Do you have a fire alarm zone plan?

FireDuring the early 2000s before the introduction of fire alarm zone plans, small fires often resulted in major catastrophes. A key example is the Rosepark Care Home fire of 2004, which claimed 14 lives and injured many more vulnerable people. It was this tragedy that brought about an updating of the legislation which covered fire safety (BS 5839-1:2017), making accurate and updated plans essential for all businesses.

Although most employers are aware of the importance of fire alarm zone plans, they may not be aware of their responsibilities when it comes to what an alarm plan should look like, where it must be placed, and which areas should be shown.

What is a fire alarm zone plan?

The key purpose of a business’s fire alarm zone plan is to provide assistance should a fire-related emergency occur. In this situation, people inside the building, as well as the emergency services, will need quick access to orientation information. The plan will include a map of the building, along with highlighted areas to denote fire alarm zones and other places that may be relevant during an evacuation.

Specifically, an effective plan will include:

  • The building’s various levels
  • Exits which open out into a safe place and the routes to them – often referred to as escape routes and fire exits
  • Circulation areas which people can use to move from place to place within the building, these include lifts, stairs and corridors
  • A ‘You are here’ sign so anyone needing to use the plan will know where they are in relation to where the alarm is going off

Although additional information is not crucial, it can be helpful to include:

  • A phone number for the centre receiving the alarm so they can be contacted before a system test is actioned
  • Confirmation that the alarm is or is not monitored

A fire zone plan should match up with the way a building is orientated. So, if a corridor is to the right of the plan, it should also be to the right of the ‘You are here’ sign on the zone plan.

Remember, plenty of detail is helpful, but it’s important to consider how the map looks to people who rarely use it. If the layout is becoming cluttered it may confuse people in an emergency situation. Make sure it remains clear and easy to read, so anyone can find what they need at a glance.

Do I need a fire alarm zone plan?

Yes, if your building has a fire alarm then a zone plan to go with it should be drawn up while the system is being installed. Should you get a visit from the fire service, they will inspect your property for compliance and without a fire alarm zone plan close to the equipment, be it a repeater panel or an alarm control interface, it will be considered to contravene the BS 5839-1:2017 standard. Even on the smallest fire alarms in non-domestic premises, a plan has to be displayed clearly to keep the building safe and compliant.

The standards are there to ensure people can find their way around quickly in an emergency, whether they are staff members trying to leave or fire crews trying to identify where the fire is. The panel in your business is likely to contain some relevant information, but without a comprehensive plan, precious time could be lost if a fire does break out.

How often should a zone plan be updated?

A fire alarm zone plan should be updated regularly to keep it accurate. Check that the various descriptions are still correct and add in any new relevant information so the plan remains true to the building’s layout. If you have included room numbers or the locations of individual detectors, these should also be verified.

Keeping a few extra copies after each update is finished could also be useful, as you can give them out to fire crews to help them navigate around the building.

What has been learned about the importance of a fire zone plan?

At Rosepark Care Home, the fire brigade were not called until nine minutes after the alarm had first sounded. When they did arrive, there was no plan to assist them in a large, complex building. After investigating the incident, it fell to Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart, to rule on the fire. He concluded that: “The management of fire safety at Rosepark was systematically and seriously defective. The deficiencies in the management of fire safety at Rosepark contributed to the deaths…”.

An accurate fire alarm zone plan is a valuable method of keeping the people in your building safe, it assists the fire service in doing their job and could even minimise structural damage.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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