Research findings reveal that SMEs in the UK are incurring a staggering cost of £696 million annually due to avoidable fire alarms, including false alarms. This insightful data originates from a study conducted by Red Fox, a leading independent technology and B2B research expert, commissioned by Hochiki Europe. The purpose of the research was to assess the impact of false fire alarms on UK businesses.
The study involved surveying over 300 SME businesses, investigating the estimated costs and significant impact of evacuations caused by alarms unrelated to actual fires. Astonishingly, nine out of ten such alarms led to complete business evacuations, and one in every four caused significant disruptions, resulting in unplanned fire incidents costing an average of £1000 or more in disruptions, affecting almost 30% of businesses. When extrapolated to the entire UK, these statistics indicate that false alarms are indeed having a multimillion-pound impact on the economy.
The research encompassed a wide range of industries, including hospitality, leisure, travel, retail, ecommerce, finance, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, public sector, not-for-profit, and education. Business owners and senior management highlighted the far-reaching consequences of these unplanned alarms on lost productivity. Factors contributing to these disruptions included interrupted meetings (33%) and staff taking time to settle back down to work, engaging in conversations, or getting refreshments (32%). In the manufacturing and IT sector, restarting production processes and conducting security system checks were identified as the biggest interruptions, while 10% of the food and drink sector mentioned the need to restart preparation processes, which led to additional issues such as food wastage.
The impact of false alarms extends beyond financial implications, as respondents were also asked to describe their experiences. In hotels, guest relations suffered, with one respondent noting, “All our guests had to leave the building, this ruined their guest experience.” Educational institutions faced disruptions in teaching, with pupils and staff having to evacuate buildings. Additionally, other emergency systems were affected, as one respondent mentioned, “The unplanned alarm interrupted the day’s work, and I had to call out our on-call electricians to come and fix the alarm, which had also knocked out the emergency lighting.”
An alarming 64% of respondents believed that the majority of alarms experienced in the past year were false alarms. This perception is supported by the causes identified for these alarms. Apart from drills and kitchen incidents, dust and smoke resulting from building works and maintenance contributed to 20% of false alarms, followed by equipment failures at 18%, with 12% attributed to other causes or being unknown.
With false alarms accounting for over half of all triggered alarms, it suggests that some buildings may lack fire detection devices or systems incorporating multi-sensors. These multi-sensor systems have been proven to significantly reduce false alarms caused by non-fire factors.
Although witnessing the alarm in action reassured 50% of respondents that the system was functional, a concerning finding emerged from the research: 56% of business owners or managers indicated that excessive false alarms led to staff not taking alarms seriously enough. This phenomenon, known as alarm fatigue, results in complacency among staff.
The cost associated with false alarms is alarming, but the growing complacency among staff is truly worrisome. For businesses located in multi-use or public-facing buildings, where fire detection systems are shared, false alarms can become a regular occurrence. If your staff members perceive alarms as “just another false alarm,” it signifies a serious problem that cannot be overlooked as a business owner.
Fortunately, false alarms can be mitigated through various means, such as regular maintenance, addressing issues like excess dust from building renovations or burnt toast. Multi-sensor technology continues to advance, offering improved fire safety and reduced false alarm risks. We strongly recommend that responsible individuals within businesses, including building landlords, collaborate with trusted fire safety experts to investigate the causes of recurring false alarms and resolve them promptly. This proactive approach ensures the safety of your staff, the public, and the future-proofing of your business.
With Drax Technology’s innovative AMX System, we can help you pin-point the exact location of a critical fire event, allowing you to quickly identify if it’s a live fire event or a false alarm and eliminating the need for costly evacuations. Unlike other systems, AMX is compatible with over 50 third-party fire alarm manufacturers, meaning that no matter how many different fire alarm systems you have on your site, we can provide you with a solution that integrates all your fire alarm systems into one place and presents it in a graphical view which allows you to dispatch your teams straight to the source of an alarm.
To find out more about Drax Technology’s AMX system, speak to one of our expert team.