This blog post is a quick guide to dealing with related matters such as personal items within stairwells and property management company responsibilities, not an exhaustive list quoting legislation.
Fire Risk Assessment
It is a legal obligation to have a fire risk assessment done on any residential block of flats, this should be carried out by a competent person. The definition of a competent person is not stated but they should know about fire safety and the construction of buildings.
Companies that carry out fire risk assessments typically employ ex-fire brigade inspecting officers, chartered surveyors / builders or people who have done fire safety courses such as NEBOSH.
A good property manager should have a fairly good idea of what will be raised in a fire risk assessment. Areas to consider include:
- Signage to exit points. ‘Keep Locked Shut’ stickers on cupboards, ‘No Smoking’ signage and a fire action plan being displayed.
- Electrical safety. Have the mainboard and electricity supply been tested within the last 5 years and were any issues raised fixed?
- Detection. Are fire alarms/smoke detection systems adequate?
- Prevention. Remove combustible items from stairwells, cupboards and communal areas and keep the cupboards and doors locked/secure.
- Voids. Ensure that firestopping has been used where holes have been made between floors for service cables/drainage etc.
- Make sure that lobby doors have fire seals / smoke brushes.
- Is emergency lighting installed in the stairwell?
- Are fire safety/fighting systems tested and maintained correctly?
A fire risk assessment is a live document and should be regularly reviewed and added to. In practice a lot of RMCs will simply employ a professional to update the previous year’s report.
Consideration to Build Regulations & Legal Changes
Over the years building regulations have been changed, but retrospective fire safety improvements have not been made in many cases.
An example is High Ride Tower Block built, like Grenfell Tower, in the 1960s. In such buildings there is typically be one stairwell; in the modern day there should be two stairwells. Ultimately, the fire risk assessor should recommend what course of action to take.
If the fire risk assessment highlights areas in which improvements are required they should be done. Typically we have found these to be the installation of fire alarms/smoke detectors and emergency lighting.
What is the ‘Stay Put Policy’?
Modern purpose-built blocks of flats have been designed with a degree of fire protection such as fire doors, lobby doors, plasterboard with a minimum time of fire protection.
The risk of leaving a flat in a fire is that you may be entering an area containing smoke or flames. The Fire Brigade’s ‘Stay Put Policy’ is to prevent this risk and allows them to put the fire out and then evacuate residents.
A stay put policy is not applicable to all buildings and the fire risk assessor will be able to advise on this.
Installed within a communal stairwell to come on when there has been a power cut and have rechargeable batteries inside. Each year the lights are turned on for three hours and fittings, batteries and bulbs that do not last three hours are replaced. During the year less intense tests are done at various points.
Often found in stairwells, but often the fire risk assessor will advise that they are removed. This may be due to the fact that:
- Residents are not trained in the use of fire extinguishers and risk using the wrong extinguisher on the wrong fire.
- Fire Brigades do not want the public fighting large fires.
- Often the fire extinguishers in stairwells are unmaintained.
Consideration needs to be given in keeping or disposing of these.
Fire Alarms / Smoke Detectors
These will either work from a panel or be wired into a circuit with no panel. They sound when smoke or a fire is in the stairwell to warn residents.
A professional company should test and maintain these twice a year with other regular tests being carried out by the property manager or a contractor.
What are Dry Risers?
This is a system in which a pipe is built into the structure itself. The Fire Brigade can connect a hose at one end and a water supply the other to save reeling a hose up the stairs of a block of flats.
Usually, these have an annual flush test and service.
Smoke Ventilation Systems
These are typically vents on the roof, windows or cupboards that can be opened to clear smoke from a stairwell.
Smoke vents are found on developments with high travel distances, for example building over three-storey or lobby doors with large travel areas to the flats and stairwell.
Typically these are serviced twice a year.