The recent events at the Grenfell Tower block shocked everyone as to the speed and devastation of the fire which led to the tragic loss of life and life changing injuries for the unfortunate residents.
Following such a major incident many people have questions or concerns regarding fire safety and how they can help minimise the risk. The government has announced a Public Inquiry into the fire at the Grenfell Tower and following the outcome, we will look closely at their findings and recommendations so that we can provide you with further specific advice on fire safety if needs be. In the meantime you can read the current Local Government Associations advice regarding fire safety for purpose built blocks of flats.
Review of Construction Methods and Materials
This incident has highlighted significant concern regarding methods of building construction and the use of cladding panels. This has prompted the government to issue guidance recommending that all buildings with cladding are checked by an appropriately qualified person and that existing cladding systems are tested where appropriate.
One of the recommendations is that construction and refurbishment contracts should be reviewed to establish the type of cladding systems that have been installed, to identify the insulation materials used and to examine the fire safety design elements of the building including fire stops which prevent fire spreading.
Any concerns about cladding systems or fire risk assessments should be raised with your local Fire Service and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for guidance.
It is important to disclose full and accurate details as to the how a particular building has been constructed to your insurer so as to comply with the provisions of the Insurance Act 2015. The Act provides that it is your duty to make a fair presentation of risk to the insurer which will include informing them of any composite panels or cladding as this may affect the cover provided.
Construction insulation materials are generally categorised as Combustible, Fire Retardant, Approved Fire Retardant, Fire Resistant or Incombustible. Insurers normally require that the materials used in the construction of the building must be either Fire Resistant or Incombustible and they must naturally comply with Building Regulations requirements.
Fire Risk Assessments
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires a fire risk assessment to be carried out in all blocks of flats or buildings which consist of common parts and two or more dwellings.
The duty to ensure that the assessment is carried out is imposed on the “responsible person” who will generally be the person responsible for managing the common parts. This can include the freeholder, a Right to Manage Company, a Residents Management Company and also managing agents contracted to act on behalf of any of the above.
Every property and situation is different and so there is no standard format for the fire risk assessment. The purpose of the assessment is to evaluate the risk to people from fire taking into account existing fire safety measures and to determine whether additional measures are needed. It should also review the relevant fire evacuation procedures. It is limited to the common parts and does not extend to the leaseholders’ own demised premises.
Any recommendations should be actioned promptly and it is vital that relevant findings or any changes are communicated to residents and other key stakeholders. It is important to retain written evidence to show that fire risk is being managed proactively to avoid regulatory action and fire assessments should be reviewed regularly.
Further advice can be obtained from your local Fire and Rescue Service. They are unable to complete a fire risk assessment for you but they can offer guidance. You should consider employing the services of a competent fire safety professional to carry out an assessment and provide a report.
Additional Fire Safety Considerations:
- Smoke detectors are required for all properties and should be regularly maintained and tested to ensure they are working (this includes a battery backup power supply for mains powered systems).
- Ensure that all outside doors can be easily opened at all times from the inside. If you fit a mortice lock, make sure you install one with a thumb turn which can open from the inside.
- Introducing a smoking policy, provide wall mounted ash trays to the external part of the building away from external doors and windows and encourage residents to use this as a smoking area.
- Regularly carry out electrical installation safety checks. Fire alarm systems and/or emergency lighting in the common areas must also be maintained by a competent qualified person and records kept.
- Escape Routes and all passages and corridors should be kept clear. There should not be anything which can burn or clutter the escape route for residents evacuating the premises in the event of a fire.
- All doors that lead out onto the escape route (i.e. a front door in a block of flats) are required to be a 30 minute fire door (FD30)
- Make sure all outdoor bin areas are tidy and free from combustible materials. If possible, lock bin areas and supply keys to residents.