Last Updated on 6 May 2020.
75% wait for someone else to react when a fire alarm sounds, and only 10% act immediately.
Fire alarms going off can be a tedious interruption, but just because it’s likely to be a false alarm doesn’t mean it is.
But in all seriousness, what’s more tedious? Evacuating a premises and finding it isn’t a real fire, or not evacuating and finding it is a real fire?
Lessons from Bolton University
In November 2019, a fire broke out at Bolton University’s student accommodation, The Cube. One student said: “I thought it was a drill at first until one of my flatmates shouted down the corridor that it was a real fire.” Two people were treated at the scene but thankfully there were no serious injuries or fatalities.
Another student said: “The fire alarm was going off but nobody was paying any attention. It goes off all the time, maybe every hour during the day because someone has done something in the kitchen and it’s set off the alarm.”
It’s been made clear that the cladding in this building is not the same as Grenfell’s cladding, albeit an investigation is underway into the cladding that was used, as well as the overall fire safety strategy.
Whilst cladding ought to be a part of investigations, there is one issue that’s being overlooked here which is incredibly crucial.
Because the fire alarm going off was a regular occurrence, when it went off in the event of a real fire, the students simply ignored it until they realised they need to act and evacuate.
Firstly, fire alarms shouldn’t be going off all of the time and having lots of false alarms, so it could be the design of the alarm system is not suitable for its environment and needs to be re-thought or there is an underlying fault. If it’s going off because of a false alarm (e.g. someone’s just burning a bit of toast) then it needs to be rectified, otherwise people will become immune to it.
Secondly, this also highlights the importance of weekly testing. For all commercial buildings, you should carry out your fire alarm test every week at the same time and the same day. This is so that everyone knows that at this time each week, the alarm going off will most likely be the alarm test – so anything sounding outside of this time should be assumed to be a real fire. We’re not privy to whether Bolton University’s student accommodation did carry out its weekly testing as it should do each week at the same time, but nonetheless, this leads to the final point…
Education on fire safety needs to be improved. More fire drills need to happen to improve reactions and response times in the event of an emergency, and no one should assume the alarm sounding is simply a false alarm.
Office Building Fire Alarm Frenzies
According to a survey of 2,060 UK office workers by Offices.co.uk, 38% said that they wait more than two minutes to leave the building when the fire alarm sounds. The top reasons for their delay were:
- It’s likely to be a test
- Someone accidentally set it off
- It’s always going off
Only 10% act immediately and leave the building, whilst 15% start to leave but not in any particular hurry, whilst 75% of people actually wait for someone else to react before following suit.
It’s clear that whilst carrying out essential fire safety measures – such as having a professionally installed and maintained fire alarm system and other equipment such as fire extinguishers, and correcting any fireproofing errors such as cladding – educating people on how to respond in the event the alarm sounds is also a vital priority.
You could have the most sophisticated, well-maintained fire alarm system, but its primary function is to sound an alarm when it detects a fire, and if people do nothing when they hear it, it’s virtually useless.
What do you do when your alarm sounds?
Do your employees or inhabitants know how to react in the event of a fire? Have they had fire safety training?
Do you keep having false alarms?
And if the answer’s ‘yes’, have you raised this with your fire alarm maintenance company?
These are important questions to ask, especially if you’re the ‘Responsible Person’ within your building. And never just assume!
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