How do Occupant Warning Systems (OWS) differ across industries?

An Occupant Warning System (OWS), also known as a Building Occupant Warning System (BOWS) is a fire safety system designed to notify all the occupants in a building in the event of an emergency.

But OWSs come with a broad range of functions that differ from one industry to the next, influenced by factors like the relevant regulations or characteristics of each specific industry.

So if you’re looking at choosing an OWS for a building or property, let’s look at how your industry might impact your final choice.

An overview of Occupant Warning Systems

An OWS helps save both lives and properties by alerting people to any dangers and providing occupants with instructions on evacuating safely, using features like noise and lights.

In Australia, the Building Code of Australia (BCA) specifies the requirements for OWSs in most types of buildings, mainly that OWSs are mandatory in all buildings with more than one floor or more than 50 occupants and must be able to alert all occupants in an emergency event.

There are two main types of OWSs: audible and visual. Audible systems use sound to alert occupants. This is typically a loud siren or bell that can people can hear, wherever they are throughout the building.

An audible system is ideal for noisy environments like factories or warehouses, but it might not be as effective for anyone with a hearing impairment.

Visual OWSs use lights to alert occupants to an emergency, typically strobing or flashing lights placed throughout the building.

Industry differentiators of OWSs

You must carefully consider the OWS you select for your building and ensure it is fit for your specific requirements.

You aren’t likely to find an off-the-shelf solution that covers everything you require, so let’s look at how OWSs might differ across industries.

Commercial buildings

A commercial building usually needs a comprehensive OWS that includes audible alarms, visual indicators and emergency voice communication capabilities such as a PA system or digital voice paging.

Commercial buildings, particularly ones like shopping centres and retail stores, require comprehensive fire safety systems due to the likelihood that these properties tend to hold a larger number of people at any one time.

Industrial facilities

Industrial facilities are typically high-noise environments and come with many industry-specific hazards that don’t exist in other industries.

An OWS for an industrial facility needs to be able to overcome any high noise levels with inclusions like loud sirens, flashing lights and even wearable devices that can vibrate to notify the wearer.

Plus, these properties may need to address additional risks like toxic gas leaks, combustible materials, flammable liquids or electrical hazards.


In the healthcare industry, it’s common for an OWS to use colour codes in emergency announcements; each colour signifies a particular emergency, such as a ‘code red’ for fires.

Colour codes in hospitals or healthcare settings have a number of benefits:

  • They’re easy to understand, even for people who might not speak the same language.
  • They’re quick to identify, which is crucial in environments like hospitals where there are frequent trauma or emergency situations.
  • They’re flexible, as the colours can signify a variety of activities, from routine drills to emergencies.

Schools and universities

Educational institutions like schools and universities commonly have OWSs that use features to support rapid evacuation, such as regular fire drills, clear evacuation plans and age-appropriate methods of communication in the event of an emergency.


In hospitality settings like commercial kitchens, the best OWS is one that can support fire alarm systems that are less likely to cause panic among large numbers of people.

For example, in a hotel, the best OWS might have in-room alarms, text message alerts or automated announcements in shared areas like the lobby or reception. These features provide clear and efficient instructions while mitigating the risk of panic – which is in itself another hazard for this industry.

Choosing the best OWS for your industry

To choose the best OWS for your industry, here are some essential questions to consider:

1. What fire safety regulations do you need to comply with?

2. Is the OWS flexible enough to meet industry-specific needs?

3. Can you scale the OWS alongside any business growth that might occur?

4. How easy is it to maintain? Is vendor support available?

5. Does your chosen OWS align with your budget and cost allowance?

6. Does it provide support for specific hazards flagged in a fire risk assessment?

Choosing an OWS that meets the needs of your industry is crucial in meeting fire compliance, enhancing the safety of your property and its occupants, supporting effective emergency responsiveness and optimising your preparedness for the event of an emergency.

And once you’ve made your choice, don’t forget to consider testing, maintenance and ongoing system monitoring, as these are essential to verify your system’s performance, promptly address any issues and maintain its (and your) reliability.

Need help selecting an OWS?

If you require the support of fire and essential service experts, contact our team at DEM Fire.

Our fire safety experts will help you determine which OWS is most suitable for you and how it integrates into the overall fire safety design.

Plus, we provide regular fire safety maintenance as part of our holistic approach to fire and essential services.

Get in touch for our support and collaboration in your next project.

Contact DEM Fire & Essential Services Group

Need more information? Get in touch