After the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, there has been a lot of concern about the rapid spread of fire.
As a housing association, you have statutory duties to ensure reasonable fire safety standards in your homes. You must protect the health and safety of residents and take all reasonable steps to prevent and control the risk from fire. All of your homes must meet building regulations and fire safety requirements.
You should work with the fire brigade to make sure the right fire detection systems and safety procedures are in place. All fire safety measures should be designed, installed and maintained by competent people – make sure all equipment works and fully complies with relevant British Standards.
Homes that have a shared entrance or communal area should routinely be inspected and a fire risk assessment undertaken every two years. Support from a Health & Safety Consultant will point you in the right direction.
In sheltered schemes, annual fire risk assessments should be carried out by an independent fire safety specialist – to the Local Government Association’s ‘Fire safety in purpose built blocks of flats’ standards.
Additionally, fire alarms should be tested every week and a check made of all communal areas and emergency exits. Emergency lighting and fire detection equipment should be tested and regularly serviced to make sure they are in full working order.
Top 5 Fire Safety Tips
These are just some of the common fire safety issues found in housing association properties – you will need to consider all the factors identified in fire risk assessments.
A recurring issue in housing association properties is little or no fire stopping. Fire stopping is the protection or sealing of services that pass through a building’s walls or floors etc.
Effective fire stopping ‘compartmentalises’ a building from the spread of fire – it helps prevent smoke, gasses and flames from breaching building compartments. But fire stopping is often damaged or removed and not repaired especially when alterations are made to buildings.
It is a major issue and very few inspections are carried out to see if fire stopping remains adequate – throughout the building.
NB: Your fire risk assessment should advise you on any fire stopping issues/compartment breaches.
Another common issue is front doors being adapted. When buildings are first constructed or converted into flats, front doors must be of a standard that prevents fire spreading into common areas or escape routes.
But subsequent changes may affect the building’s fire prevention – where for example:
- tenants fit new front doors – they may look great and add security/value – but if not sufficiently fire resistant will fail in a fire
- letterboxes are changed – if the box is not protected then again fire can spread into common parts – or the other way round
- cat flaps are installed – if not an approved intumescent one then the door will similarly fail as a fire barrier
- automatic door closers are removed – they are installed so front doors self close – this prevents other flats and escape routes being compromised.
NB: Your fire risk assessment should advise you on any non-compliant doors.
Mobility scooters are often left in corridors and staircases. But such ‘sterile’ areas should be kept free from combustible materials and ignition sources especially as:
- corridors and staircases provide occupiers with a means of escape
- in a fire, scooters will release large amounts of highly toxic smoke and gases.
Communal areas should also be kept free from pushchairs, bikes, clutter, rubbish and trip hazards.
An emergency plan is required so people understand a building’s fire procedure and fire strategy. It should describe the arrangements for effectively managing fire safety – both to:
- prevent fire occurring
- in the event of fire, protect people and property.
Your arrangements should set out how fire safety standards are implemented, controlled, monitored and reviewed. You must make sure standards are maintained.
NB: Your fire risk assessment should mention the fire strategy and steps taken to make tenants aware of the fire action procedure.
Riser cupboards and plant rooms within communal areas are increasingly being used by tenants as extensions of their flats. Fire risk assessors report finding these areas being used to store:
- wardrobes full of clothes
- ironing boards
- cardboard boxes.
NB: Your fire risk assessment should inspect these areas and advise on controls.
The fine would have been much higher had the association not been a not-for-profit organisation. Lewisham Homes pleaded guilty to failing to properly maintain fire doors and failing to review an existing fire risk assessment.
In sentencing, the Judge said the prosecution should act as a "wake up call" to the risks of not maintaining fire safety features. An investigation revealed the failure to maintain fire doors directly contributed to the spread of the fire - a tenant had fitted a more secure front door - but it reduced fire protection. The lack of protection between the flat where the fire started and the building’s communal areas meant that fire and smoke rapidly entered a lobby and adjacent flat.