Fire safety consultant & managing director respectively, Ascent Fire Safety & Independent Fire Inspections Ltd (IFI) respectively

June 7, 2018

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A fire safety question for housing providers: Do you really know your buildings?

When you own/operate a property used to provide residential accommodation for families or individuals, there’s a question you need to seek the answer to: do I really know my buildings?

British Housing providers, as expected after the Grenfell tragedy, are turning the microscope on themselves. They are examining in detail fire safety provision across thousands of properties – not just high-rise property, but all their housing stock.

Faced with a varied portfolio of building stock which can include purpose-built high, medium and low-rise property and flats in converted houses, there is an overwhelming variety of issues to consider.

Often there are no detailed records regarding built-in fire safety measures

Often there are no detailed records regarding built-in fire safety measures and incomplete records of improvements and additions of active measures. Properties are sometimes inherited as part of historic mergers and don’t come with detailed fire safety information.

Is it any wonder housing providers face a huge task in understanding their stock and the risks they pose to their tenants?

Where to start? Well one local authority housing provider has started at the beginning: implementing a project with the aim of getting to know their property portfolio.

Starting at the beginning is the logical first step:

  • How was the building designed and constructed to cope with fire?
  • What would be the expected evacuation policy?
  • How does the property deviate from expected current standards and what remedial or compensatory measures are needed/have been installed to satisfy building regulation requirements?
  • Has the building design changed since construction?

‘As built’ fire strategy

An ‘as built’ fire strategy is an excellent starting point in getting to know your buildings. The strategy should take into consideration the current use and current occupancy.

Often buildings can change use over years and assisted living units are very different from general needs accommodation. Many properties have been used to house different residents over the years with little or no regard for change of occupancy.

An ‘As built’ fire strategy provides the details required to then further assess and inspect. For example, there is a need to ensure the building can support the evacuation strategy.

Armed with an accurate description of the building, the responsible person can plan maintenance and testing, improvement works and new installations that don’t compromise existing compartmentations lines

If the residents are expected to ‘stay put’, the compartmentation must be suitable. Fire separation between individual flats or bedsits, service risers, escape stairs and rooms off the common escape routes must support the strategy.

A passive fire inspection should be completed to ensure the required compartmentation is suitable. Having plans as part of the fire strategy with the required compartment lines identified is essential to enable a focused and accurate passive fire protection inspection.

The identification of any existing or required active fire protection measures, such as automatic alarm and detection systems, emergency lighting and automatic smoke venting is also essential. With a report that clearly states what is required, where it should be, and how the building supports the required evacuation strategy, it provides the building owner with the answers needed to the vital question.

Armed with an accurate description of the building in respect of the fire safety provision, the responsible person can plan maintenance and testing, they can ensure that improvement works, and new installations don’t compromise the existing compartmentations lines.

They can commission an accurate fire risk assessment which compliments the fire strategy and prevents the fire risk assessor from adding unnecessary actions within their significant findings.

Most importantly the strategy document and supporting surveys/reports are specific to the building in question and unlike relying on a fire risk assessment, they answer the vital question – Fire! Do I really know my buildings?

Independent Fire Inspections Ltd is exhibiting at FIREX International, 19-21 June 2018, ExCeL London. You can find them on stand A275. Register now.

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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