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#5 The Resounding Issue: The Key Relationship Between Sound & Safety in Your Building

#5 The Resounding Issue: The Key Relationship Between Sound & Safety in Your Building

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Last Updated on 22 September 2022.

This week we’re raising the sound levels and making some NOISE, and talking a bit about noise as well…

Stick around to see how sound impacts your safety more than you think!

Before we get started, let’s take a moment to nod our heads to our late Queen Elizabeth II, who led us through 70 years of change, progression, heartache and triumph.

The last couple of weeks has really rocked the nation’s spirit, where our Queen had been the glue for so long. And for us here at WFP, having been built on foundations based on loyalty and vocation, which our Founder Paul Field had ingrained in us, rooting from his early days in The Royal Navy, it really hit home.

In fact, it was the night of the ‘British Ex-Forces in Business Awards’ ceremony on Thursday 8th September 2022 where Paul and a host of military alumni gathered at Grosvenor House in London, that the news of the Queen’s passing was announced.

Paul had been shortlisted for ‘SME Business Leader of the Year’ – unfortunately he didn’t bag the award, but he had one hell of a night celebrating his successes which led him to that stage amongst some fantastic business and military heavyweights who were a real credit to their sector.

Read more about Paul’s story here >>

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Paul remarked after the event the pride everyone felt singing the National Anthem!

So, our first bit of noise in this piece is for our late Queen, and to celebrate how lucky we are as a nation to have been united in such patriotism and camaraderie since her passing.

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And our second bit of noise is to congratulate this young chappie (Paul) on his shortlisted SME Business Leader position at the ‘British Ex-Forces in Business Awards’ – well done, Paul!

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Now…let’s get talking about safety, and we’ll begin by asking you a question:

What’s the most annoying and potentially dangerous thing about sound? 📣

A bit cryptic, I know.

Let’s get philosophical then:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it even make a sound?

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Now, whilst I can’t answer such haunting existential questions, what we can say definitively that makes sound both annoying and potentially dangerous, is the fact that it’s invisible…

In light of International Week of Deaf People, we’re drawing our attention to the lesser known aspects of fire safety.

Are your sounders loud enough?

When you’re installing a fire alarm, there’s three crucial devices which have three main jobs to do:

Detectors: smoke and/or heat detectors which trigger the alarm if they detect those particles within the air around them.

Manual Call Points: often called ‘break glasses’ (although they’re made of plastic these days, not glass), which are used for people to trigger the alarm if they identify a fire.

Sounders: to sound the alarm so that everyone in the building knows it’s been triggered, and that it’s time to evacuate!

That last one there is so fundamental and crucial; if that’s not working, or if the sound levels are deficient, they can’t do their job of alerting the building.

As fire alarm consultants, we’ve carried out a few surveys recently to comment on the efficacy of the fire alarm design – particularly in schools and larger office spaces.

(Usually within a fire alarm design, the focus is on detection placement to either increase or decrease the number of areas that smoke/heat could be detected, depending on the risk perceived in the building.)

Surprisingly, a consistent deficiency was about the decibel readings we were taking.

For a quick reference, let’s first see what the BS 5839-1 says (this is guidance on fire detection and fire alarm system design and application for buildings) decibel levels should be:

  • For general areas, sounders should be > 65dB(A)
  • In smaller areas (like stairwells) sounders may be reduced to 60dB(A)
  • Where people are likely to be asleep (for example, hotel rooms), sounders should be > 75dB(A) at the bedhead
  • Where there is background noise present > 60dB(A), sounders should be 5dB above the background noise

We found in one premises a deficiency level across more than a quarter of rooms throughout the building. I.e. it didn’t meet the necessary dB level of 65.

Taking decibel readings and knowing that your fire alarm is loud enough, is just as important as making sure your fire alarm devices are actually working, and will trigger when they’re meant to.

Speak to your fire alarm maintenance service providers (i.e. us!) and we can incorporate a decibel reading into your next service to highlight if there are any deficiencies.

Remember – your fire alarm’s only there to raise the alarm. If you’re not hearing it, it’s not doing its job.

So often, we see with fire alarm designs too few sounders, or they’re located too far apart – this is a total false economy as, sure the installation will be cheaper – but it won’t be effective!

The moral of this story = always question sound levels.

Are your sounders too loud?

As much as your sounders can be too LOUD, they can also be too QUIET!

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We were recently hired by a school to actually reduce the sound output of the fire alarm, as it was well over 65dB!

As the fire alarm bell was also used as a class change indicator, members of staff were complaining about sickness and so the school were urged to address the issue of sound for everyone’s welfare.

So, we came in and reduced the decibel levels so that the fire alarm met the requirements of BS 5839-1 precisely (with a small margin of error),

Are you adhering to The Equality Act 2010?

This is something not enough people seem to know about, so we’re making some noise on this issue to spread the word!

We’ve recently had Fire Risk Assessments come back for some clients who have stated they need extra detection and sounders within their building; i.e. their installation design was a bit 💩 – now that we’d taken over the maintenance on their system, it was our job to come in and put things right.

One of the areas we keep picking up on is the use of sounder beacons and Visual Alarm Devices in toilets. This is essentially where there’s a sounder in the toilet (as there should usually be) which is paired with a visual element, such as a flashing beacon.

Visual Alarms are a recommended solution for communicating the alarm to people with impaired hearing. This is a requirement defined in the Equality Act 2010 (formerly the DDA -1995) and Document M of the building regulations.

Of course, if during a Fire Risk Assessment it’s found that the building comprises a high number of those with impaired hearing, then more visual alarm devices will be recommended. However, we recommend a minimum of meeting this within the lavatories to ensure that anyone and everyone will be notified of the alarm’s sounding in the event of a fire-related incident or drill, regardless of their abilities.

It’s the best port of call to a) achieve total compliance, b) cater to and protect everyone and c) future proof your building.

(Please note, that a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan or ‘PEEP’ is crucial to carry out for all those identified with individual needs within your building, and any visual aid or alarm is not to be used as a replacement of this.)

If you’re unsure about the efficacy of your fire alarm, the first port of call is to review your fire safety with a Fire Risk Assessment, which you can learn more about here: or speak to us and we’ll talk you through it!

Also, if you’re planning or in the process of getting a fire alarm installed, we implore you to read this guide which breaks down important aspects to consider to ensure it’ll be an effective investment for you:

Remember: as the duty holder and responsible person in your building, it’s in your hands to ensure your building caters to and protects everyone who enters it 👍

Thank you for reading!

And do reach out to us if you need help with your fire alarm; be it with sound levels, servicing, repairing or design and installation!

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