By November 2, 2017 Read More →

Making kitchen safety a priority

Smoke, heat and CO alarms are the first line of defence, providing critical early warning of fire or carbon monoxide for housing occupants. Kidde Safety Europe argues that stockists should now be promoting their wider use, particularly for detection in kitchens where risks are greater.

Fire safety for housing is in the spotlight. Current national Building Regulation guidelines, such as Approved Document B (AD B) for England and Wales, and other recommendations for smoke and heat alarms are based on the Code of Practice BS 5839-6:2013, which applies to all types of housing, whether new or existing.

But major reviews of both English and Scottish Building Regulations are now in hand and a revised Code of Practice expected next year. So, what happens now?

Critical early warning

Despite issues with the current Code, we believe that it still offers the best available guidance on minimum safe standards in most situations. We also believe that, in an uncertain world, domestic smoke and heat alarms are the first line of defence against fire in homes. They provide critical early warning for occupants at low costs, irrespective of other fire protection measures, and should be the first consideration in all types of housing – new or old.

Specifiers, developers and housing providers should now take a proactive approach to designing systems of smoke and heat alarms. Current guidelines must be questioned and considered as an absolute minimum base to work up from, not to be eroded for minor cost savings.

There are also worrying conflicts between the Code and AD B – hopefully to be resolved – particularly affecting kitchens. Over 60% of domestic fires start in kitchens and, as the Scottish Technical Standards point out: “a significant number of fire related deaths (62%), occur from fires started in living rooms and kitchens. It is therefore important that the outbreak of fire in living rooms and kitchens is detected quickly and the alarm raised as early as possible during the early stages of fire growth.”

Closed door issues

Despite this, and contrasting with the Code, the current AD B requires heat alarms only where a kitchen is not separated from the circulation by a door. But a closed door reduces the passage of smoke through to the other side and delays triggering a smoke alarm there. Similarly, it reduces the passage of sound from a corridor alarm, limiting the ability of occupants on the other side to hear it.

Here, a kitchen fire could take hold, affect building fabric and services such as gas, and start moving through the building before alarms sound. And, will occupants in living and bedrooms hear and be awoken by the alarm anyway?

It has been argued that occupants of kitchens are probably active in the room when the fire starts, perhaps causing it themselves. Although some kitchen fires are started by occupants accidentally, many other less obvious sources can go unnoticed – notably faulty electrical appliances.

This is a particularly dangerous situation with appliances operating at night on low tariff electricity while occupants sleep. Without doubt, heat alarms are essential in all kitchens and utility rooms. Stockists should now consider promoting them to their customers for use in housing of all types – new or old. So, what do you need to know about them?

Heat alarms detect increases in the ambient temperature of the air, rather than smoke from a fire. They are triggered if the temperature rises above a predetermined threshold. They respond more slowly to fires than smoke alarms but are less likely to give nuisance alarms and require less maintenance. They must always be interlinked with smoke alarms elsewhere in the property so that all the alarms sound as soon as one is triggered.

The Code recommends them for garages as well as kitchens and utility rooms, and positioned so that no point in the room is more than 5.3m from one. As with smoke alarms, heat alarms should preferably be ceiling-mounted at least 300mm (horizontally) from walls or light fittings, away from heaters and vents, but accessible for maintenance.

Fire and CO alarms together

We believe that there is also a strong case to promote carbon monoxide alarms alongside smoke and heat alarms and we share the Scottish Government’s view (in a recent consultation) that: “it makes practical sense to combine installation programmes for fire and smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms together”. This time, the standard is BS EN 50292:2013, which recommends that, ideally, a CO alarm should be installed in every room containing a fuel burning appliance, including cooking, and elsewhere to give warning, such as bedrooms.

Building Regulations requiring CO alarms do apply to some combustion heating appliances but they exclude appliances solely for cooking, unlike the standard. Of course, kitchen and utility rooms with boilers should have CO alarms but combustion cooking appliances are important as well.

For example, annual gas safety checks may exclude the tenant’s cooker where it is not the landlord’s property, posing an increasing risk, and there have been several instances of faulty grills on almost new cookers causing death and injury. Oversized pans and interference with burners using foil, associated with particular styles of cooking, have also caused CO problems.

Smart systems

Mains CO alarms are easily installed alongside hard-wired smoke and heat alarms. But together they can offer extra safety features as well. Notably, Kidde’s 4MCO and 4MDCO hard-wired CO alarms can not only be interlinked with each other but also with the company’s latest Firex range of hard-wired smoke and heat alarms, using the unique ‘Smart Interconnect’ feature. Here, all the interconnected alarms can act as sounders to alert of either risk, forming comprehensive systems.

Crucially, the alarms have different, distinct alarm sounder patterns for carbon monoxide and fire, as required by BS 5839-6. They can automatically alert occupants of the specific hazard allowing them to respond quickly, making the right choice from the very different alternative actions for either fire or carbon monoxide.

Sometimes fitting a battery-only CO alarm may be simpler and, of course, quality is key to long term, problem-free performance, addressed by the latest generation of alarms. Manufacturers that produce their own CO cells rather than buying them in can apply tighter quality controls, giving the confidence that the CO sensor will work effectively throughout the alarm’s design life. Here, Kidde’s 10LLCO is the only range of 10-year guaranteed alarms with CO sensors – the key component – actually tested throughout a 10-year period or longer.

CO alarms can be wall or ceiling mounted and BS EN 50292:2013 provides detailed recommendations for positioning, generally between 1m and 3m from the combustion appliance. Care should be taken in kitchens, avoiding fitting: in enclosed spaces (such as cupboards); directly above a sink, next to a door, window, extractor fan or air vent; or in the immediate vicinity of a cooking appliance.

As a straightforward, low cost early warning, wider installation of smoke, heat and CO alarms should be considered as an essential first step for fire safety, whatever other measure are taken, to make all housing safer.