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Changing Standards: BS5839 Part 1 2013

It seems to be quite a regular occurrence that we have to spend time in familiarisation with some amended or updated guidance document. Of course this is essential, but it leaves us all with the problem of somehow finding out about all the changes taking place. This is a major problem for most of us as there are myriads of application standards and other essential inter-related documents.

One of the current topics of conversation in the industry is the recent release of BS5839 Part 1 2013, which is one of the most essential guidance documents for designers and installers of Fire Detection Systems.

What exactly is BS5839?

BS5839 Part 1 2013 is the ‘Fire detection and alarm systems for buildings – Code of Practice for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of systems in non-domestic premises’.

This supersedes the previous issue (BS5839 Part 1 2002 – amendment 2 2008) and is the primary document detailing the required standards of design, installation, commissioning and maintenance for a Fire Detection & Alarm System in the United Kingdom.

It is often quoted as being a set of guidelines that should largely be adhered to where possible. However, the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order has significantly changed the scene by effectively making the relevant standard into a minimum legal requirement; i.e. partial compliance is no longer good enough. In fact, the standard itself states that ‘Any user claiming compliance with this British Standard is expected to be able to justify any course of action that deviates from its recommendations’. Even the most experienced engineers try to avoid anything other than minor variations from the letter of the standard.

What are the key changes?

This recent update has proven to be an opportunity to implement practical experience gained regarding a number of serious fire incidents (sadly sometimes fatal) over the last few years; along with some developments in new technology.

Often, to identify any key changes involves hours of study of the detail of both the new and the superseded document. To avoid that the key changes are as follows:

To avoid confusion with other application standards such as BS5839 Part 6 which cover domestic properties, the title has been changed to more accurately reflect its scope and content.

  • In Care Homes and premises with occupants who will need assistance from staff in order to evacuate, it is important that accurate and unambiguous information regarding the source of a fire is given. It states that addressable systems should be used if the building has facilities for more than ten people to sleep.
  • Zone Plans are emphasised as an important element, with the addition of a description as a ‘diagrammatic representation of a building, showing specific topographic information and the division of the building into detection zones’. It is stated that the responsibility to provide the Zone Plan should be decided at an early stage of the planning and that it should show at least the building entrances, the main circulation areas and the division into zones.
  • Agreed Variations should be clearly recorded in the logbook and available for future reference by interested parties.
  • A Visual Alarm Devices is defined as a ‘fire alarm device incorporating a flashing light’ and that they should comply with BS EN 54-23.
  • Limits of ceiling heights for Category P systems with five minute Fire and Rescue attendance have been deleted.
  • Updated guidance is given on the provision of automatic transmission of fire alarm signals. Delays in summoning Fire and Rescue Services are to be avoided on operation of the Fire Detection and Alarm System in Residential Care premises.
  • The width of coverage of an Optical Beam detector has been increased to 18.75m.
  • Very importantly, it is now highlighted that routine servicing of a system does not constitute a review of the design of a system and that as a consequence non-compliance may not be noted during this visit.

How does this affect a system installer?

Basically, in order to be deemed competent to work on a fire system you should:

  1. Obtain a copy of the standard and familiarise yourself with it.
  2. Attend regular training to ensure that your understanding is relevant and to help in demonstrating competence.
  3. Fully comply with the standard at all times; ensure clear documentation of any variation or non-compliance.

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