Fire safety

With so many changes on the horizon, what should leadership teams focus on?


Image: Istock

Jan Taranczuk CIHCM

Consultant and advocate of innovation in fire safety, asset management and new build

There is a danger of being overwhelmed by the fire safety changes that are on the way: the Building Safety Bill; the Fire Safety Bill; and the recommendations from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry. While all these changes will take effect over the coming years and will obviously need to be carefully implemented and monitored, this is a good time to consider how to best target scarce resources at fire prevention and suppression. So how to approach this?

Causes of fire

Every year, more than half of accidental domestic fires in the UK are caused by electricity. Most of these are caused by electrical products, either through misuse or faults. More than half of these electrical fires start in the kitchen, with cooking appliances and white goods the main cause.

While the majority of fires start in the kitchen, fires in the living room or bedroom are more likely to cause death. Recent research shows death is likely to occur when the occupier is unable to escape because of physical or other impairment. Last year the BRE published an initial report from research that looked at 126 fire fatalities in Scotland for the period 2013-2017. The final report was published recently.

It is also interesting to note that the English Housing Survey found that during 2016-17 fire services only attended 25% of the 332,000 fires during that period.

“Have you considered the fire safety implications of an electric car catching fire next to a domestic property or parked in a communal carpark under domestic properties?”

Fire prevention and suppression

No doubt you will already have consulted residents about the improvement of physical fire safety measures to their homes, but have there been discussions about fire prevention and targeted fire suppression?

Hopefully, the following suggestions may be of value and generate considered debate in your organisation:

  • Ensure that there is an evacuation plan in place for every high-risk block (e.g. tower block, sheltered housing or care home). The report by London Councils How to respond to a local Housing Emergency is an excellent reference point.
  • Ensure that there is a Premises Information Box (in the high-risk blocks, as a minimum) containing building plans and details of mobility-restricted residents (with their permission of course). In addition, it should also contain the details of the nearest community centre that can act as a temporary refuge in the event of an evacuation, together with details of keyholders.
  • Ensure there is a programme of Person-Centred Risk Assessments (PCFRAs) in place identifying those most at risk of fire. This can be a continuation of the work your teams have been undertaking during the pandemic.
  • Consider installing a water misting system into those properties occupied by residents identified following a PCFRA who might have difficulty escaping from their home if a fire occurs.
  • Consider installing an aerosol suppression system into every electrical intake cupboard or plant room not normally frequented by the public. This would mean a fire that starts as a result of a communal electrical or other technical fault in those areas would be extinguished without the use of water.
  • Consider providing able-bodied residents with small fire extinguishers that can be used in any fire (unlike the complicated ones seen in offices and other public places) and/or smoke hoods.
  • Ensure that there is an ongoing programme of fire safety awareness training for staff and contractors in the same way that you consider safeguarding to be a corporate issue.
  • Regularly review information about all fires and subsequent recommendations with your local Fire and Rescue Service or Primary Authority Service.

And a final thought. Have you considered the fire safety implications of an electric car catching fire next to a domestic property or parked in a communal carpark under domestic properties? If your compliance team hasn’t yet considered the issue, this might be a good time.

My starting point in all fire safety matters is as a housing professional with 51 years of experience. I am keen to share good practice in housing management that can assist in preventing and reducing death and injury caused by fire in domestic properties. Hopefully my views can help your organisation take practical steps now to improve resident safety.

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