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Specifying a fire alarm system for a construction site

As a responsible organisation, you need to be certain that the products you use to protect your workforce and assets from fire are effective, reliable and compliant with the appropriate legislation. So, how can you make sure you’re delivering high quality protection?

Fire safety in the UK’s construction industry is covered by a number of laws, guidelines and codes of practice, and many construction companies in the Gulf States may choose to take a lead from these. They include:

All of these set out fire safety requirements in relation to their particular focus, and each specifies that an appropriate fire alarm system must be used. These guidelines form a comprehensive set of best practice indicators for the use and installation of fire safety systems in the construction industry.

In addition, the Construction Products Regulation, which came into force in 2013, says that fire alarm products sold in the European Union must be tested and independently certified against Harmonised European standards where these exist. In the case of fire detection and fire alarm products, that standard is EN54 Fire detection and fire alarm systems.

EN54 sets requirements for the design, operation, production, testing and manufacture of fire detection and fire alarm products. Effectively, the law and best practice guidelines require you to protect your construction site with a suitable fire alarm system, and EN54 is the standard against which fire alarm systems should be measured. We’ll focus in this paper on what that means in practice.


EN54 is an extensive standard and applies to all common parts of fire detection and fire alarm systems, with the exception of smoke alarms (these are covered by EN 14604).
Most fire detection and alarm products need to be compliant to one or more parts of EN54 which detail the particular engineering, manufacturing and testing requirements for each different type of component or product within the system. For example, Part Eleven deals with the technical requirements for manual call points while Part 3 deals with those for sounders. A full list of EN54 sections is given in Appendix 1.

EN54 applies to fire detection and alarm systems for use in ‘buildings or other construction works’ (EN54 Part 1, Section 2.1). It’s also worth noting that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005), which applies to any premises in the UK, requires the application of BS5839-1 guidelines and gives no exemption for temporary structures or building sites. BS5839-1 itself requires that system components should comply with the relevant sections of EN54.
Effectively, the law and best practice guidelines require you to protect your construction site with a suitable fire alarm system, and EN54 is the standard against which fire alarm systems should be measured.

There’s a long history of legislation seeking to meet the needs of life safety, whereas in the rest of Europe insurance or property protection were the dominant forces. Insurance companies paid for test houses to be set up to evaluate equipment and standards were written so that insurance companies could specify the quality of equipment that was required. The insurance industry’s involvement with the Fire Protection Association’s Joint Code of Practice illustrates that insurance considerations are an increasingly strong driver behind fire safety law.

Specific EU Legislation
With respect to fire safety there are two key European laws that apply:

  • The Workplace Directive – which is translated into UK law as the Fire Safety Order.
  • The Construction Products Regulation – which is directly applicable in the UK, though it is also partly translated into the UK building regulations. This law affects product approvals.

Other European laws which may apply to products in this area:

  • The Low Voltage Directive
  • The EMC Directive
  • The CE marking Directive
  • The Product Liability Directive
  • The RoHS Directive
  • The WEEE Directive
  • The Eco Directive
  • The Energy Labelling Directive
  • The ATEX Directive
  • The Machinery Directive
  • The Optical Radiation Directive
  • The Signs Directive
  • Radio and telecommunications terminal equipment (RTTE)

Each of these Directives has specific requirements that deal with particular issues relating to the product or the application, but there are some common areas.

What does this mean in practice?
The Building Regulations apply to the construction of new buildings or the major refurbishment or change of use of existing buildings. Most of the Regulations are concerned with the design of the building, the materials that can be used, the size of the drains, the gutters, etc. With respect to fire safety, there are also regulations that define how long an escape route can be, how big the stairway must be for a certain number of people, the provision of fire hydrants and so forth. There are also some parts that relate to fire detection.

Once the building is in use, the Fire Safety Order takes over. This is intended to protect the building’s occupants and, for business premises, makes the employer legally responsible for fire safety. It is the fire risk assessment carried out under the Order that determines what fire safety and detection products are needed. The simplest way for an employer to ensure they comply with the law is to comply with a recognised standard, and in the UK BS5839-1 and BS5839-1-6 are the standards for commercial and residential properties. Another instance of a construction site major fire in a tower block.

