Britain's pandemic lockdowns may have led Housing providers to have greater insight into their residents’ varying levels of vulnerability than ever before, which, from a fire safety perspective, presents a window of opportunity.
By proactively attempting to contact all residents at the start of lockdown, councils like the London Borough of Enfield have been able to engage with tenants and consider their needs beyond the crisis. As a result of these proactive welfare calls, Enfield is making further contact with their most vulnerable tenants that would be most likely to benefit from a person-centred fire risk assessments (PCFRA).
For those living in general needs housing, social landlords will need to seek additional and practical measures such as preventative technologies to ensure adequate protection for their most vulnerable residents.
While housing providers have been exceptional at ensuring their residents, particularly those considered to be vulnerable, get the support they need through the pandemic, my hope is that many of the lessons learned from taking this approach will be adopted long term.
In doing so, housing providers will be in a position to better tackle fire safety – an issue which, let’s face it, isn’t going away any time soon.
London’s largest housing associations expect their bills for fixing unsafe cladding to hit nearly £3bn over the next decade.
Together, G15 housing associations own and manage more than 600,000 homes, many of which are in high rises.
The group collectively spent £127.7m on fire remediation work in 2019/20 and expects the sum for the current financial year to reach £222.7m.
Business plans project the annual bill to peak at an eye-watering £354.7m in 2022/23 and to remain above £300m in the following two years.
By 2031/32, the annual cost to the G15 of dealing with the cladding crisis is still expected to be £136.1m.
All this comes on top of vast amounts of spending on fire safety in the more immediate aftermath of Grenfell.
Helen Evans, chair of the G15 and chief executive of 20,000-home landlord Network Homes, said: “This figure is only the known cost of works to buildings already identified as requiring remediation.
“It is not the final number and does not include costs relating to the majority of buildings under 18 metres in height.
“While we are getting on with the necessary building safety remediation, every pound spent on that reduces what is available to spend improving or repairing our homes, including reducing carbon emissions and developing the new affordable homes that are so urgently needed.”
Margins at large housing associations in London have already been squeezed by huge fire safety bills in the past financial year.
Last week, the G15 revealed that sales and mortgage renewals on nearly 2,000 of its members’ homes are currently on hold due to the cladding crisis – a rise of more than 100% in six months.
Mortgage providers are currently refusing to lend on flats in buildings where there are concerns over cladding or where the materials have not yet been confirmed as safe, in a crisis believed to affect as many as 11 million people.
Original article at: www.insidehousing.co.uk
Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, said: “An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk – yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze. Unless Ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, where sprinklers are mandatory, large fires will continue to blight schools. This is harming children’s education and putting lives at risk.
“As well as protecting pupils, sprinklers drastically reduce the extent of damage when there is a blaze, often confining the fire to a single room. This gets children back into schools and classrooms quicker as well as saving taxpayers’ money.”
Nick Coombe, Protection Vice Chair and Building Safety Programme Lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “The case for sprinklers is compelling. Of almost 1,000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted, our research found they controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases. We want to see a greater inclusion of Automatic Fire Suppression Systems (AFSS), including sprinklers, across the built environment. Sprinklers can dramatically reduce fire damage, making the reopening of a school much easier. This not only minimises the disruption to a pupil’s education, but also the impact on their family, the community and the wider education establishment.”
In June, Boris Johnson pledged £1bn to fund a decade long school rebuilding and repair programme and a further £560m in early August. Based on large fires alone, Zurich estimates that the repair for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years – a significant portion of the government’s slated investment. Zurich wants the government to ring-fence some of its promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire. Insurers work closely with schools to help them manage their fire risks but the installation of sprinklers minimise the dangers from the outset.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) states that almost all types of premises – unless a single domestic dwelling – must be subject to a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. It is the duty of the ‘Responsible Person’ to take general fire precautions as far as reasonably practicable under the RRO Part 2 to ensure the premises is safe for all relevant persons and to reduce the risk of harm and prevent fire.
The ‘Relevant Persons’ are defined in the RRO Part 1 Article 2 as:
To summarise, a ‘Responsible Person’ could be the employer, owner, landlord or appointed managing agent of the premises. In some buildings there may be more than one Responsible Person.
How often should a fire risk assessment be undertaken/reviewed?The fire safety order 2005 states that if necessary, the ‘Responsible Person’ should seek safety assistance to assist when carrying out a risk assessment by appointing a competent person. The RRO Part 2 Article 18 defines a competent person providing safety assistance as an individual who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to enable them properly to assist in undertaking the preventative and protective measures.
