Dáil Éireann - Volume 501 - 24 February, 1999

Written Answers. - Fire Safety.

151. Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he will introduce legislation to ensure that it is compulsory to have smoke alarms installed in all dwelling houses in view of the recent findings of a survey carried out by a class in Convent Secondary, Kilbeggan (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5383/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Part B of the building regulations, which came into effect on 1 June 1992, sets out the requirements in relation to fire safety in the design and construction of new buildings and the extension of, or material alteration to, existing buildings. Houses built and-or extended in accordance with the 1991 edition of Technical Guidance Document B – which provides guidance on how to comply with the regulations – should be fitted with battery operated smoke alarms. Battery operated smoke alarms are cheap to buy – less than £10 – and easy to install. However, householders often forget to check that the batteries are operating. For example, only three-fifths of householders in the survey referred to by the Deputy had checked their smoke alarms within the past 12 months. Once the batteries run out, the smoke alarms become inoperative. For this reason, I published a revised and upgraded Technical Guidance Document B (Fire Safety) in December 1997, which recommends that houses built and-or extended on or after 1 July 1998 should be fitted with mains operated smoke alarms, rather than battery operated alarms.

[233] I have no proposals to introduce legislation to provide for mandatory installation of smoke alarms in existing dwellings generally. Fire safety in the home is the responsibility of the individual householder. I note that 45 – 64 per cent – of the 70 existing houses covered by the Kilbeggan secondary school survey were fitted with smoke alarms. My hope would be that we will ultimately achieve fitment of smoke alarms in close to 100 per cent of existing houses. However, I think that this can best be done by enlisting the voluntary co-operation of householders, in the interest of the safety of themselves and their families.

The National Safety Council actively encourages fire safety in the home as part of its ongoing fire safety education and publicity campaigns. Particular stress has been placed in its campaigns on the value of smoke alarms which, if properly installed and maintained, can provide early warning of fire and save lives. The council has also carried out a campaign in recent years to install smoke alarms in houses occupied by the elderly and other vulnerable persons. In addition, local authorities have been asked by my Department to consider the provision of smoke alarms in their rented dwellings.