Norwich Union calls for nationwide standards for automatic fire alarm response

Article date: 3 December 2004

Norwich Union is urging the fire and rescueservices to adopt new guidelines on how to respond to the growingnumber of automatic fire alarms in the UK.

The insurer has welcomed the recently launchedChief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) policy model, but hasexpressed concern that not all of the UK’s 58 fire and rescueservice regions may adopt the model universally.

The CFOA protocol provides a ‘bestpractice’ framework for agreement between the protectedpremises, the fire alarm service provider and the fire and rescueauthority to ensure that the responsibilities and actions of allparties are clearly understood.

John Smeaton, head of property underwriting atNorwich Union, commented: "With up to 95% of fire alarms in schoolsand hospitals proving false1, we have a crazy situationcurrently, where a burnt teacake can result in attendance by thefire and rescue service. This has led to some regional firebrigades refusing to attend remotely monitored alarms unless theyare backed up by a 999 call - causing major concern forinsurers.

"The CFOA policy should go a long way toreducing the problem of false alarms but it is essential that allregions get on board, so that we can start to establish some kindof consistent standard across the UK. Without a guaranteed minimumlevel of response, for example where no 999 back-up facilityexists, insurers may be forced to adopt differential pricing and,in the worst case scenario, may need to reconsider whether they canaccept the risk in the first place. Businesses looking for propertyor business interruption cover may find themselves seriouslydifferentiated against because of their local fire and rescueservices policy."

The company is also calling on the Government tomake third party certification mandatory for automatic fire alarmsin the forthcoming RRO (Regulatory Reform Order).

Mr Smeaton continued: "While the rapid growth ofremotely monitored fire alarms over the last decade has undoubtedlyplayed an important role in saving lives and protecting property,the growth of automatic systems has also triggered a sharp increasein the number of false alarms. They now account for almost 50% ofall calls to the UK fire and rescue services2. We mustcollectively work together to reduce the wasteful burden this hason our fire and rescue service resources.

"We operate in an environment where theregulation of fire precautions is based on risk assessment, so thequality and reliability of products and services is obviouslyparamount.

"We should be trying to emulate the success ofthe security industry, where the recent introduction of BS8418certification has helped to stop cowboy installers in their tracksand significantly reduced the number of false alarms – andwhere many insurers insist on the mark as a pre-requisite forcover.

"With the responsibility for safety now firmlyplaced on the owner/occupier, it is vital that the quality of fireprotection selected is fit for purpose and installed and maintainedby competent persons.

"We need to encourage customers to insist uponcompanies accredited under LPS 1014 or the BAFE SP203 modularscheme to ensure that products and services conform to recognisedstandards to help them to meet their increasing duty of care. Onlyby meeting strict minimum standard criteria can we be confidentthat the equipment is fit for purpose and can be relied on to savelives and reduce property damage."

Government statistics indicate that there werenearly 280,000 false alarms in 2002, costing £150M3.


For further information, please contact:
Debbie Wells at Staniforth on 0161 274 0100 or David Ross atNorwich Union on 08703 66 68 65/07786 526350.

Notes to editors

1 Source: ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister),National Fire Statistics 2003
2 CFOA (Chief Fire Officers Association) 2004
3 "Guide to reducing the number of false alarms fromfire detection and alarm systems", British Fire Protection SystemsAssociation/ODPM/CFOA, February 2004.

Notes to editors
Norwich Union Insurance

  • Norwich Union is the UK's largest insurer with a market shareof around 14 per cent
  • With a focus on insurance for individuals and smallbusinesses, Norwich Union insures
    • one in five households
    • one in seven motor vehicles
    • more than 800,000 businesses
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