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Digital Construction (electrical)

Industry 4.0 in AEC, means to me a decentralized connection between the physical space and the cyberspace through global connectivity.

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Exchange Information Requirements (EIR) term introduced by BS EN 19650 replace the PAS 1192 term Employer Information Requirements (EIR) on all projects where BS EN ISO 19650 compliance is required.

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The term introduced by ISO 19650 typically describes the Tier 1 Main Contractor.

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breakdown structure to help plan the production of information

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schedule of information containers and delivery dates, for a specific task team

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An MPDT its old PAS 1192 term, the MPDT defines who produces what, when and to what level of detail.

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Visual Alarm Devices (VADs)

Welcome to our guide on Visual Alarm Devices (VADs). Sourced from leading standards and guidelines, including the CoP-0001 Loss Prevention Code of Practice, Approved Document M vol 2, the BS5839 Guide, FIA Guidance, and Approved Document B – Fire Safety, this guide aims to deliver a thorough understanding of VADs in fire safety systems.

Why VADs Matter In today’s diverse and challenging environments, where traditional auditory alarms may fall short – such as high-noise workspaces or locations requiring hearing protection – VADs emerge as a critical solution. They are not just beneficial but crucial for the safety of individuals with hearing impairments, ensuring that fire safety is inclusive and comprehensive.

What You Will Discover This guide delves deep into the world of VADs. You will discover:

  • The specific requirements for installing and maintaining VADs.
  • Guidelines for the placement and visibility of these devices within various building types.

We also explore the critical consideration for individuals with photosensitive epilepsy, highlighting the nuanced role of VADs in complex environments. The guide underscores the importance of collaboration with fire and rescue services and walks you through the vital steps of system design, commissioning, and ensuring compliance with stringent fire safety standards.

Empower Your Fire Safety Knowledge Whether you’re a seasoned safety professional, a diligent building manager, or simply keen on understanding the intricacies of fire safety, this guide is designed to equip you with a well-rounded perspective on VADs. Navigate through our comprehensive content to bolster your strategies in fire safety, ensuring both compliance and enhanced protection in a variety of settings.


Visual Alarm Devices (VADs) play a crucial role in enhancing safety in various environments:

  1. Supplementary to Audible Alarms: VADs are particularly effective in high-noise areas or where hearing protection is worn, supplementing traditional audible alarms.
  2. Primary Warning in Specific Areas: In settings like studios and hospitals, where audible alarms are less suitable, VADs serve as the main warning system.
  3. Essential for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing: These devices are critical for ensuring the safety of individuals with hearing impairments. However, it’s important to note that not all such individuals require specialized alarm systems.
  4. Diverse Warning Methods: In buildings with significant numbers of Deaf or hard-of-hearing occupants, a variety of warning methods, including visual alarms, tactile devices, and radio-controlled portable devices, should be considered.
  5. Standards and Certification: While there is no specific British Standard for these devices, adherence to established recommendations, such as BS EN 54-23 for certified VADs, is crucial. These standards govern the specifics of device distribution and visibility within buildings.
  6. Photosensitive Epilepsy Consideration: There should be careful consideration to avoid triggering seizures in individuals with photosensitive epilepsy.


To effectively implement VADs, the following guidelines are recommended:

  1. Installation in High-Noise Areas: Install visual alarms in areas where noise levels exceed 90 dB(A) or where hearing protection is commonly used.
  2. Visibility and Number: Ensure that visual alarms are sufficiently numerous and placed strategically to be visible from all areas.
  3. Flash Rate Specifications: The flash rate of VADs should be set between 30 to 120 flashes per minute to ensure effectiveness without causing discomfort.
  4. Distinctive Visual Alarms: Alarms should be distinct in colour and labelled “FIRE” to differentiate them from other signals.
  5. Intensity Balance: The intensity of the alarms should be noticeable but not so bright as to cause glare or discomfort.
  6. Special Considerations for Hearing Impaired: In locations where individuals with impaired hearing may be isolated, VADs should be considered as a primary warning system. In managed environments, alternative solutions like vibrating pagers could be beneficial.
  7. Tactile Alarm Implementation: Tactile alarms, which can be fixed, movable, or portable, should grab attention effectively and conform to fire alarm standards.
  8. Regulatory Compliance: Ensure compliance with OFCOM regulations, particularly for systems using radio signals.
  9. Control Equipment Standards: Control equipment should meet the standards outlined in Annex C.
  10. Portable Alarm Devices: These devices must meet specific requirements regarding activation, signal duration, transmission frequency, and fault identification.

