The Ultimate Guide to Commercial Fire Alarms

Fire alarms are essential to not only keeping a business safe but also to ensure that the safety of any employees and occupants safe as well! Here we look at the different types of fire alarms and the benefits they may hold alongside fire safety regulations.

Commercial property is the term used to define properties that are used for business activities where it can not only refer to the buildings that may house a business but also where land is used for profit or larger rental properties.


Types of Commercial Alarms

  • Conventional Fire Alarms

The most common type of fire alarm is the ‘conventional’ fire alarm. This system identifies an activated detector or manual call point within a zone. This alarm allows for several different fire alarms in different sections of a building which are then controlled by a central control panel. This system is often cheaper than other alarm systems and is best suited for smaller premises where minimal points and detectors would be needed.


  • Addressable Fire Alarms

Much like conventional alarms, these alarms are controlled by a central control panel and can be placed in different sections of a building however it is the monitoring features which makes this system more expensive. Especially useful for a larger building, this system allows for the exact call point or detector to be identified when the alarm activates so that the exact location can be pinpointed.


  • Hybrid Fire Alarms

A hybrid fire alarm incorporates elements of both the conventional and addressable fire alarms where the combined technology often holds more advantages as it can be tailored to the premises creating settings that are best suited to the type of building and its specific needs.


  • Monitored Fire Alarms

This alarm is continually monitored so that even when the building is unoccupied the fire department are still notified, ensuring that the building is as secured as possible. This alarm uses both landline and the 4G wireless network to alert a receiving centre where they will then alert the relevant authorities of the situation. Although considerably more expensive than other systems, it holds advantages for larger business and buildings where stock and products may be held within the premises overnight where the building is left unoccupied.


  • Wireless Fire Alarms

A wireless system that uses frequencies to control the detectors throughout a building which are then all controlled by a central control system. This system is particularly beneficial for premises where having a wired system through cables is not practical or not in keeping with the look of the building.


  • Notifier Fire Alarms

Flexible and adaptable to the environment this system is efficient to alert the building of a fire but also will confirm the fire before initiating evaluation. These fire alarms are resistant to faults and offer uninterrupted protection.


  • Aspirating Fire Alarms

Utilizing a network of pipes to identify smoke particles within the air through an air detector. This system allows for early detection in larger spaces such as warehouses. Within higher risk areas, this system is beneficial for ensuring that a building remains secured, and employees remain safe.


  • Gas Suppression Fire Alarms

For higher risk areas and buildings which are unoccupied, a gas suppression fire alarm can be installed so when a fire is detected a gas can be released to suppress the fire.


Fire alarm

What to Consider When Choosing a Fire Alarm

There are a few things to consider when you install a fire alarm on commercial premises, most notably premises size and what type of fire alarm would best benefit your building.


1.     Premises Size

The size of premises will have influence on the type of alarm that you would want to install. For example, a smaller premise with a simple floorplan will most likely only need a simple detecting system such as a conventional fire alarm unless within the building there are high risk materials or equipment where a more sophisticated system may be needed to help supress the fire.


2.     Type of Fire Alarm

With different fire alarm types, it is important to note that some come with different benefits that will suit different buildings, some of the fire alarms are more expensive than others and hold different benefits. If you have high risk assets, a more sophisticated fire alarm would be better suited than a simpler one to ensure that employees and assets are secured.


Fire Alarm Grading and Categories

Fire alarm grading refers to how a fire alarm should be constructed, and categories is about which parts of the building it could cover. The grade and category you need for your business will be dependent on the nature of your business, the size, and the findings of the initial risk assessment.



Fire alarm grades run from the highest A to the lowest F, where a grading of A-C must be present in commercial properties to fulfil the obligations of the fire alarm regulations.



There are two main categories for fire alarms: category P systems and category L system. Category P refers to systems that protect property and category L refers to protecting life.


Category P is usually installed at the request of insurance policies or landlords, category P can be divided into 2 subsections.

 Cover Description
P1Installed everywhere in the building to detect on a larger basis.
P2P2 Placed only in specific areas where detection is wanted to manage a particular fire risk.


Category L however is split into 5 subsections, with L1 holding the highest level of cover and L5 offering the lowest.

 Cover Description
L1Installed in circulation areas and in every room of the building (including cupboards) for maximum detection.
L2L2 Installed in circulation areas, rooms which open to circulation areas and any high-risk areas.
L3L3 Installed in circulation areas and rooms which open to them.
L4Installed in circulation areas only.
L5Installed only in particular areas where a fire risk needs to be controlled.

Circulation areas are areas such as corridors and stairways.


fire alarm bell on white wall

Fire Alarm Regulations for Commercial Properties

The current commercial fire safety legislation within England and Wales is under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which was designed to simplify and streamline all the existing legal requirements.  Overall, there are not many direct fire alarm regulations but rather more surrounding responsibility, testing and assessment.

There is currently no legal requirement for a commercial property to have a fire alarm, however they are required to have an adequate fire detection system which can detect a fire and notify all persons relevant if need be. Many, if not all business’ keep it simple by just installing a fire alarm if there is not one already present as although it is not a legal requirement it meets the requirements of the guidelines.


