Fire Safety for Blocks of Flats
The most significant legislation affecting fire safety in block of flats is The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It has been a legal requirement to have a fire risk assessment in place since 2006. The requirement to have an assessment applies to both purpose-built blocks of flats and those buildings converted to contain flats. The act covers England and Wales.
The responsibility of arranging the assessment is that of the “responsible person” under the Fire Safety Order; this is defined as:
(a) In relation to a workplace, the employer, if the workplace is to any extent under his control;
(b) In relation to any premises that are not a workplace:
(i) The person who has control of the premises (as occupier or otherwise) in connection with the carrying on by him of a trade, business or any other undertaking (for profit or not); or
(ii) The owner, where the person in control of the premises does not have control in connection with the carrying on by that person of a trade, business or any other undertaking.
The responsible person is the freeholder, Residents Management Company or Right to Manage Company depending on the parties to the lease. Managing Agents are also likely to fall into this category where they are appointed to act on behalf of the above.
Who can carry out an assessment?
Under the Fire Safety Order the responsible person is to appoint a competent person to assist with the undertaking of the preventive and protective measures. A competent person is regarding as someone who has sufficient training, experience or knowledge. Typically, this would be based in the following fields:
• The assessment of risk from fire
• Applicable legislation
• Appropriate guidance
• Behaviour of fire in buildings
• Effects of fire on people and behaviour of people in fire situations
• Means of escape
• Fire prevention
• Fire protection
• Passive fire protection
• Active fire protection
• Management of fire safety
No matter who carries out a fire risk assessment, responsible persons retain responsibility for ensuring that the assessment fulfils the requirements of the law.
Stay put or Simultaneous Evacuation?
The starting point is to have a fire risk assessment carried out, this will assess a number of factors and determine the fire strategy for the building. The fire strategy should be communicated to all residents.
A stay put policy is typically designed to work on modern purpose-built blocks as they are designed on the basis of compartmentation. The principle is based on the ability of a fire to be contained until the fire service are able to attend.
A simultaneous evacuation policy is typically for older converted buildings where compartmentation cannot be confirmed or designed into the building to support a stay put policy.
Reviewing the Assessment
Simply having an assessment carried out and put to one side is not enough to meet the requirements of the Fire Safety Order. A risk assessment is a living document that regularly requires reviewing.
Whilst not stipulated in legislation it is recommended that on low risk, modern, low-rise blocks that a review is carried out every two years and a new assessment completed every four years. For higher risk blocks (for example, because of the age or the building), or those with more than 3 stories an annual review should be carried out with a new fire risk assessment every three years. For high risk buildings, a new fire risk assessment is recommended annually.
What if the responsible person refuses to carry out a fire risk assessment?
If there is no fire risk assessment and the responsible person will not conduct an assessment, then you should contact your local fire and rescue authority who are responsible for enforcing fire safety regulations. The fire and rescue authority can make the responsible person carry out a fire risk assessment.
Why is it important that flat entrance doors are fire doors?
Flat entrance doors are critical to the fire strategy of a building. Fire doors have two functions; Firstly, to stop a fire inside a flat spreading to the common parts and preventing other residents from escaping via crucial escape routes. Secondly, to stop a fire in the common parts spreading into the flat.
What if a leaseholder changes their entrance door to a non-compliant fire door?
Most leases will require a leaseholder to apply for written consent before carrying out alterations to the flat, be this from the freeholder, Residents Management Company or Right to Manage Company. This would usually include any alterations or replacements of the entrance door to the flat. In addition, replacement of flat entrance doors are categorised as controlled work under the Building Regulations 2000 meaning permission from the local authority building control department will also need to be sought.
If the leaseholder is responsible for the flat entrance door and has replaced the door without permission, then action could be taken depending on the specific wording of the lease. Failing this or if the leaseholder is unwilling to take remedial action then the matter could be referred to the relevant enforcement authority,
Practical steps for leaseholders to reduce the risk
· Fit smoke alarm(s) in your flat and test them regularly
· Keep communal areas free of obstructions
· Don’t prop open fire doors in communal areas
· Don’t damage or tamper with any fire equipment provided in communal areas
· Don’t remove the self-closing device on your flat entrance door
· Familiarise yourself with the fire action plan for the building
· Keep electrical meter cupboards located in communal hallways locked shut
· Don’t store flammable materials in cupboards that have electrical circuits
· Don’t store bottled petroleum or any other potentially explosive material in the flat or anywhere in the building or estate
· Don’t carry out any structural alterations or improvements without permission
· Make sure all rubbish is discarded in the bins provided and not on the floor
· Don’t overload electrical sockets
· Turn off appliances when not in use
· Keep matches and lighters out of reach and sight of children
· Don’t leave cooking unattended
· Don’t leave candles unattended
· Be vigilant when cooking with oil
· Do not use BBQs, chiminea or patio heaters on balconies or enclosed terraces
At Aspire we conduct a lease review and compliance audit upon all instructions ensuring that we give our clients the right advice from day one. This means that any historic issues are identified and resolved in a timely manner and that our clients continually stay compliant with their statutory obligations.
Aspire Block and Estate Management – 01923 372169