Consultation with Fire and Rescue Services

External Sounders and Visual Alarm Devices in Large Sites

  • Application in Large Complexes: For sites encompassing multiple buildings or large buildings with numerous entrances, the installation of external sounders and visual alarm devices is key. These devices are instrumental in guiding firefighters to the correct building or entrance.
  • Consultation Process: Prior to installation, it is imperative to consult with the fire and rescue service. This consultation aims to ascertain the necessity and potential benefits of such devices. It’s crucial that these sounders and visual alarm devices are prominently marked with “FIRE ALARM” for clear identification.

Fire Detector Types and Their Selection

  • Protection and False Alarm Minimization: The choice of fire detectors should align with the system’s category, ensuring adequate protection for occupants and property. Simultaneously, efforts must be made to minimize false alarms to the greatest extent feasible, as guided by Section 3 of BS5839-1 2017.
  • Early Consultation for Clarification: In situations where there is uncertainty about the detector type or system requirements, early engagement with all relevant stakeholders is recommended. This discussion should follow the guidelines set out in Clause 6 of BS5839-1 2017.
  • Maintenance and User Requirements: Maintenance needs for various detector types must be factored into the planning process. Additionally, any specific user requirements, particularly those related to the aesthetic impacts of the fire detection system, should be taken into account.

Control Facilities for Fire and Evacuation Procedures

  • Suitability and Compliance: Control facilities within the premises should be tailored to support the intended fire and evacuation procedures. This is particularly crucial for buildings with complex layouts or unique safety challenges.
  • Collaborative Decision-Making: Ensuring the appropriateness of these control facilities requires a collaborative approach. Stakeholders, including fire safety experts and building management, should engage in dialogue to align on the best solutions, as per the recommendations in 6.2 of BS5839-1 2017.

Response, Design Considerations, and Record-Keeping

Response to Fire Emergencies

  • Early Summoning of Fire and Rescue Services: In scenarios where the rapid response of fire and rescue services is critical for occupant safety, as determined by a fire risk assessment, it is essential to have facilities for the automatic transmission of alarm signals to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). This automatic system should be in place unless alternative, reliable manual summoning methods are established within the building.
  • Indicating Facilities Alignment with Evacuation Procedures: For buildings, especially those with complex layouts, the indicating facilities of the fire alarm system must be congruent with the specific fire and evacuation procedures. It’s important to engage in thorough consultations with all relevant parties, adhering to the guidelines in 6.2 of BS5839-1 2017, to ensure the suitability of these facilities.

Design Considerations and Record-Keeping for Fire Detection Systems

  • Comprehensive System Design and Maintenance: Fire detection and alarm systems require meticulous design, installation, and maintenance. After installation, a comprehensive design, installation, and commissioning certificate should be issued, validating the system’s integrity.
  • Information Dissemination for Users: Designers and suppliers are jointly responsible for providing detailed information to users, particularly those unfamiliar with fire detection and alarm system technologies. This information is crucial in helping users reduce the incidence of false alarms and unwanted signals. The dissemination of this information should be verified, as per Clause 42 of BS 5839-1 2017.
  • Design Compliance with Standards: System designers must ensure their designs comply with the recommendations in section 30.2 of BS5839-1 2017. Specifically, the design should incorporate measures to limit false alarms and unwanted signals. Documentation of these measures should be included in the design certificate, as outlined in Annex G of BS5839-1 2017.

