Here is your easy guide to understanding the BS (British Standards) 5839-1:2017.
The BS 5839 Part 1 is a code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire protection systems in commercial/non-domestic premises.
These “non-domestic premises” include offices, shops and shopping centres, hotels, public houses and restaurants, hospitals, schools, churches and care homes, among many others. It also includes the communal areas of domestic premises, such as the hallways and corridors of a residential apartment block, as they affect multiple people within a common area where a fire could potentially take place.
Part 6, conversely, of the BS 5839 refers to domestic premises, such as a family home.
Is the BS 5839 the same as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005?
No – there’s a lot of confusion between the BS 5839 and the Fire Safety Order – they are not the same thing!
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is produced by the UK Government, and outlines legal regulations and responsibilities of Responsible Persons (e.g. business owners or designated premises managers). If a fire takes place and you are investigated, your conduct against regulations set out by the Order will be analysed, and if found to be irregular or negligent then it will be considered a breach of this legislation.
The BS, on the other hand, stands for British Standards and is produced by the BSI Group, which sets a precedent and consensus for the quality of goods and services. There are approximately 27,000 standards set out by this body; all of which lay out the specifications both manufacturers and installers/service providers must adhere to.
In short, the Fire Safety Order is primarily for you (the Responsible Person/building user) to tell you your legal responsibilities, and the BS 5839 is the compliance handbook for your installation and maintenance specialist to use to ensure what they’ve fitted is correctly installed.
Think of it like owning a car – you are legally responsible for ensuring you have an annual MOT, and for implementing any work needed if it fails before you can get it on the road again. But your mechanic will be responsible for ensuring they test your car against outlined measures and standards, which will dictate whether it passes or fails.
For example, the Fire Safety Order stipulates that you must have regular fire risk assessments of your premises to ensure adequate fire protection. YOU, as the Responsible Person, must make sure this happens. As a result of such an assessment, you might be told you need a specific category of fire alarm, and so you’ll instruct a fire alarm installer to design the system and put it in for you. THEY will then have to ensure that what they install is compliant with the standards set out according to the British Standards. However, if they don’t install something which is compliant with the BS, you (the Responsible Person) will be liable for this, even though you’ve done the right thing by having a fire risk assessment and then getting someone to install a fire alarm.
But I’m not an expert, how do I know if they’ve installed a BS-compliant system?
I’m glad you asked! We’ve established the buck stops with the Responsible Person of a building. Even though the average person doesn’t know (or need to know) the ins and outs of the BS 5839, they are still responsible for ensuring that what’s installed within their building meets the requirements laid out in that code.
The best way to know is to look out for companies which are third-party accredited.
This means that they are regularly audited for their quality management and technical capabilities, in line with the relevant standards. For example, BAFE is the UK’s leading independent body for third-part certified fire protection companies. If the company you’re using for your installation is BAFE certified, that means you can trust that they have been given an independent, unbiased seal of approval for the quality of their work and compliance with both industry and legal standards.
Plus, ensure they are backed up by the relevant insurances and references.
As the responsible person, you should satisfy yourself that the designer of your fire alarm system has appropriate design, installation and maintenance insurance. Interestingly, the level of this is not set out in law and can vary, and your insurer may have a policy of what level of insurance you should expect. Typically this would be £1m professional indemnity (for design alone) and £10m insurance for the Public and Products liability (for people as well as the design and installation of equipment installed).
This is not to be confused with the additional £10m employer’s liability insurance that all companies must have in place by law. References are very important and is an important piece of verification for you as the responsible person. Typically, you would want to be given details of previous clients of your chosen company so that you can call and speak with them directly; case studies are useful and it’s well worth looking at their online reviews such as Google and Trustpilot.
How is Fire Safety Policed?
When the Fire Brigade carries out spot checks and will review your fire risk assessment as well as analysing the fire safety precautions within your premises, they will be looking at how you comply with the Fire Safety Order in your practices and how your premises complies with the British Standards regulations.
So, even though the Fire Safety Order and BS 5839 are not the same, they do work in tandem to provide a premises which is fully safe and legal. The best way to be safe and legal is to ensure you (or your building’s ‘Responsible Person’) is familiar with their obligations as set out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and to trust a BAFE accredited company to carry out any works relating to fire safety or fire protection, so you know that they work in line with British Standards and industry approved regulations.
Fire safety policing and investigations are becoming increasingly stringent following an increasing number of catastrophic events in recent years. Grenfell, for instance, has instigated major talks across the fire industry and Government bodies, which could see fire safety legislation reform in the not-too-distant future.
But, for the time being, many investigations are retrospective and carried after a fire-related event, meaning that the damage is usually already done. This entails an analysis of the building’s compliance with the BS 5839-1 (as well as the Responsible Person’s compliance with their responsibilities as per the Fire Safety Order).
Explaining the British Standard BS 5839-1
This standard outlines fire alarm system categories, their relevant components, zone definitions, testing frequencies and procedures, and so on, for each step of the fire alarm installation process: design, installation, commissioning and maintenance.
There is A LOT of technical information in the BS 5839, so we’ve condensed some of the most notable points for you.
Designing and Installing a Fire Detection Alarm System
There are three different categories of fire detection systems (L, M and P), and the type you’ll need to install will depend on the building type and composition, business nature, its physical size and footfall. All fire alarms must meet the requirements of the BS 5839-1 according to its relevant category to be compliant.
The starting point for identifying which type of alarm system is right for your building is best decided by a professional with a Fire Risk Assessment. In the risk assessor’s report they will identify all fire safety considerations, shortfalls and solutions, including the category of fire alarm which is best suited to protecting your building.