Different bodies are responsible for policing different areas:

  • For new buildings, change of use and major refurbishments, the building regulations are policed by building control
  • Buildings in use are covered by the fire authorities – part of the Fire and Rescue Service
  • Product approval is policed by Trading Standards
  • Building sites are policed by the HSE

All of these laws are in the main complaints-driven. But once the authorities are of a view that the law has been broken they will take action – this usually takes the form of a warning after which, if there is no response, the matter will be taken to the courts, at which point fines and/or imprisonment of responsible parties can follow.

CE marking and quality assurance

CE Marks and standards
Generally speaking a product must be marked with the CE mark for it to be sold in Europe. The CE mark is a legal tool – a declaration made by the manufacturer that the product complies with all appropriate European Directives on the date that the product is sold.
For some products the manufacturer can self-declare that the product complies, but in the case of the CPR and EN54 for fire detection and alarm products the product must be independently tested to the appropriate standard by a recognized test house. Fire alarm products may also have to comply with other directives, such as the LVD and EMCD, but for these directives compliance can be self-declared by the manufacturer or importer.
In the case of fire detection and alarm products, the European Parliament issued a mandate, M109, to the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) to draft standards that could be used for the assessment of fire alarm products.

CEN gave its appropriately-experienced technical committee, TC72, the Directive to prepare the necessary standards. Work was already in hand on the EN54 series of standards as a result of insurance considerations, and it was proposed that they should be the standards that answered the mandate M109. This proposal was adopted, and EN 54 has become the set of standards against which all fire detection and alarm products sold in the European Union must be tested and certified.

Each part of EN54 deals with a specific product or system requirement and there are currently parts from 2 to 31. Part 1 is an introductory section that describes how the other parts fit together to make a system. Construction insurers are putting their weight behind JCoP with an ‘expectation that customers comply with the guidelines as far as is practicable and reasonable’. Latest JCoP requires that all radio fire alarm systems on new sites should be BS-EN54-25 compliant.

EN54 specifies an extremely robust set of tests for each type of unit which may form part of a fire detection and alarm system. These tests must be undertaken in a fully-approved nominated testing house. The tests are designed to ensure that fire alarm and detection products will perform safely under all the conditions which the product can be reasonably expected to experience. Therefore the testing phase is exhaustive and includes:

  • Physical stress testing
  • Testing in extreme environments, such as temperature, humidity, water
  • Manufacturing testing – this includes a mandatory annual assessment to ensure the manufacturing process is up to scratch.

Once a product has passed all the testing required by EN54 to be completed by an approved body, it must be certified as such. This is done by means of a Declaration of Performance, an official document in which the conformity of the product to the appropriate standards is declared and illustrated with reference to specific product characteristics. Once the appropriate Declarations of Performance have been completed, the product may be CE marked.

What to look for
What to look for from your supplier:

  • A Declaration of Performance for each type of unit within the system. These are your proof that the product you’re considering has been tested to the appropriate governing standards. You should expect a full fire alarm and detection system to include references to different sections of EN54, as each unit type should be tested against its corresponding section(s) of the standard. For example, a wireless call point should be tested against sections 3, 11 and 25 if it includes an alarm device.
  • Check the CE mark on the product – if it’s been certified by a Notifed Body you’ll see a four digit number after the mark denoting which test house has tested and certified the product. If there’s no such number, the product has not been tested and certified in accordance with the latest and most stringent legislation. The product would normally be marked with the approval mark of the Notified Body as well as the CE mark.

Although construction fire safety law is a large and complex area, when it comes to your fire alarm and detection systems there are really only a couple of simple things to bear in mind to ensure the systems you use are properly tested and certified as compliant with the most recent – and most stringent – legislation and standards.

All applicable UK legislation and best practice guidelines – and indeed, common sense – suggest that your construction site and its staff must be protected by a suitable fire alarm system. EN54 is the appropriate standard to use to test fire detection and alarm system components. Its use is mandatory in buildings, so logically it is appropriate for temporary sites as well as permanent buildings. BS5839-1 is the code of practice for fire alarm systems and is used for temporary accommodation units, therefore it is logical to use it for construction sites.

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