure by evacuating the building promptly when the fire alarm sounds. The safety of individuals should always be the top priority, and evacuation procedures should be followed until signs of fire are confirmed or the all-clear is given.
How can employers help to reduce false or unwanted alarms?
Automatic fire alarm systems can be extremely beneficial in providing early warning in the event of a fire. They can quickly detect the presence of smoke, heat, or flames, alerting occupants and emergency services at the earliest stages of a fire. This early detection allows for faster response times, increasing the chances of successful evacuation and minimising potential damage.
However, these systems must be fully managed and maintained to reduce false alarms and ensure that they activate at the right time and achieve the correct response.
SFRS says employers can play their part in reducing UFAS by:
- Keeping a log of all false alarms to help you can identify any trends and raise these with your alarm engineers.
- Creating an action plan to reduce the chance of any false alarm occurring.
- Checking detector types and their locations – would moving detectors or changing the type used reduce activations? Seek advice from your alarm engineer.
- Upgrading automatic fire detection (AFD) systems that are obsolete with more modern technology, e.g. ‘multi-sensing’ detectors.
- Fitting manual call points with protective plastic covers in problem, vulnerable or high-traffic areas.
- Ascertaining whether any false alarms are a result of activating the wrong call points, such as green emergency door release points.
- Keeping AFD systems appropriately maintained.
- Considering whether a link to an ARC is necessary or if it is appropriate to suspend the automatic dialling function whilst buildings are occupied or at certain times of the day.
- Seeking further guidance and advice from your alarm system provider or servicing agent.
By taking the steps outlined above, employers can ensure that their premises are adequately prepared for the changes in UFAS rules. This proactive approach will help to maintain a safe working environment, minimise false alarms, and support the effective allocation of emergency resources to genuine fire incidents.
Get prepared and protected
As an employer, you must ensure that your premises are safe for staff, visitors and occupants in the event of a fire. The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 also requires dutyholders to maintain the facilities and equipment provided. Failure to do this could lead to prosecution.
WorkNest can help your organisation fulfil these obligations, and adjust to any changes and new legislation, so that you are well-equipped to prevent, detect and respond to fire incidents.
Our team of Health & Safety specialists can refresh your Fire Risk Assessment, review your evacuation procedures, and provide comprehensive fire awareness or fire warden training to help improve your fire safety preparedness.
To discuss your current set-up and see how we support you, contact us today on 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.