Once identified, the fire alarm designer can start the process of drawing up the system using building floor plans and a visual survey before moving onto installation.
Category L Systems
These systems are designed to protect life, hence ‘L’, and focus on safeguarding escape routes and areas considered as having a high fire risk. There are 5 categories of an ‘L’ type system:
L5 – Bespoke Design
Building Example: Factory with Office and Server Room
An L5 system does not fall into any of the other four categories, and must be designed and installed based on specific requirements taking into account high risk factors, as outlined in the Fire Risk Assessment.
L4 – Escape Routes Only
Building Example: School
This means that automatic fire detection has been applied only to the escape routes, such as staircases and corridors, and not within any inner rooms.
L3 – Escape Routes AND the Room that Opens onto the Escape Route
Building Example: Office Block
This is one of the more common fire alarm systems and includes smoke detection on all escape routes with additional detection in all rooms leading directly onto the escape route.
L2 – Escape Routes, Rooms that Open onto Escape Routes, PLUS Inner Rooms Considered High Risk
Building Example: Factory
This is basically an L3 system with the added consideration of additional rooms that may not lead directly onto an escape route, but are considered high risk and therefore require fire detection. This could be a room within a room, such as a server or boiler room.
L1 – Maximum Protection
Building Example: Care Home
This requires both manual call points and automatic fire detection installed throughout the premises with a detector in every room. A room is defined as anything over 1m2, which is essentially as small as a big cupboard! This is usually for buildings such as care homes, which are higher risk and may have vulnerable occupants.
Category M Systems
Building Example: One-room Kiosk
These are manual operation only systems which have manual call points on all exits and corridors where persons do not have more than 45m to walk before reaching a call point. All ‘L’ systems start out as an ‘M’ system and then have the appropriate level of automatic fire detection coverage applied on top of that. A system which is only an ‘M’ system, with no ‘L’ coverage added on, is usually for small buildings, sub-buildings or barely occupied buildings where shouting ‘fire’ would suffice to get everyone out and automatic fire detection is deemed unnecessary.
Category P Systems
Building Example: Unmanned Warehouse
This category is designed purely for property protection and not life protection; as such, it’s rarer to see these types of systems as most buildings are occupied at any given time and therefore require life protection. You’ll mostly see a Category ‘P’ system in unoccupied premises that are connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) using alarm monitoring, which will immediately call the Fire Brigade to attend.
P1 – Whole Building
A P1 system installs automatic fire detection in all areas of the building to detect the sign of a fire as soon as possible.
P2 – Specific Parts of a Building
A P2 system doesn’t have automatic fire detection in all areas; only specific parts which are considered in a Fire Risk Assessment to be particularly high risk.
Once the Installation is Complete
Following the installation, the commissioning process involves testing the equipment, ensuring its functionality, and also comparing the recommendations from both the Fire Risk Assessment and the BS against what has been installed. This is required to be carried out by a competent person.
Following commissioning, a formal handover of documentation can occur. The end user/purchaser of the fire alarm system will be given their accurate drawings of the installed system, zone charts, operation and maintenance manuals, log books for ongoing maintenance, and any necessary training on the operation of the system. Certificates are then provided and the responsibility is handed over to the management of the building for day-to-day handling.
The British Standard outlines the technical observations which must be adhered to for effective system composition, but also points out a number of manual observations and tests that must be done by a human being for routine maintenance and upkeep.
Take weekly testing, for example: the British Standard recommends that the fire alarm should be tested using a different manual call point each week, which should take place during normal working hours at the same time each week. It also specifies that the weekly test should not exceed one minute so that the difference between a test and an actual fire alarm is clear to building inhabitants.
The British Standard also specifies that maintenance service visits should not exceed six months, otherwise the system will be non-compliant. The nature of inspecting and testing a fire alarm system during a maintenance visit is outlined in detail in the BS 5839, and it is outlined that records of these visits, as well as weekly testing and any identified faults, are noted in the user’s log book (usually provided by the maintenance company) as written evidence of upkeep and compliance.
Similarly to the Fire Safety Order 2005, which specifies that each building/premises must have a designated ‘Responsible Person’ for fire safety, the British Standard recommends that “a single, named member of the premises management” should be appointed to “supervise all matters pertaining to the fire detection and fire alarm system”.
The ‘Responsible Person’ for the building and the person appointed responsible for the fire alarm may not be the same person. For example, the ‘Responsible Person’ could be the building owner but the person in charge of the fire alarm could be the caretaker, who was appointed by the owner.
Updates in the BS 5839-1 2017
The 2013 version of the BS 5839-1 identified and laid out the standardised procedures for the compliant design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire alarm systems.
The 2017 update of this British Standard included specific revisions of procedures which superseded the 2013 version, such as the need for all new manual call points to have a form of protective cover. This was to help prevent accidental or deliberate false activation by removing the easy access to the triggering break-glass feature of manual call points. The update went onto distinguish and expand on the term ‘false alarms’ to include ‘unwanted alarms’ – and much more!
How WFP Makes it Easy for You…
And there you have it!
We hope you’ve benefited from reading this guide, but if you have any questions about any of the above or your fire safety responsibilities, please feel free to get in touch.
REMEMBER, the best way to know if you’re compliant with the British Standard is to have a Fire Risk Assessment. Call us today to book yours!
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Post by Verity Stone
Hi, I’m Verity! WFP’s Head of Communications. As well as ensuring our customers are happy with their service, I’m a huge fan of spreading the word about fire safety and security to help keep businesses safe and legal.More posts by Verity Stone