The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 underscores the legal necessity for a fire alarm system installation that is adequate and operational in your business premises or site. Prior to designing a fire alarm system, a Fire Risk Assessment must be undertaken to delineate the system’s core objectives. This forms part of the fire system specification.

Fire alarm system installations in buildings serve two primary objectives— safeguarding life and protecting property. It also includes protection against business interruption and environmental damage, though the BS 5839: Fire Detection & Alarm Systems for Buildings categorise this under property protection

The BS 5839 classifies fire alarm systems into three primary design categories: L (Life protection), M (Manual systems), and P (Property protection). These design categories further bifurcate into eight fire alarm categories. Your system can fall into any one of these categories, depending on your business’s nature and other associated factors. The fire alarm categories include:

  • Category M – Manual fire alarm system
  • Category L1 – Maximum life protection automated fire alarm system
  • Category L2 – Additional life protection automated fire alarm system
  • Category L3 – Standard life protection automated fire alarm system
  • Category L4 – Modest life protection automated fire alarm system
  • Category L5 – Localised life protection automated fire alarm system
  • Category P1 – Maximum property protection automated fire alarm system
  • Category P2 – Minimum property protection automated fire alarm system
Vesda Fire Alarm installed in a large building

To help you select the most suitable fire alarm system for your premises, let’s examine each fire alarm category and its intended use:

Category M Systems

Category M Systems are manual systems and incorporate no automatic fire detection. This category is used commonly in properties where the occupiers are likely to detect a fire quickly but cannot be used for sleeping accommodation. Common places of work such as warehouses, factories, public houses, and restaurants.

Category L Systems

  • Category L1: These systems are installed throughout all areas of the building. Their purpose is to provide the earliest possible fire warning to maximize escape time. Commonly used in hotels, student accommodation, hospitals, and large office blocks.
  • Category L2: These systems are installed in defined parts of the building, encompassing coverage necessary for a Category L3 system. Their primary objective is identical to an L3 system, with an additional goal of early fire warning in areas of high fire risk. Frequently used in hotels, public houses, student accommodation, hospitals, and large office blocks.
  • Category L3: This category specifies fire alarm systems designed to provide early fire warning, allowing occupants (excluding those in the room of fire origin) to safely escape before escape routes become impassable. Typical uses include shopping centers, phased evacuation buildings, and residential care homes.
  • Category L4: These systems are installed in escape routes and circulation spaces, like corridors and stairways. Their objective is to alert occupants by detecting smoke within these escape routes. Commonly found in places of assembly like cinemas, theatres, nightclubs, and leisure centers.
  • Category L5: These systems are designed for specific fire objectives, distinct from L1, L2, L3, or L4 systems. The design is based on localised detection needs in part of a building, ranging from a single room to comprehensive detection across large areas of a building with less than regularly specified structural fire resistance. Examples include prisons and transportation terminals.

Category P systems 

This category specifies fire alarm systems intended to protect property, commonly used for insurance purposes.

  • Category P1 – Systems installed throughout all areas of the building. The objective of a category P1 system is to provide the earliest warning of fire to ensure a quicker arrival of the fire brigade.
  • Category P2 – Systems installed in defined parts of the building. The main objective of a category P2 system is to warn of fire in areas of high fire hazard or risk.

Choosing the correct category

The first step is to determine whether you’re protecting life or property. This distinction is vital as, for example, category L1 and P1 systems might appear similar but can be designed quite differently. A P1 system, designed for property protection, would have detection in all areas but wouldn’t necessarily require audible or visual indicators. An L1 system, on the other hand, is intended to protect life and therefore requires both audible and visual alerts.

BS5839-1 doesn’t prescribe which system category needs to be installed in any specific premises. Instead, the categories provide a ‘menu’ from which purchasers, specifiers, enforcing authorities, insurers, or designers can choose the most suited system for a building. Our fire alarm installation specialists can conduct a fire risk assessment to determine the right category for your premises.

Frequently asked questions

As experts in the field of fire alarm systems, we are frequently asked questions related to their installation. We have compiled and addressed some of the most commonly posed queries concerning the various categories of fire alarm installations.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 has a range of enforcement measures and penalties for non-compliance:

  1. Alterations Notice: This is issued when there is a potential serious risk in case of a change to the premises. It requires the responsible person to inform the fire authority before making any changes to the premises.

  2. Enforcement Notice: If the fire authority finds that the responsible person or employer has failed to comply with the Fire Safety Order, they may issue an Enforcement Notice. It specifies the measures that need to be complied with, and provides a time frame for compliance.

  3. Prohibition Notice: This notice can be issued when the fire risk is so great that access to the premises needs to be prohibited or restricted.

  4. Prosecution: Failure to comply with the Fire Safety Order can lead to a prosecution. This could result in a fine or, in the most severe cases, a prison sentence. There is no cap on the fine, and prison sentences can be up to two years.

It’s important to note that fire authorities regularly inspect premises for compliance with the Fire Safety Order. As a result, it’s crucial to always ensure your fire safety measures are up to date and in line with current standards.

