4 Life Safety Systems to Test Regularly

man in safety best talking on walkie talkie while looking at red emergency system

When was the last time you tested the fire alarms in your buildings? Are your sprinklers, emergency lighting systems, and other electrical components in working order, well-maintained, and up to date? These critical components, known as life safety systems, help keep everyone – and your assets – safe in the event of an emergency.

The Importance of Life Safety Systems Testing

While life safety systems are typically installed during a building’s construction, it’s important to keep them maintained to prevent loss of life and property during emergencies. 

Here’s what you need to do, and when, to ensure you’re prepared for any potential emergency:

1. Air Purification Systems

Air purification systems can help combat air pollution, but you need to regularly test these systems to ensure they’re operating properly. You can do the following to make sure you’re on track:

  • Get to know your system: Do you have a standalone unit, or is it part of a larger HVAC system? It’s important to identify the type of system for effective testing.
  • Check filters: Filters are a key element of any air purification system, and they need to be replaced regularly. Replace any dirty or clogged filters before testing the system.
  • Do a smoke test: This is a simple yet effective way to test your air purification system. Light a smoke source, such as a candle, and hold it near the system’s air intake. Check to see if smoke is drawn in, then properly filtered out of the air that circulates back into the room.
  • Measure air quality: Air quality sensors can help assess the efficiency of your air purification system by measuring pollutant levels before and after turning the system on.
  • Test regularly: Testing your air purification system weekly, or at least monthly, helps to ensure it’s working correctly, and to identify problems.

2. Fire and CO2 Alarms

Critical to the safety of any building, fire alarms and CO2 alarms alert occupants to potential hazards, ideally with enough time to evacuate. In case of fire or a CO2 leak, early detection is essential, because the risk to occupants increases the longer a hazard goes undetected. 

These alarms are only effective when they’re in good working order, however – making regular testing essential. Regular testing of these devices helps you:

  • Detect malfunctioning sensors or dead batteries: Missing these issues could result in alarms failing to detect fire or a carbon monoxide leak.
  • Comply with regulations: Building regulations require these alarms to be tested regularly to ensure the safety of occupants. Fire and CO2 alarms should be tested monthly and inspected annually by a qualified technician. CO2 alarms should also be replaced every five to seven years. Failing to comply can lead to fines, legal action, or higher insurance premiums. 
  • Prevent loss: Early hazard detection prevents costly damage to buildings and their contents. It can also help avoid extensive evacuations, which can be disruptive.

If your building has a sprinkler system, be sure to test and inspect this annually, as well. Inspections should include a close look at all components, from the sprinkler head and pipes, to fittings, water flow alarm, tamper switch, and valves, including the main drain valve.

worker doing system testing

3. Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting systems are critical to providing backup lighting during power outages, fires, and other emergencies. And for systems that rely on batteries, battery backups are crucial to safety. 

Testing of emergency lighting systems depends on the building’s usage, occupancy, and type of system. For commercial buildings, monthly testing of emergency lights and exit signs, and annual testing of batteries for backup power, is recommended. Residential buildings often have less complex systems and can be tested every six months. Regular testing of emergency lighting and battery backups helps ensure:

  • Reliable backup power: During a power outage or other emergencies, battery backups provide your emergency lighting systems with a power source. Backups can supply power for several hours, ensuring safe evacuation of building occupants.
  • Optimal safety: Battery backups mean people in affected buildings are not left in the dark, and that exit signs and other emergency lighting remain illuminated. Read about how you can improve safety in your buildings with ABB’s Emergi-Lite emergency lighting and exit signs.
  • Compliance with regulations: Similar to keeping fire and CO2 alarms in good working order, ensuring you have functional emergency lighting systems can help avoid fines and potential legal action.
  • Loss prevention: Avoid expensive repairs to emergency lighting system components damaged during power outages. A power outage can drain back-up batteries, or cause battery chargers to malfunction by overcharging. An outage can also cause electrical surges when the power is restored, leading to power spikes and damage to your system. Testing batteries, chargers, and electrical components can help you identify issues before they become problems.

4. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), also called ground fault interrupters (GFIs), protect against electric shock by detecting current flow differences in an electrical circuit’s wires. These devices, like the Leviton GFI, quickly cut off electricity when a ground fault is detected, which can prevent injuries or even death. 

To maintain safety in your building, regular testing of GFCIs is crucial. This can be done by simply pressing the “test” button on the GFCI to simulate a ground fault, or by using circuit and voltage testers. Ideally, you should test GFCI outlets monthly, or at least every three months. Here are some additional reasons to test regularly:

  • GFCI malfunctions: These can happen without visible signs of damage, especially from wear and tear over time. Regular testing can help identify faults before they cause damage.
  • Power surges and lightning strikes: These events can cause GFCIs to malfunction or fail. Be sure to test your components after power surges and lightning strikes to ensure they’re still working properly.
  • Building code requirements and safety regulations: Many locations legally require operational GFCIs, especially in kitchens, restrooms, and outdoor spaces.

Make Regular Testing a Habit

Frequent testing of life safety systems helps you protect building occupants and property, identify potential issues, comply with legal and regulatory requirements, reduce insurance premiums, improve your systems’ performance, and gives you peace of mind.

Be sure to make regular testing part of your maintenance routine. It can also help raise general awareness about electrical safety, which adds an extra layer of protection. 

Do you have questions about how to improve life safety systems in your building? Contact our experts to find the right solutions for your property!

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