BS 5839-6: 2019 – Quantum’s Advice

This latest Q Briefing has been produced following requests from clients wishing to further understand the practical implications of this new British Standard in relation to existing residential properties and to new / refurbished residential properties.

Note: This latest guidance should be read in conjunction with the previously produced Q Briefing BS 5839-6 2019 – What has changed?


Principle changes include:

  1. The scope of the standard has been expanded to include ‘supported housing’.


  1. Grades of fire alarm systems have been re-defined – there are now eight grades compared to six before (note Grade B & E have not yet been defined).

Grade A: A fire detection fire alarm system, which incorporates control and indicating equipment (CIE) and power supply equipment and which is designed and installed in accordance with all the recommendations of BS 5839-1:2017.

Grade C: A system of fire detectors and alarm sounders (which may be combined in the form of smoke alarms) connected to a common power supply, comprising the normal mains and a standby supply, with CIE.

Grade D1: A system of one or more mains powered detectors each with a tamper-proof standby supply consisting of a battery or batteries.

Grade D2: A system of one or more mains powered detectors each with an integral standby supply consisting of a user-replaceable battery or batteries.

Grade F1: A system of one or more battery powered detectors powered by a tamper-proof primary battery or batteries.

Grade F2: A system of one or more battery powered detectors powered by user-replaceable primary battery or batteries.

Note: it is now recommended that in rental properties a Grade D1 system is installed i.e. sealed batteries as they are more reliable.


  1. There has been a revision of Table 1 in the guide which covers the recommended grades and categories of fire alarm systems for different types of properties.

Example changes include;

Sheltered Housing (New) – Grade D2 LD1 system.

Sheltered Housing (Existing) – Grade D2 LD2 system.

Supported Housing (New) – Grade D1 or A LD1 system depending on the height of building and number of bedrooms.


  1. Guidance has been updated to take into account the publication of BS 5839-1:2017 and other standards published since the last full revision of BS 5839-6 in 2013.


  1. There is new guidance to prevent blocking or delaying of fire alarm signals transmitted via social alarm systems in sheltered housing to an alarm receiving centre (ARC).


New definition added for:

  1. ‘3.13 dispersed social alarm (telecare) system – system that provides facilities for social alarm initiation, signal transmission, alarm reception, reassurance and assistance for use by older and other persons considered to be living at risk within a single private dwelling, using a private phone line or IP connection to an ARC’


  1. ‘3.63 telecare-enabled fire detection and fire alarm system – fire detection and fire alarm system that is interfaced with a social alarm system (3.58), such that there is a facility for signal transmission, alarm reception, reassurance and, where necessary, assistance (e.g. summoning of the fire and rescue service)’


  1. There is an increase in the standard of protection in sheltered housing flats from Category LD2 to Category LD1:

Clause 9.1.2 advises:

All dwellings need to be protected to at least the standard afforded by a Category LD3 system. However, for new housing, other than flats in sheltered housing, a Category LD2 system is appropriate. If the risk to occupants from fire in any part of the premises is deemed to be high, a Category LD2 or Category LD1 system is always appropriate. For example, a Category LD1 system needs to be provided in sheltered housing flats and if the occupants have an impairment or disability (mental or physical) that could delay their escape from fire. If it is intended to protect reliably any occupant (regardless of impairment/disability or age) in the room where a fire originates, a suitable Category LD2, or a Category LD1, system needs to be provided. For the highest level of protection of all occupants who might occupy the dwelling over the lifetime of the fire detection and fire alarm system, a Category LD1 system would be appropriate.


