Technical Manager Will Lloyd explains the changes to the standard

27 November 2017 by Will Lloyd, Technical Manager

For those of you that are eagle-eyed enough, there has been a number of changes to the British Standard BS 5839-1 following the release of the 2017 update. 

It is important not only understand the standard itself, but also to keep up to date of any changes so that they can be implemented.  Unlike other sectors where standards are used, there are technically no ‘overlap’ or ‘phased entry periods’ for standards within the fire industry, so if you haven’t updated yourself, you’re unfortunately already out of date.

The Fire Industry Association was heavily involved in this update.  The last change to the standard was in 2013, some four years ago, and since then there has been new research which has led to some of the changes.

The FIA, in combination with a number of other stakeholder groups, came together in XX DATE to investigate the causes of false alarms.  At this time no one precisely knew the exact reasoning behind false and unwanted alarm events as mostly any recording of one of these events is usually simply labelled as such, and no one precisely knew why they were happening.  This was the beginning point for a research project in combination with BRE called ‘Live investigations of false fire alarms’.

An investigator went with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Services in Glasgow to investigate the true cause of the false or unwanted alarm signal.  The data was then collated and written up by a researcher.  The data showed a surprising result – one of the main causes was actually through accidental activation – people pushing the manual call point button when there wasn’t really a fire.  Sometimes this was because staff could be working with large trolleys (particularly in hospitals, factories, or warehouses where bulky or heavy items need to be transported) and accidentally crash into the manual call point or bash it from the side, activating the alarm.

In other instances, the unwanted signal was activated when people (quite innocently) pushed the manual call point button instead of the ‘open door’ button when the call point was sighted next to the door, or when staff thought they could smell smoke.  Occasionally it was down to malicious activation.

As a response to this new research, the FIA’s Fire Detection & Alarm Councils, along with other FIA Council groups, reviewed this new information and worked on adding some changes to the British Standards in order to reduce the number of false alarms.

The main change: that all new manual call points must have some variety of protective cover. This should help prevent accidental activation from impact and also should force users of the fire alarm system to lift the cover before activation, thereby adding an extra action to the process of pressing the alarm.  This should help reduce the number of times the button is pressed accidentally and make anyone who intends to push the manual call point (whether maliciously or not) think about whether the alarm actually should be triggered.

Of course, covers for manual call points are not new pieces of equipment any many manufacturers have been producing them for some time.  However, the new thing to remember here is that any new installation work must use a call point cover.

Does this mean retroactively fitting call point covers on all currently existing call points?  The simple answer is: no.  Not necessarily. The standard only really covers it for any new work undertaken since the publication the standard.  However, should a client request an upgrade then of course this can be provided.  Alternatively, this can be done at the next convenient time, for example at the next service.  The decision about whether to retroactively fit covers on all manual call points in a building should be down to the Responsible Person or Duty Holder.

Another change in the update is point 20.1 – the ‘place of ultimate safety’, where the clause has been expanded to place emphasis on this. The reason for the change is because not all exits of a building are specifically designed as fire exits and during the course of a fire, people will use any exit (regardless of whether it is a designated fire exit). For example, some openings in the building envelope (such as a roller shutter door) are not normally considered as a pedestrian exit, but in an emergency are likely to be used as such. Therefore manual call points should be located on escape routes and, in particular, at all storey exits and all exits to open air that lead to an ultimate place of safety (whether or not the exits are specifically designated as fire exits).

In addition, the standard has also been updated in regards to multi-sensor detectors.  Those that have fire sensitivity of BS EN 54-7 are now acknowledged as suitable for fire escape routes but their configuration must include smoke detector mode.

The updated standard also makes clear about the method of inspection and servicing for multi-sensor detectors. Clause 45.4 states recommendations for inspection and test of the system over a 12-month period.  In the first instance ‘Multi-sensor detectors should be operated by a method that confirms that products of combustion in the vicinity of the detector can reach the sensors and that a fire signal can be produced as appropriate.’  In addition, ‘the guidance of the manufacturer on the manner in which the detector can be functionally tested effectively should be followed’, and ‘multi-sensor fire detectors should be physically tested by a method that confirms that products of combustion in the vicinity of the detector can reach the sensors and that the appropriate response is confirmed at the CIE’.

Where the detector or system design permits, each sensor on which a fire detection decision depends (e.g. smoke, heat, CO) should be physically tested individually. Alternatively, individual sensors may be physically tested together if the detection system design allows simultaneous stimuli and individual sensor responses to be verified either individually or collectively.  On completion of tests the system should be returned to its normal configuration.

It is also worthy to note that in stairways, the update to the standard says that fire detectors should be sited at the top of the stairway and on each main landing. This is to ensure that there is adequate coverage at every level of the building as plumes of smoke are unpredictable and there is no exact way of knowing where the smoke will go, meaning that if detectors are not sited correctly, there could be a delay in the amount of time between the fire starting the system activating an alarm.  A matter of minutes – or even a few seconds – may be the difference between the fire being small and manageable and the fire being a huge emergency.  The sooner a fire is detected, the sooner it can be extinguished.

There have also been a number of other changes written into the updated standard, including an update of the term ‘false alarms’ to include ‘unwanted alarms’, more detail on the siting of optical beam detectors, multi-sensor detectors, as well as many other areas, e.g. cables, wiring, and other interconnections.  It is not really possible to go into every single possible change within this one short article, but thankfully the Fire Industry Association has a number of good resources to help (in case you haven’t got yourself up to date yet).

Upon the release of the updated standard, the FIA ran a series of seminars across the UK, from London, all the way up to Glasgow.  These heavily-subscribed sessions proved extremely useful to those that came as all the changes were presented in detail.  A video recording of that session is now available both of the FIA’s YouTube channel and also on the FIA’s website (just check ‘Video’ under the ‘Resources’ tab). This is meant to be watched with the seminar slides alongside so that you can follow along.  These can also be downloaded from the FIA website (or handily enough, direct from the video).

>>Watch the video

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