In terms of undertaking/reviewing fire risk assessments there is often no prescriptive time frame, but the ‘Responsible Person’ should regularly review the document to ensure it remains up to date and relevant to the premises. If the fire risk assessment is no longer valid due to a significant change to the premises such as structural alterations, change of building use, increase in occupancy or use by a different group of people etc. then the risk of fire has changed and a review of the existing fire risk assessment is required with the changes made as appropriate.
It should be noted that a prescribed record of the fire risk assessment should be documented if:
The 4 types of fire risk assessmentThe RRO does not expand on how intrusive a fire safety risk assessment should be. When it comes to creating a fire risk assessment for residential properties only, there are 4 different ‘types’ defined as endorsed by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) ‘Fire Safety in Purpose Built Blocks of Flats’, issued by the Local Government Association in 2012.
It is important to stress, the above types ONLY apply to domestic dwellings and not commercial properties. If the existing compartmentation is insufficient and as a result people are at risk, the emergency plan for the premises should be reviewed by a competent person.
Original article from: IFSEC Global
The coronavirus crisis has created completely unprecedented conditions across the country and around the world. This has left almost everyone in a position where they are entirely reevaluating their lives – from a business perspective to living arrangements, things feel markedly different.
This is true for landlords too, as standard practice needs to be re-thought in many cases as what needs to be done for tenants, and how to manage the safety and security of rented properties during this time. Of course, landlords are legally obligated to take specific legal steps to look after the safety of their tenants.
Certainly, one of the most vital aspects of safety that could be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak is fire safety. Fire safety professionals are still required to visit properties on a regular basis, so it is essential that they can practice safe levels of social distancing in order to manage their own level of risk. It would appear, based on responses to the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and Fire Industry Association (FIA), that those responsible for fire safety have been granted key worker status and will continue to carry out as many tasks that require immediate attention through the crisis.
Here we take a look at some of the things that landlords need to start thinking about with regard to their tenants’ safety, and what they can do to minimise the risk going forward.
Carry out a new fire safety assessment
Perhaps one of the most important things to note is that due to the lockdown, tenants will typically be spending much of their time in their home. This can have implications for fire safety – and this is something that it is worth considering. So, the first step that landlords may need to take is carrying out a new fire safety assessment.
Fire safety assessments are an important legal requirement for landlords – but when significant changes occur to a property, it is essential that you ensure your fire safety assessment is still valid. Carrying out a re-assessment is important in order to make sure that the systems and plans in place are still relevant with tenants in their properties at all hours of the day. If you believe that your property might be affected by the change in usage, now is the time to act.
Take precautions with checking the fire alarm system
Landlords with multiple flats in one building are required to organise testing for the fire alarm system on a regular basis depending on the type of alarm you have installed. In some properties with communal alarm systems, testing needs to be carried out every week.
In this case, you may employ someone to check the system, or it may be that you carry out the spot check yourself. In either case, it is essential that this process continues to be carried out as normal, however, you need to ensure that you are following the Government’s social distancing recommendations when doing so.
Continue with all legally required services
It is also important to note that the coronavirus is not considered to be a reason that landlords can relax their responsibilities with regard to any kind of legally required fire safety services. It is imperative that crucial health and safety measures continue to be followed by landlords in other to remain in compliance with legislation.
The COVID-19 crisis is not an excuse for failing to uphold health and safety measures – it may just take more care and precautions to be taken in order to be able to do so safely.
Install a stronger fire alarm system
It may be the now is the right time to consider having an upgraded fire alarm system installed. After all, a fire alarm going off in a building with a number of tenants is now likely to impact every person who is in the building, and it is essential that the strongest possible measures are in place.
If you have a strong alarm system in place, then you could consider further preventative and reactive measures; it could be worthwhile to have fire sprinklers installed. According to sprinkler system specialists Applications Engineering “sprinklers not only save lives but can significantly reduce the damage caused by a fire. Their instantaneous response to a breakout allows a fire to be controlled before emergency services can reach the scene”.
Ensure escape routes are accessible at all times
It is also vital to ensure that all properties have their communal hallways and other fire escapes clear at all times. Now is the time to carry out regular inspections to ensure that there are no potential obstructions that could cause a problem in the event of a fire breaking out.
It is a great idea to take this time as a key moment to reassess the fire safety precautions in your property, and ensure that they are up to standard. The situation with coronavirus is very serious, but so are a landlord’s obligations to take health and safety seriously.
Fines for fire safety breaches have risen sharply since Grenfell.
The average fine handed down for breaches of the Fire Safety Order has increased since the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017.
Director of BBFS.