Smoke alarms

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What is a smoke alarm?

Smoke alarms, sometimes mistakenly referred to as “smoke detectors”, are life-saving devices that detect smoke well before any sleeping person would. They provide critical seconds to carry out actions to save life and property. Smoke alarms are designed to detect fire smoke and produce a loud sound to alert people in the house to potential danger.

How may a child be injured?

When asleep, people don’t smell smoke from fire and it can actually put them in a deeper sleep.1

Burns

Children may be seriously burnt or die if trapped in a house fire.

Poisoning

Children may be poisoned by inhaling harmful gases in smoke.  Most buildings contain several materials which produce harmful gases when heated and/or burned.  Some of these gases, like carbon monoxide, are colourless and odourless, and are fatal in small doses.

Suffocation

Children may suffocate from the smoke produced in a house fire. Smoke is capable of killing a person long before the flames approach.

How common are these injuries?

In NSW, between 2004-2013, there were 35 deaths of children aged 0-17 years due to fire/burns.2

  • Just under half occurred by children playing with matches or cigarette lighters.
  • The remaining children died as a result of materials catching fire on heaters, candles, electrical issues and a chimney.
  • Over half (61%) did not have working smoke alarms installed

In NSW, 33%-50% of deaths from house fires could have been prevented if the homes had working smoke alarms and an escape plan.1

Is there a Law or an Australian Standard for Smoke Alarms?

The law in NSW (The Building Legislation Amendment (Smoke Alarms) Act 2005 and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Smoke Alarms) Regulation 2006), states that all residents must have at least one working smoke alarm installed on each level of their home. This includes owner occupied, rental properties, relocatable homes or any other residential building where people sleep.  Smoke alarms must comply with the Australian Standard (AS3786), unless installed prior to 1 May 2006.

Smoke alarms are available as hard wired or battery powered. Hard wired alarms connect to the main power with a battery backup power supply. Interconnected hard wired smoke alarms, installed by a licensed electrician are recommended.

Smoke alarms should be installed in every area where bedrooms are located. However this depends on the type of building that they are being used in.

Landlords are responsible for the supply and installation of smoke alarms in rented properties and tenants are responsible for the replacement of batteries in battery powered smoke alarms only.

For more information about smoke alarms and escape plans visit the Fire and Rescue NSW Website at: http://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/

Remember:

  • Every home should have enough working smoke alarms to successfully detect fires. At least one alarm should be installed on each level of your home.  However, it is better to have two or more.
  • Every home should have a working fire extinguisher and/or fire blanket, within easy reach, in case of an emergency.
  • Smoke alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Only a qualified electrician should install hard wired alarms.
  • Smoke alarms need to be cleaned and tested regularly (at least monthly).
  • Change the batteries in your smoke alarms every year. Doing this at daylight savings time when you change your clocks is a great way of remembering to do this.
  • Smoke alarms have a limited lifespan and should be replaced every 10 years.
  • Smoke alarms are more effective if placed away from corners.
  • Avoid placing smoke alarms near an air conditioning, fan or heating unit. Air flow from these units can obstruct the detection of smoke.
  • Only use Australian Standard (AS3786) approved smoke alarms.
  • Preparing and practicing an escape plan can save the lives of you and your family in the event of a fire. You should be able to quickly open all windows and doors if required and ensure that keys to all locked doors are readily accessible
  • Never remove or interfere with the operation of smoke alarms in your home.

References

1 Fire and Rescue NSW http://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/

2 NSW Child Death Review Team (2014) Annual Report 2013. Sydney: NSW Ombudsman. Accessed 24/02/2016 from: https://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/19628/CDRT-Annual-Report-2013.pdf