Determining the right category of fire alarm system for your premises involves a detailed process that should ideally be conducted by a qualified fire safety professional. Here are the steps involved:

  1. Fire Risk Assessment: This is the first and perhaps most crucial step. A comprehensive Fire Risk Assessment will identify potential fire hazards, the people at risk, and the measures necessary to mitigate these risks. It should take into consideration the nature of the building, its occupants, and its usage.

  2. Life or Property Protection: Decide whether the primary aim of the fire alarm system is to protect human life, property, or both. This decision will be influenced by factors such as the type of building, its occupancy, and its contents.

  3. Building Layout and Occupancy: Consider the size, layout, and occupancy of your premises. Large, complex buildings or those with high occupancy levels may require more extensive systems for adequate protection.

  4. Potential Fire Hazards: Identify any specific areas of high fire risk within the building. These could include kitchens, storage areas for flammable materials, or areas with high electrical equipment density. These areas may require additional protection.

  5. Legal and Insurance Requirements: Check the legal and insurance requirements for fire alarm systems in your type of building. Some buildings are legally required to have specific categories of fire alarm systems, and insurance companies may have their own requirements as well.

  6. Consultation with a Fire Safety Professional: Ultimately, the best way to determine the correct category for your premises is to consult with a fire safety professional, like ClearView. We have the expertise to analyse all contributing factors and recommend the best fire alarm system for your needs.

Please note that once the category has been determined and the system installed, regular testing and maintenance is necessary to ensure its continued effectiveness.

The lifespan of a fire alarm system can vary based on a number of factors including the quality of the equipment, the environment in which it is installed, and how well it’s maintained. However, a general rule of thumb is that a well-maintained fire alarm system should last around 10 to 12 years.

After this period, systems may start to experience component failures or become outdated as technology and standards advance. Some parts of the system, like detectors, may need to be replaced more frequently due to their sensitivity to the environment.

It’s important to note that regular maintenance and inspections can extend the life of your fire alarm system and keep it functioning effectively. This includes regular cleaning, periodic testing, and immediate addressing of any faults or issues. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for specific maintenance recommendations and consider consulting with a fire safety professional to ensure your system remains in optimal condition.

Remember, while fire alarm systems have a considerable lifespan, they are not permanent fixtures and will eventually need to be replaced or upgraded to ensure the safety of your premises and its occupants.

Maintenance of fire alarm systems is crucial to ensure they remain in good working order and able to perform effectively in the event of a fire. While the specific requirements can vary based on the type and complexity of the system, here are some general maintenance tasks typically required:

  1. Regular Testing: Fire alarm systems should be tested regularly to ensure they’re functioning correctly. This usually involves activating the system via a call point (also known as a manual pull station) and confirming that the alarm sounds. The frequency of testing can depend on local regulations and the manufacturer’s recommendations, but weekly testing is common.

  2. Annual Inspections: A comprehensive inspection by a qualified professional should be conducted at least once a year. They’ll check all components of the system including control panels, alarm devices, power supplies, and batteries.

  3. Battery Checks: Backup batteries should be checked regularly, usually semi-annually, to ensure they will function in the event of a power outage. If the system is wireless, each device may have its own battery that also needs checking and periodic replacement.

  4. Detector Cleaning: Smoke and heat detectors can accumulate dust and other debris which can reduce their effectiveness or cause false alarms. Regular cleaning, in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines, is essential. The frequency of cleaning can depend on the environment, but annual cleaning is often recommended.

  5. False Alarm Tracking: If your system suffers from frequent false alarms, it’s important to document these instances and investigate the causes. Recurring false alarms could indicate a problem that needs addressing.

  6. Regular Servicing: Depending on the complexity of your system and the regulations in your area, you may need to have your fire alarm system serviced by a qualified professional at set intervals.

  7. Replacement of Outdated Components: Over time, parts of your fire alarm system may become obsolete or wear out. Regular maintenance includes identifying these components and replacing them as necessary.

It’s important to remember to, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and regulations when maintaining your fire alarm system. Regular maintenance not only ensures your system functions correctly, but it can also prolong the lifespan of the system.

Useful Resources

Further reading on Fire Alarm Installation categories from reputable resources.

    1. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005: The official document provides in-depth information on fire safety regulations in the UK.

    2. BS 5839-1: Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings: The official British Standards Institution (BSI) website provides the complete standard for purchase.

    3. Fire Industry Association (FIA): FIA is a trade association promoting the professional status of the UK fire safety industry. The site offers guides, fact files, and other resources.

    4. Health and Safety Executive (HSE): The UK government’s site providing guidance on health and safety at work, including fire safety.

ClearView Fire Alarm Installation

As BAFE-accredited and FIA members, our fully certified engineers can supply, install, maintain, commission, and remotely monitor all types of fire alarm systems to the highest standards. They can also design all fire alarm systems according to the relevant BS5839-1 guidelines. ClearView is highly certified in the fire industry. You can find our certifications and accreditations here, or for more information on our fire safety services, please contact one of our specialists.