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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
May 18, 2023

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Don’t forget low-rise fire risks, FIREX attendees told

Lakanal revisited, competence ‘myth’ busted and residents’ circumstances flagged as vital to fire risk assessments on the first day of FIREX in London this week (Tuesday 17 May).

Fire safety and housing professionals have been urged not to neglect fire risks among low-rise housing stock amid the post-Grenfell focus on high-rise residential buildings.

FIREX-AndyFrankum-Theatre-23

The Expertise & Guidance Theatre was packed out for the session on the first day of FIREX 2023

Co-presenting at FIREX 2023 on Tuesday, Andy Frankum, Chair of the National Social Housing Fire Strategy Group (NSHFSG), said “fire statistics are telling us we’re having a lot more fires in low to medium rise buildings” than taller buildings.

Of 7,335 fires in blocks of flats attended by fire services in 2021 and 2022, 4,645 were in low rise buildings (one to three storeys), 1,907 were in medium rise buildings (four to nine storeys) and 783 were in high rise contexts (10 or more storeys).

“What shocked me was that of the 23 fires affecting the whole building, 19 happened in low rise blocks,” said Frankum, a recent IFSEC Insider interviewee.

High rise fires account for only 2% of fatal and severe casualties, according to a recent Home Office review of fire-related fatalities and severe casualties in England, spanning 2010-2019.

“While we’re focused on Fire Safety Act we also need to keep our eyes in the rear-view mirror and manage risk in these lower blocks,” said Frankum.

Age and mobility

Frankum was co-presenting at FIREX, taking place at ExCeL London, with Jan Taranczuk, Vice Chair of NSHFSG’s London and South East Regional Group.

The construction, maintenance and management of buildings is obviously fundamental to fire safety, but so too are the circumstances of residents, said Taranczuk.

Hence fire risk assessors must insist on being informed about the needs of residents. Whether it’s smoking or dangerous cooking equipment, “you need to understand what is going on in the building”, he said.

Residents’ age and mobility are crucial variables, given how fire-related fatality rates climb with age, Taranczuk warned.

Smoking heightens risk further still. Taranczuk cited several tragic examples of elderly residents who died in fires arising from discarded cigarettes, including one resident whose pendant alarm could have been linked to the smoke alarm but wasn’t.

Lakanal lessons overlooked

While Grenfell has sparked an unprecedented regulatory overhaul, the lessons of Lakanal House are still being overlooked 14 years after the 14-storey block of flats in south London went up in flames, according to Taranczuk.

He said the housing profession has not done enough to act on recommendations set out in the Coroners letter sent to Southwark Council, which was fined £570,000 for safety failures that led to the deaths of six people, including three children.

These related to fire safety signage, procedures for fire risk assessments, training for maintenance and refurbishment work, emergency vehicle access and retrofitting sprinklers.

Competence myth

Frankum, meanwhile, sought to dispel the “myth” that training is sufficient as well as necessary to achieving competence, which he defined as “knowledge, abilities, skills, experience and behaviours that lead to effective performance”.

“It’s also how you then practice that in the real world and how your organisation gets assurance that the job has been delivered well,” he added.

“We need to start measuring where those competence gaps are so we can start to plug those holes,” said Frankum – and those holes can relate to non-technical staff like housing officers and right up to board level.

 

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