  1. There is a new addition to the Category of System part regarding analogue systems:

‘It is anticipated that analogue telephone services will cease to be provided within 5 to 10 years of publication of the 2019 edition of this part of BS 5839, as the UK’s telecoms infrastructure is upgraded to digital connectivity. This shift brings a number of opportunities to improve the speed and flexibility of alarm transmission, but in addition has major implications for existing fire detection and fire alarm systems that rely on the fire alarm signal to be transmitted to an ARC or other responder. Many services that employ analogue connectivity, such as sheltered housing, supported housing fire detection and fire alarm systems, and dispersed social alarm (telecare) systems, will need to be upgraded, adapted or replaced to ensure that signalling equipment operates correctly. There is a risk that a great number of vulnerable people could lose the technology on which they rely, and it is likely that other health and care services would be significantly impacted as a result. Manufacturers, designers, installers and maintainers, in addition to other persons responsible for these systems, need to ensure that a process is in place to confirm that their equipment is compatible with the changes and that testing protocols are in place to verify that signalling is not compromised.’


  1. There is a new addition to Clause 9.1.6 re social alarms:

‘f) In sheltered housing, measures should be put in place to prevent receipt of alarm signals by any ARC from being significantly delayed if, prior to the fire alarm signal, a device on the social alarm signal is operated in the flat of fire origin or in any (or all) other flats. At the very least, under these circumstances, the display at the ARC should immediately indicate unambiguously a waiting fire alarm signal, without the need to interrupt speech communication initiated in response to a signal from a social alarm device.


  1. There is clarification regarding sprinklers being used as heat detectors (but not equivalent to) (Clause 10.1.3).


  1. There are new rules for power supplies to Grade C & D & F systems (see also above).


  1. There is new guidance regarding manual call points being fitted with covers. (Clause 18.2 d).


  1. There is guidance regarding LD systems being linked to ARC if occupants have mobility/sensory impairment that would impair their evacuation, or speech/hearing impairment that would preclude communication by telephone with FRS (Clause 20).


  1. There is further guidance for sheltered housing alarms (Clause 20d).

In sheltered housing, facilities should be provided for automatic transmission of fire alarm signals to the fire and rescue service (via a fire or social ARC), both in the case of fire alarm signals from individual dwellings and signals from any fire detection in the common parts. When a scheme manager is on site, the alarm signal may be transmitted to the scheme manager, but, if the scheme manager does not respond to the alarm signal within 30 s, the signal should be relayed automatically to the ARC. The facilities should automatically open a two-way speech channel to permit filtering of fire alarm signals.


  1. New guidance on fire alarm testing frequencies.

Grade A systems continue to be tested as before i.e. weekly, periodically and annually.

All other systems (C,D,F), only require monthly testing and annual maintenance.

In the case of smoke alarms, any heat alarms, and multi-sensor fire alarms, this test may be carried out by the use of a test button on each of the smoke alarms and heat alarms installed in the premises. If an alarm has no test button, assistance with testing should be sought from a competent person. In the case of interlinked alarms, the “one alarm, all alarm” feature should be verified. The alarm should be visually inspected, and any defects should be noted for action. Clause 25.2 c).


  1. Guidance regarding fire alarm maintenance.

Grade A as per Part 1 systems.

Other grades annually – see table 3.


  1. Log Books are required for Grade A and systems in Sheltered or supported housing (Clause 27.2).


  1. New guidance that communal fire alarm systems should not normally be installed in purpose-built blocks of flats:


  1. The document states that due to compartmentation, communal areas in blocks of flats should not have AFA system, but, nevertheless, if the provision of a fire detection and fire alarm system in these areas can be justified, the recommendations in BS 9991 and BS 5839-1 can be followed. B.S. 9991 recommends that systems installed in communal areas are installed to BS 5839 Part 1 and that where warning devices are installed in specialised housing, they should cater for the applicable sensory conditions and therefore, should be compatible with specialist devices such as vibrating alerters, visual alarm devices, etc. Warning devices should also allow for supplementation where personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) dictate a particular need.
  2. The guidance also refers to Grenfell and states that automatic fire alarm systems installed in flats to compensate for defects in external cladding are considered a temporary measure and should be removed when the cladding is rectified, and are outside the scope of the document (BS 5839 Part 6: 2019).