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Safe installation of smoke alarms

New smoke alarm legislation commenced in Queensland from 1 January 2017.

New and substantially renovated homes are now required to have interconnected Australian Standard (AS) 3786-2014 photoelectric smoke alarms in all bedrooms, in hallways where bedrooms are connected, and on each and every level of the residence. This applies to homes where building applications were lodged after 1 January 2017.

Requirements for other homes will be phased in over 10 years. Interconnected AS 3786-2014 photoelectric smoke alarms will be required from:

  • 1 January 2022 in all homes leased and sold
  • 1 January 2027 in all other homes.

To comply with the new laws homeowners can install either hardwired 240V smoke alarms or non-removable 10-year battery smoke alarms. However, any existing hardwired 240V smoke alarm must be replaced with a hardwired 240V photoelectric smoke alarm. The installation of hardwired 240V smoke alarms must be performed by a licenced electrician. In existing homes, it is possible to have a combination of smoke alarms, which can be 240V or battery operated and interconnectivity which can be both wired and wireless.

Homeowners that identify existing smoke alarms that fail to operate when tested or smoke alarms that are over ten years of age must replace these alarms with a photoelectric type with a power source similar to the one they are replacing, as a minimum.

More information on the new smoke alarm requirements is available on the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service website.

Queensland’s new smoke alarm laws will mean a significant number of interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms will be installed over the next 10 years. The installation of hardwired 240V smoke alarms must be performed by a licensed electrician.

Key risks

It is important that electricians manage risks to their health and safety when installing smoke alarms. Below are the key risks that should be managed when carrying out this type of electrical work.

Working in ceiling spaces

If work to install smoke alarms requires access to a ceiling space, there are a number of potential risks. Prior to entering the ceiling space and before starting any work, electricians should turn off all electricity at the switchboard.

Once all electricity is turned off, a pre-work risk assessment of the roof cavity must be completed by looking around the space to identify the hazards that may pose risks. Potential risks include sharp objects, evidence of vermin, asbestos, type of insulation material, poor lighting, difficult access/egress, high temperatures, and electrical conductors that cannot be de-energised (e.g. consumer mains, solar conductors).

To manage these types of risks, electricians should:

  • ensure someone is aware of where you are and contact with them is maintained until work is complete
  • test to ensure conductive foil insulation is not energised
  • make sure they drink enough fluids to ensure you do not become dehydrated
  • take a torch or other portable lighting to improve visibility in the ceiling spaces
  • take care accessing and walking in the ceiling space to avoid tripping over debris, material, electrical equipment/wiring and the ceiling trusses
  • use manual or battery operated tools
  • avoid contact with electrical cables, fittings and equipment
  • wear appropriate and correctly fitted personal protective equipment and footwear

Our page Working on roofs and in ceiling spaces has more information.

Asbestos

Extreme care must be taken when doing work involving asbestos. Before installing smoke alarms, confirm that the ceiling sheeting does not contain asbestos.

If the ceiling sheeting is made of asbestos-containing material and there is no alternative location to install a smoke alarm, it is important you take appropriate safety steps. Minor work on non-friable asbestos (such as drilling holes for the purpose of installing a smoke alarm) can be done safely by following established safe work procedures. This will reduce the likelihood of asbestos fibres becoming airborne and to reduce the risk of any fibres being inhaled.

Electricians should also contact their local council to find out whether they can dispose of asbestos waste or whether it must be disposed of through a licensed waste contractor.

Working in heat

Working in hot and humid areas like a ceiling space can not only be uncomfortable, it can lead to a heat-related illness which can be fatal. Heat-related illnesses can result from working in high humidity and be influenced by a person’s health, body weight, age and any medical conditions.

When installing smoke alarms, it is important to control these risks by scheduling work in cooler parts of the day and ensuring fluids are replaced frequently.

Our Heat stress page has  information and safe work procedures.

Working at heights

Working in ceiling spaces also presents the risk of falls, particularly in older homes or homes with high ceilings. It is important that someone else is always aware of where the electrician is and that contact with them is maintained until work in the ceiling space is complete. Electricians must also step carefully on ceiling joists and beams and avoid contacting the ceiling material which will increase the risk of falling.

Our Work at heights page has more information.

Safety checklist for electricians when installing smoke alarms

Turn off electricity at the switchboard before you enter the ceiling space and start any work.
Isolate, lockout and tag.
Undertake risk assessment.
Confirm conductive foil insulation is not energised.
Confirm whether the ceiling sheeting contains asbestos. If it does and the alarm must be installed there, follow safe work procedures for asbestos.
Replace fluids regularly when working in hot conditions. Our heat stress page has information and safe work procedures.
Always let someone know before heading into the ceiling space and maintain contact with them.
Step carefully on joists and beams and not on the ceiling material. Our work at heights page has more information.
Issue certificate of testing and safety.
Last updated
12 September 2019

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