Design Considerations for Fire Safety in Accordance with Approved Documents B and M

Incorporating Fire Safety Measures for the Hearing Impaired

  • Guidance from Approved Document B – Fire Safety: This document emphasizes the necessity of both visual and audible fire alarm warnings to accommodate individuals with hearing impairments. Key requirements include:
    • Integration of a clear public address system with visual aids.
    • Installation of hearing enhancement systems in designated areas such as meeting rooms, lecture halls, performance spaces, and reception counters, especially in noisy environments or behind glazed screens.
    • Clear indication of induction loops or infrared hearing enhancement systems using standard symbols.
    • Provision of telephones compatible with hearing aids, marked with the standard ear and ‘T’ symbol and equipped with inductive couplers and volume controls.
    • Availability of text telephones for the Deaf and hard of hearing, marked with the standard symbol.
    • Design of artificial lighting that is compatible with electronic and radio frequency installations, as outlined in clause 4.36 of Approved Document B – Fire Safety.

Additional Considerations from Approved Document M – Volume 2

  • Hearing Enhancement System Requirement: This document details the requirement for a hearing enhancement system, as stated in paragraph 4.36, ensuring accessibility and safety for those with impaired hearing.

Design Requirements for Building Complexes

  • Unique Challenges in Complex Structures: Structures like shopping complexes pose distinct fire safety challenges. Their design must align with the overall fire strategy of the complex, with guidance provided in Annex E of BS 9999.
  • Individualized Fire Detection System Assessment: Each design must be evaluated on its own merits. The category of fire detection system required for each building or complex should be determined based on the criteria set forth in Table A1 of BS 5839-1.

Installation Requirements for Visual Alarm Devices

Compliance and Safety Standards

  • Adherence to Approved Documents: When implementing alternative methods to those specified in approved documents, the safety level must not be compromised. It’s crucial for the installation team to demonstrate compliance with the established safety standards.
  • Mandatory Visual Alarm Signals: Visual alarms are essential in areas where ambient noise levels exceed 90 dB(A), ensuring that alarm signals are perceivable in high-noise environments.
  • Visibility and Distribution: The number and placement of visual alarm devices should be such that they are easily visible from all accessible areas, maintaining visibility under normal lighting conditions.

Integration with Fire Safety Standards

  • Classification as Fire Alarm Devices: Visual alarm devices should be treated as integral components of the fire alarm system in accordance with BS 5839-1 2017. This includes ensuring that the circuits serving these devices are appropriately monitored and safeguarded against fire risks.
  • Use of Visual Indicator Devices (VIDs): Alongside VADs, VIDs can be employed to provide additional information or indications, particularly in specialized areas like nurses’ stations. These should comply with BS EN 54-23 standards.

Building Regulations and Specific Accommodations

  • Sleeping Accommodations Compliance: As per Approved Document M2 (ADM) clause 4.17, sleeping accommodations in hotels, motels, and student housing should include visual fire alarm signals to meet Requirement M1, aligning with the Approved Document B (ADB) requirements.
  • Provisions for the Hearing Impaired: Clause 1.34 of the CoP-0001 Loss Prevention Code of Practice recommends suitable warning methods, like visual and audible fire alarms, in buildings where individuals with hearing impairments may be isolated, such as in hotel rooms or sanitary facilities.
  • Diverse Alert Methods: Various alert systems should be considered for the hearing impaired, including paging systems and vibrating pillow pads. However, as per ADB and ADM, the provision of VADs is often sufficient to meet the requirements.

Areas Requiring Specific Attention

  • High Noise Areas: Implementation of VADs is particularly important in areas with high ambient noise, as detailed in BS 5839-1 2013 clause 17.2 a).
  • Sanitary Facilities: Toilets and other sanitary accommodations should be equipped with VADs, as per Building Regulations ADB clause 1.34 and ADM clauses 5.1 and 5.3, along with BS 8300 clause
  • Sleeping Areas: Sleeping accommodations should include visual fire alarm signals as outlined in Building regulations ADM clause 4.17.
  • Isolated Work Areas: In locations where individuals with impaired hearing might be alone, such as plant rooms or individual offices, VADs are recommended, though alternatives like pagers may be more appropriate in some cases.

Solutions for the Hearing Impaired

  • Options Outlined in BS 5839-1:2013 Clause 18: Various solutions are available for individuals with hearing impairments, including fixed, movable, and mobile equipment. These may consist of BS EN 54-23 compliant VADs, radio pagers, or tactile devices, offering a range of options to cater to different needs and environments.

