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Last edited 17 Dec 2020
New standards for better fire safety in homes
Despite the increase in fatalities recently, we should remember that domestic fire deaths per year overall have been following a downward trend since 1980, which (perhaps coincidentally) is the year BS 5839 was first introduced. Statistically, fatality rates in fires where there is a working smoke detector are between two and three times lower than in fires where no correctly functioning detector is present.
Since its inception, the BS 5839 series of standards has grown into nine parts, making the distinction between domestic and non-domestic premises and dealing with a range of specific systems in detail.
It is therefore vital that the changes in BS5839-6:2019 are well-understood by the fire and security industry. They were made to reflect new technologies and the new ways we use alarms in different premises, with a view to increasing residential safety, and further reducing fatality rates. Some of the key issues to be aware of are discussed below.
 Grades explained
For the purpose of specifying a fire detection and fire alarm system, the Standard has both grades and categories of system. There are six grades, A to F, with grade A being the most comprehensive - incorporating smoke detectors, sounders, break glass and central control approved to BS 5839-1, down to grade F, battery powered smoke alarms.
In BS 5839-6: 2019, grades B and E have been removed entirely. Grades D and F have been sub-divided into grade D1/grade D2 and grade F1/grade F2.
Where grade D previously covered mains-powered alarms with battery back-up, D1 now applies to mains-powered alarms with integral tamper-proof battery backups, and D2 applies to mains-powered alarms with replaceable battery back-ups.
 Reviewed categories
The Standard states that the level of protection to occupants needs to be directly related to the fire risk. However, it lists various categories of system, which describe the level of protection the systems provide.
Where and how many alarms are installed will affect how quickly a fire is detected. Generally, the higher the category of system, the higher the level of protection. Recommended grades and categories of protection for different types of residence have been altered in the updated Standard. The new system is outlined in the following table:
 Testing and maintenance
 Additional guidance
In additional updates, new recommendations have been made, so that:
- Mains-powered carbon monoxide (CO) alarms may be interconnected with fire-detection systems.
- The blocking or delaying of fire-alarm signals transmitted via social alarm systems in sheltered housing to a receiving centre is prevented.
- Fire detection in supported housing is improved.
- Communal fire alarm systems should not normally be installed in purpose-built blocks of flats.
 About this article
This article was written by Tom Brookes, Chair of the Fire & Security Association. He was named as IFSEC Global’s seventh most Influential person in fire safety in 2019. The article was previously published in the autumn 2019 issue of ECA Today, the magazine of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) and can be accessed HERE.
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