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Written by
on 20 October 2011


The on-going issue of ensuring that people have fully functioning smoke alarms is a problem that has alarm bells ringing inside fire safety experts’ heads! How so? Well a couple of fire services have conducted surveys about smoke alarms, with some very worrying findings.

Smoke Alarm testing

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service conducted a survey at Lichfield’s Argos store. People were asked if their home has a smoke alarm and how often it is checked. Of the 60 people asked, 85% had a smoke alarm fitted in their home, however 70% admitted that they don’t test their alarm regularly and don’t know if it actually works.

It is often said that 1 in 4 smoke alarms currently do not work! Obviously an alarm without batteries makes the alarm completely useless and potentially results in a tragic and unnecessary loss of life. Often batteries are removed due to an alarm constantly going off – largely due to being placed in or near to the kitchen.

However, some downright bizarre reasons for one in four alarms not working have been shown in a survey conducted by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service. The article by The Metro reported the bizarre places where smoke alarms had been placed was researched and recorded in the survey. For example, an alarm had been found by firefighters on top of the TV as the owner thought the set would catch fire! The ideal location for smoke alarms is not “perched” on top of anything, but smack bang in the middle of the ceiling – or as close as possible to the centre. The alarm should be at least 30cm (one foot) away from a wall or light.

As well as smoke alarms protecting the welfare of television sets,  one smoke alarm has been given the sole job of stopping smoke getting into a cupboard! Yes. That’s right. Some ill-advised crack-pot had fitted an alarm inside the door of a kitchen cupboard and has told firefighters that it was there ‘to stop the smoke getting to it.’

The entire concept of logic and good taste was also rocked to its very foundations in the aforementioned Metro article, as it also reports that a homeowner bafflingly said: “I don’t want a smoke alarm unless you’ve got one in pink to match the ceiling.” We can only hope that this comment’s jokey “tongue in cheek” tone had been lost when put down in print.

About the author

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

  • Adam says:

    I imagine a lot of people don’t follow all of these guidelines when placing smoke alarms. As for the alarms that do not work, the batteries probably ran out long ago. It just wasn’t noticed because people forget that the device is functioning constantly, rather than just when the alarm sounds.

  • Smoke alarms save lives, but smoke alarms hidden away in cupboards may not, and those without batteries are certainly not going to benefit anybody. So much budget has been sunk into ad campaigns and for raising awareness but people are still not following the advice.