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Smoke Alarms Saves Lives But Are You Breaking The Law?

Fact:

All NSW residents must have at least one working smoke alarm (sometimes mistakenly referred to as “smoke detectors”) installed on each level of their home. This includes owner occupied, rental properties, relocatable homes or any other residential building where people sleep.

Fact:

Smoke from a home fire is toxic, only early warning can assist in giving your family vital time to escape a smoke filled room. Also, when asleep you will not smell the smoke from a fire and the smoke will actually put you into a deeper sleep. A smoke alarm can provide the early warning you need and is the critical first step in your home fire safety plan.

Consider:

On average 21 deaths occur in residential fires across NSW every year. Based on FRNSW Fire Investigation and Research Unit case study research, one third to a half of those fatalities may have been prevented if the homes had working smoke alarms and had a practised home escape plan.

What does the law say about smoke alarms in NSW?

Legislation requires all NSW residents must have at least one working smoke alarm installed on each level of their home. This includes owner occupied, rental properties, relocatable homes, caravans and campervans or any other residential building where people sleep.

You must install smoke alarms which comply with Australian Standard 3786 (AS3786). The standard should be clearly marked on the packaging.

If you installed smoke alarms prior to 1 May 2006 that do not comply with AS3786 they will be deemed to comply (providing that they are working and in the correct location).

Read the Fire & Rescue NSW Smoke alarms – it’s the law fact sheet to find out more about the legislation and how it applies to you.

Is my building affected?

If you live in or own any of the below then the smoke alarm laws apply to you and you must have a minimum of one working smoke alarm on each level of the property.

Residential accommodation

  • detached houses, terrace houses, town houses, villa units (Class 1a buildings)
  • apartments, home units, flats (Class 2 buildings)
  • caretakers flats, single residences above shops (Class 4 parts of buildings)
  • relocatable homes, e.g. manufactured homes and moveable dwellings, campervans, caravans, but not tents

Note: Residential dwellings may use either hard wired or battery operated smoke alarms.

Shared accommodation

  • small boarding houses, guest houses, hostels; backpackers accommodation; bed and breakfast accommodation (Class 1b buildings)
  • large boarding houses, guest houses, hostels, backpacker accommodation; residential parts of hotels, motels, schools, health care buildings, detention centres; certain residential accommodation for the aged, children and people with disabilities (Class 3 buildings)
  • hospitals and nursing homes (Class 9a health care buildings)

Note: Smoke alarms in shared accommodation must be either hard-wired to the mains electricity supply or powered by a non-removable, 10-year long-life battery that is permanently connected to the smoke alarm.

Caravans and campervans

Smoke alarms must be installed in caravans, campervans and other moveable dwellings where people sleep, following regulation changes from 25 February 2011.

What type of smoke alarm should I get?

Based on FRNSW Fire Investigation and Research Unit case study research, one third to a half of house fire fatalities may have been prevented if the homes had a working smoke alarm and had practiced a home escape plan.

You must install smoke alarms which comply with Australian Standard 3786 (AS3786). The standard should be clearly marked on the packaging.

If you installed smoke alarms prior to 1 May 2006 that do not comply with AS3786 they will be deemed to comply (providing that they are working and in the correct location).

There are a number of different types of smoke alarms available: ionisation, photoelectric, carbon monoxide (note: carbon monoxide alarms are not smoke alarms and do not satisfy the legislation, they may only be used in addition to smoke alarms for increased warning), alarms for the deaf and hearing impaired, alarms with emergency lights and special models for kitchens and relocatable homes. All of these smoke alarms differ in how they detect smoke and/or alert people.

Fire & Rescue NSW strongly recommend that you install a photoelectric type smoke alarm that is hard wired and interconnected. Photoelectric alarms appear to be superior to ionisation alarms in most circumstances, and there is little appreciable difference in performance during flaming fires. Therefore, photoelectric alarms may provide a faster warning in many circumstances.

Smoke alarms can either be hard wired or battery operated. Residential dwellings may use either; however shared accommodation must be either hard-wired to the mains electricity supply or powered by a non-removable, 10-year long-life battery that is permanently connected to the smoke alarm.

FRNSW recommends wherever possible a hard wired smoke alarm is installed. This consists of a 240 volt smoke alarm connected to a home’s electrical system with a battery back-up power supply.

Read the Fire & Rescue NSW Smoke alarms in the home fact sheet to find out more about the types of smoke alarms available.

Where should I install the smoke alarms?

There are minimum requirements needed to meet the Building Legislation Amendment (Smoke Alarms) Act 2005, however Fire & Rescue NSW recommends you aim for a higher level of protection.

Different types of premises require smoke alarms to be installed in various locations. See the Where should I install smoke alarms? page for more details.

These instructions relate primarily to residential dwellings. For shared accommodation and other commercial premises where people sleep, refer to the Department of Planning Building Regulation Advisory Note (PDF, 498KB)

Where can I buy one?

Smoke alarms are available at most hardware, home equipment and building supply stores, and a number of department stores.

How do I maintain my smoke alarms?

Fire & Rescue NSW recommends the following maintenance:

Every month: All of your smoke alarms should be tested at least every month to ensure that the battery and the alarm sounder are working.

Every six months: Every six months you should clean your smoke alarm with your vacuum cleaner. This will remove any particles that will hinder smoke alarm performance. If you are using a 9V lead battery you should change it twice a year. A good way to remember is to change it whenever you change the clocks.

Once a year: If your smoke alarm has a removable alkaline battery, you should replace the battery once a year. If your smoke alarm uses a lithium battery, it is inbuilt into the alarm and cannot be replaced. The entire unit will need replacing every 10 years.

Every ten years: Replace your smoke alarm with a new unit every 10 years. Smoke alarms do not last forever and the sensitivity in all smoke alarms will reduce over time. All types of smoke alarms should be removed, replaced and disposed of every 10 years. To assist in identifying the age of smoke alarms the AS3786 standard requires a serial number or batch number (Clause4.1(c)). This is usually done as a batch number e.g. 2406 may mean that the product was manufactured in the 24th week of 2006. Some manufacturers place the date of manufacture on the smoke alarm and some now place the expiry date on the smoke alarm. The batch numbers or dates are usually on the base of the smoke alarm near the battery compartment.

How to dispose of your smoke alarm

For ionisation alarms, in accordance with the recommendations of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency [external link], ionisation smoke alarms in quantities less than 10 may be disposed of in domestic waste. Quantities of 10 or more ionisation smoke alarms shall be treated as radioactive waste and disposed of in accordance with local regulations.

Photo-electric smoke alarms in any quantity may be disposed of in domestic waste.

For further information view our Safe disposal of smoke alarms fact sheet.

Do I need smoke alarms in my caravan or mobile home?

It’s essential for people to install smoke alarms in caravans, campervans and other moveable dwellings where people sleep, following regulation changes from 25 February 2011.

Caravans and campervans have limited escape options in fire events. You have just a few seconds to get out of a burning caravan, because they are made of lightweight and highly combustible fittings and fires can take off frighteningly fast. The warning a smoke alarm gives can mean the difference between life and death.

Residents are urged to install smoke alarms with a ‘hush’ button to reduce the nuisance of false alarms from cooking or other smoke.

This change to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation applies to all new, and existing moveable dwellings where people sleep (regardless of whether they are registered for road use or not).

This includes caravans, campervans, holiday vans, park van annexes and associated structures. Tents and camper trailers are excluded from the regulation.

Resources

Source: Insurance Business online


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