Verification, Compliance, and System Commissioning

Verification and Compliance Standards

  • Certification Acceptance by Building Control Bodies: Certifications from recognized schemes may be accepted as proof of compliance with relevant standards. Building control bodies should verify the adequacy of these schemes for adherence to Building Regulations before construction begins.
  • Performance Classification Assessment: Systems should undergo an assessment using relevant test evidence, potentially in place of specific tests, to confirm their capability to meet the required performance classification.
  • Acceptance Certificate Requirement: The purchaser, or their appointed representative, is expected to endorse an acceptance certificate as formal evidence of acceptance, aligning with the stipulations in Clause 41 of BS 5839-1 2017

Commissioning and Routine Testing

  • Initial Commissioning Checks: During commissioning, a thorough check should be conducted to preclude any significant likelihood of false alarms or unwanted fire alarm signals. Documentation of this check serves as compliance evidence.
  • Weekly Manual Testing: Manual call points should be tested weekly during regular business hours. This test is to confirm that control equipment effectively processes and transmits fire alarm signals, including verification of signal reception at any Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) connected to the system. Complete testing of all fire alarm sounder circuits at each instance is not mandatory.
  • Automatic Monitoring Features in Systems: For systems claiming automatic monitoring capabilities, routine testing recommendations under subclauses 45.3 and 45.4 of BS5839-1 2017 may be modified, provided the automatic functions achieve the same objectives as the prescribed tests. Manufacturers must provide evidence of this equivalency.

Enhanced Guidance on Visual vs Tactile Alarms and VADs vs VIDs

Visual and Tactile Alarms: Distinct Approaches to Emergency Alerting

  • Visual Alarms

    1. Sensory Channel: Operate on visual perception.
    2. Functionality: Emit bright, often flashing or strobe lights to signal emergencies.
    3. Key Applications:
      • Paramount in high-noise environments where audio alarms may not suffice.
      • Indispensable in settings needing minimal auditory disruption, such as hospitals and studios.
      • Vital for Deaf or hard of hearing individuals.
    4. Installation Considerations: Placement is key, ensuring visibility across all relevant areas without causing visual disturbances or discomfort.
    5. Design Balance: Striking a balance between high visibility and the minimization of potential negative effects like glare or triggering photosensitive epilepsy.
  • Tactile Alarms

    1. Sensory Channel: Rely on touch or physical sensations.
    2. Functionality: Produce vibrations or similar sensations to indicate emergencies.
    3. Use Cases:
      • Particularly effective for the Deaf or hard of hearing, especially in scenarios where visual alarms might go unnoticed.
      • Useful in visually overstimulating environments.
    4. Preferred Installations: Commonly integrated into personal devices (e.g., pagers, bed-shakers) and can be fixed or portable.
    5. Intensity Criteria: The alarm’s intensity should be noticeable but should avoid causing discomfort.

VADs vs VIDs: Specialized Visual Alarm Systems

  • VADs (Visual Alarm Devices)

    1. Core Purpose: Primarily to alert individuals to emergencies, with a focus on fire alerts.
    2. Design and Application:
      • Characterized by bright, often flashing lights.
      • Essential in areas where conventional auditory alarms are insufficient.
      • Key for safety in environments where sound-based alarms are impractical.
    3. Importance for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Offers critical visual cues for evacuation or alerts, compensating for hearing challenges.
  • VIDs (Visual Indicator Devices)

    1. Fundamental Role: To provide informational or guidance cues rather than direct alarms.
    2. Design and Usage:
      • May feature steady or blinking lights to convey system status or navigational help.
      • Commonly complement other alarm systems for enhanced safety.
    3. Applications:
      • Useful for indicating emergency equipment locations or showing fire alarm system status.
      • Serve an informational role, aiding in navigation and safety equipment identification.


  • Visual Alarms: Employ light to signal emergencies, especially effective in noisy settings and for those with hearing impairments.
  • Tactile Alarms: Utilize physical sensations, ideal for personal alert systems and scenarios where visual alarms are insufficient.
  • VADs: Focus on alerting individuals to immediate dangers, particularly in environments where audio alarms are ineffective.
  • VIDs: Provide supplementary information and guidance, enhancing overall safety infrastructure within buildings.

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