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Experts highlight importance of weekly fire bell tests

Businesses and organisations are reminded of the importance of remembering to carry out a documented bell test of their fire alarm systems, which have been installed in accordance with BS5839-1:2002, every week .

Carrying out bell tests on fire alarm systems on a weekly basis is in accordance with British Standard (BS) guidance but it is something that can often be overlooked by people who are ignorant of the frequency required or simply unaware of the guidance, according to Martin Hartley, Property Class specialist at Aviva.

In some cases, the necessity for regular testing is ignored completely, with checks being carried out sporadically, if at all.

The designated 'Responsible Person' has a duty under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (RRFSO) to ensure that fire alarm systems are managed and maintained in good working order by a Competent Person.

The RRFSO came into effect in October 2006, replacing more than 70 pieces of previous fire safety law in the process.

It applies to all non-domestic premises across England and Wales, including the communal areas of blocks of flats and houses with multiple occupants.

While those that are responsible typically have the system maintained annually by a competent specialist company, they often neglect the guidance with regards to bell tests.

Carrying out weekly tests has many benefits, Martin Hartley pointed out. As well as ensuring that the fire alarm system is in correct working order, it also helps to familiarise occupants of the building with fire alarm signals – something which could prove vital if a real emergency was to occur.

He went on to explain that where the Enforcement Officer (the Fire Brigade) consider that there has been a failure to comply with the requirements placed on the Responsible Person by the RRFSO an Enforcement Notice can be served requiring compliance.

The guidance issued by BS goes further than simply advising firms and organisations to test on a weekly basis.

It also highlights the importance of checking for any faults in the fire alarm panel by checking it daily.

These panels carry out three principal functions – they automatically control and monitor external circuits, indicate fire or fault signals and the location where they have occurred and also provide manual controls to allow testing, silencing and disablement of fire alarms.

Furthermore, the guidelines note the necessity of alternating the manual call point from which a bell test is carried out. A different call point should be used every week so that in time, all the locations are covered.

The person responsible for bell tests should look to carry them out at around the same time every week and it should also take into account the possibility that a real fire could coincidentally coincide with the checks. Consequently, it is vital that the standard bell test does not exceed one minute.

In some premises, certain occupants may work only at times other than that at which the fire alarm is tested – such as night shifts - and to ensure that these employees are also familiar with the sound of the fire alarm system, it is good practice to undertake additional periodic tests to enable familiarity of these employees with the fire alarm signals.

Where there is a facility for transmission of the fire alarm signal to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) it is important to contact the ARC immediately before the test and then immediately after the test not only to ensure the brigade do not receive an unwanted alarm but also to ensure that fire alarm signals are being correctly received at the ARC.

Once the bell test has been performed, BS guidance states that it should be recorded in a log book, along with any faults located. This acts as evidence that the check has been carried out, while also providing an indication of any issues to service engineers.

According to Martin Hartley, failure to correctly fill in log books and carry out weekly bell tests are two issues which often go hand-in-hand.ADNFCR-2134-ID-19633193-ADNFCR