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Workplace fire alarms – how often do you test them?

Office and building managers have a responsibility to ensure that staff members are properly protected by a fire alarm system that is regularly tested, and working in the way it should.

These systems require constant tests, maintenance and care, in the same way that any home security system should be tested and fixed, says industrial fire solutions service provider Fidelity Fire Solutions.

“In fact, we recommend that these workplace systems be tested even more frequently than a home system would be checked. There is the obvious aspect that you have more foot traffic and more equipment at your place of work than at home, which requires more frequent testing of this important safety system,” says Andrew Worthington, General Manager: Fidelity Fire Solutions, a division of Fidelity Services Group.

“A number of regulations govern the industry and they need to be adhered to at all times. The SANS code in particular are clear about the legal requirements that apply.”

The codes state that:

SANS 10400:2010 T1(1) … any building shall be so designed, constructed and equipped that in case of fire: (e) Adequate means of access, and equipment for detecting, fighting, controlling and extinguishing such fire, is provided”
T2 meanwhile warns that any owner of any building who fails to maintain any other provision made to satisfy the requirements of sub-regulation (T)1(1)(e), shall be guilty of an offence
SANS 10139:2012 Part 12 is about maintenance, servicing, and routine testing of fire alarm systems. Fire alarm systems should be visually inspected for damage or errors daily and serviced by an accredited fire alarm installer every six months to stay compliant to regulations and building insurance requirements. Services must be recorded and faults, changes and updates listed in a logbook.
Fidelity Fire is a fully accredited member of the bodies regulating the industry and can advise and assist the building owner to stay compliant with the regulation and building codes. Ultimately ensuring staff and assets are fully protected.

“Fire safety is a long-term investment that must be carefully planned to ensure the business’ continuity and ultimately to properly protect both people and property,” says Worthington.

There are basic steps that any company or workplace can take today, to help protect staff and equipment from fires. Putting the proper preventative measures in place and generating a general staff awareness of fire risks and how to prevent these risks, he says, is a good first step to take.

“We also recommend that office and building managers carefully study the relevant occupational health regulations and legislation that is relevant to their industry as these might have additional measures that should be put in place,” says Worthington.

Other do’s and don’ts to consider are:

Do test the system regularly. Keep a careful log of when the system was tested and by whom, as well as which parts of the system was tested (including the test outcome)
Do make sure your staff know what to do when an alarm is triggered. Every workplace should have an evacuation plan in place, which is shared with team members and practised on a regular basis
Do follow up on test errors. If your test showed a faulty sensor or any other technical problems, contact your service provider as a matter of urgency to have these addressed
Do allocate more than one team member to your fire system’s testing routines. There is a risk involved in having only one person who knows how to properly test the fire alarm system
Do test the fire alarms during normal office hours. Yes, this will be disruptive to normal operations but that is the intended purpose behind a fire alarm system. Testing it outside of office hours when there are no staff members around, defeats the purpose
Do connect the fire alarm system to your monitoring system. If you haven’t asked your armed response company if they can also monitor your fire alarm system, then ask them today how you can set this up
Don’t confuse testing the fire alarm with regular system maintenance or scheduled visits by your service provider. The test is intended to determine the system’s ability to register a fire and to alert you, while a maintenance visit will be done by your service provider who will focus on technical work or upgrades that might be required
Don’t test the same part of your system every time. If possible, look at testing a different sensor or aspect of the system each time a test is conducted
Don’t ever ignore potential workplace fire hazards. This includes overloaded power plugs, dust on your fire sensors, or the actions of staff members that can lead to fires such as cigarette butts dumped in trash cans

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