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Featured in Professional Electrician & Installer Magazine

Dr Zzeus - March 2021

In this brand new regular column, 'Dr. Zzeus' Tom Brookes, MD of Zzeus Training and Chairman of the FSA, will answer your questions related to fire safety compliance. The first covers competence...

I'm a time-served electrician with 18th Edition and City & Guilds 2391. Am I, therefore, classed as competent to install and maintain fire alarm and detection systems?

There's been more written on competence of engineers since the Grenfell fire than any other topic. The best starting point for any electrician is to consider what the BS7671 IET wiring regulations say about fire alarms.

BS5839 is highlighted at least seven times in BS7671, however the two most important are in Scope 110.1.3 where it states that “in certain circumstances BS7671 may need to be supplemented by other standards – one of these is (v) Fire detection and alarm systems for buildings”.

Chapter 56 SAFETY SERVICES goes an important step further for electricians and electrical contractors. Clause 560.10 within safety systems states that “fire detection and fire alarm systems shall comply with the relevant parts of BS5839 series”.

It's crucial for electricians to be aware of these clauses – most have at least the 17th (if not the 18th) Edition wiring regulation exam under their belt, passed by City & Guilds or EAL awarding bodies.

You have no excuse for not using BS5839 for fire detection and alarm systems, the document you have passed the exam on states it quite clearly.

So, where does this leave an electrician?

Firstly you must have access to a copy of BS5839-1 or part 6, depending on if you're working on non-domestic buildings (part 1 needed) or dwellings (part 6 required).

The competent person clause is the same in both standards, and what it states is extremely important for anyone signing any certificate for a system to BS5839.

BS5839-1 Clause 3.12 states: “A competent person is someone with relevant current training and experience, with the access to the requisite equipment and tools and information, and able to carry out the defined task”.

For an electrician, this means you must have had training on the current version of the standard BS5839-1, plus training on the equipment you're working on and have experience with it.

The second part states that you must have the requisite equipment and tools to carry out the specific task.

An example would be the correct detection testing equipment, as specified by the manufacturer of the detector. There's a recent claim where a contractor tested multi-sensor detectors with a decorator’s heat gun, damaging 125 detectors that he's now having to replace at a cost of £11,000.


Whilst the standard only specifies relevant current training, post-Grenfell working groups were set up after Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. The recommendations have been sent to Government, one of which is that it is recommended that fire system technicians and engineers have a Ofqual approved Level 3 qualification for in-scope buildings. I would advise anyone looking into fire detection and alarm system training to ensure it leads to a Level 3 qualification, as that way you'll be ahead of the recommendations.

There are a few options to gain a Level 3 through some of the trade associations such as The British Fire Consortium and commercial training companies like ZZEUS Training.

In a court, be it civil or criminal, you may have to justify how you conform to the competent person clause.

About the author

Tom Brookes

Tom has a PhD with his dissertation, Creation of pathways for the professional recognition of fire alarm engineers in the UK, gaining maximum credits; he has recently become the first Chartered Engineer in the UK based solely on fire alarm knowledge and skills and is keen to help other fire alarm engineers gain professional recognition.

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