Installing Fire Alarms

When designing and installing a fire alarm system it must conform to BS 5839- 1:2017. British Standard (BS) is a national standard and is required for best practise when installing a fire system. This standard helps to ensure that the requirement of legislation is met ensuring a secured property from fire.


Responsibly of Fire Alarms

The responsibility of fire alarms within a commercial premise can be the responsibility of the:

  • The owner
  • The landlord
  • The employer
  • The occupier

Ultimately who the fire alarm is deemed the responsibly of depends on the type of commercial property. Generally, the person for understanding the responsibility for the fire alarm and detection system is deemed as a ‘responsible person’.


Being the ‘Responsible Person’

Within the business it is the obligation of the ‘responsible person’ to ensure that fire regulations are adhered too and are responsible for taking steps to prevent fires and against injury should there be a fire. The responsibility of the ‘responsible person’ is:

  • Fire risk assessments
  • Action of safety issues
  • Executing fire safety measures
  • Maintaining fire safety measures
  • Providing information, instructions, and training to other members of staff
  • Creating and updating security plans and scenarios.

Overall, within The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 it is the job of the ‘responsible person’ to undertake general fire precautions that will ensure the safety (as far as reasonably practicable) of all employees and to ensure that the premises are safe to all those who are relevant.


Fire Safety Sign Regulations

It is a legal requirement that all commercial properties and businesses must, by law, have a minimum of two visible fire safety signs:

  1. Fire Action Notice: explaining what to do in the event of a fire
  2. Fire Extinguisher ID Sign: explaining the type of fire extinguisher and its location


Emergency Lighting Regulations

There is a legal requirement that all commercial buildings must be always safe, even if the mains power should fail. Therefore, most if not all buildings will have emergency lighting.


What are the Purposes of Emergency Lighting?

  • Escape route lighting: to light the way to emergency exits from a building


  • Panic/open area lighting: placed in communal areas to keep them illuminated in an emergency.


  • High risk area lighting: to provide visibility to shut down and safely halt processes and equipment that can be dangerous.



Where Should Emergency Lighting be Placed?

Emergency lighting should position at strategic points, depending on the size of the building, that allows for visibility if the main power should fail, allowing for an easy evacuation should the need call for it.

Primary positions such as entrances, exits, stairwells, essential corridors and large occupied spaces are always the first place to start, with considerations then needing to be taken for business specific needs.


Do Emergency Lights Need to be Tested?

It is recommended that emergency lights should be tested internally once a month, flicking them off and on to test they are working. It is also recommended that they are serviced annually by an external company to check for faults.


Fire Alarm on brick wall


Fire Risk Assessment Regulations

All commercial premises must have a regular fire risk assessment, which falls under the responsibility of the ‘Responsible Person’. When the site is visited by an inspecting officer, they will ask for an up-to-date risk assessment and a fire safety logbook.


Requirements of a Fire Risk Assessment:

  1. It must be reviewed regularly
  2. It must be recorded by law if you have more than 4 four employees
  3. It must be documented officially if a property requires a licence
  4. It must record all findings and actions which have been undertaken or need to be taken


What Needs to be Included in a Fire Assessment?

  1. The identification of potential fire risks
  2. The identifications of any persons at risk
  3. Evaluating the suitability of fire precautions and prevention measures
  4. Evaluating the existing safety measures
  5. The creation and implementation of a fire safety plan
  6. Regular updates and adjustments where need be


Fire Alarm Testing Regulations

Fire alarm testing, in accordance with regulations, should be carried out in two stages. The first stage is user testing done internally and external testing by approved third-party service or maintenance professionals.


Weekly Internal Testing

It is recommended that weekly testing is undertaken using the manual call point to not only test the fire alarm but to test fire safety precautions. It is suggested that a different call point is used each week to test the reliability of all the different points.


Biannually Professional Testing

It is recommended that external professional testing is carried out every 6 months by a professional fire safety specialist. They will investigate factors such as the fire logbook and call point inspections. This testing is a requirement of meeting British Standard and therefore should the test not happen every 6 months then it can deem the building not meeting the required fire safety requirements of British Standard.



Who are Responsible for Fire Alarms in a Commercial Property?

The person who would oversee the fire alarms and procedures within a commercial property would be the business’ designated ‘responsible person’.


Is having a Commercial Fire Alarm Legally Required?

Currently in the UK, you are not legally required to have a ‘fire alarm’ on the premises however regulations do state that there must be an ‘appropriate fire detection system’ in place to detect a potential fire and warn those in the building.


What is a ‘Responsible Person’?

A ‘responsible person’ in defined as a person who is responsible for overseeing that fire regulations are carried out and adhered to.


What Fire Alarm Do I Need?

The type of fire alarm you will need is dependent on your property and needs. There is no formal regulation that you need to have a fire alarm but rather an adequate detection system, therefore your fire alarm system will be determined by premises size.


Who Can Install a Fire Alarm?

There are no regulations about who can and cannot install a fire alarm other than they must be ‘competent’. However, it is vital that whoever will install the fire alarm has a knowledge of fire systems and how they work.


Related Articles

For more business security advice why not read:

The Ultimate Guide to Business Security

The Ultimate Guide to Commercial Fire Alarms

The Ultimate Guide to Business Burglar Alarms


Find out more about security in the Ultimate Guide to Home Security.