Tag Archives: fire safety

Social landlords staying silent on fire safety

  • Three months on from Grenfell, new research reveals that tenants still feel left in the dark when it comes to fire safety
  • 40% of renters say there is not a clear fire escape route displayed in their building
  • Majority of tenants (55%) do not feel fully prepared on what to do in the event of a fire
  • Just 10% of social landlords have been in touch in person since Grenfell to discuss fire safety measures

Fire Door Safety Week 2017 research

 

Shocking new research has revealed just how little action has been taken since the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, which killed around 80 people.

The research, released to mark Fire Door Safety Week (25 September – 1 October), shows that since the fire in the West London block in June, just 10% of social landlords have been in touch with tenants in person to discuss fire safety measures.

Those renting through local authorities are significantly less likely to have had the reassurance of contact from their landlord (10%) than private renters (23%).

Basic fire safety measures are lacking with four in ten (40%) renters saying there is not a clear fire escape route displayed in their building, and more than a third (39%) admit they have seen fire doors propped open.

More than two in ten people (21%) have noticed damage to their building’s fire doors and almost a fifth (18%) of renters have reported a fire safety infringement or concern to their landlord but almost a quarter (24%) waited weeks for a response.

The majority of tenants (55%) say they do not feel fully prepared on what to do in the event of a fire and almost a quarter (24%) of adults surveyed feel more nervous/anxious about living in a rented apartment since the tragedy and the issues it exposed with regard to fire safety.

This Fire Door Safety Week, the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) has put together a free toolkit of resources to help landlords and their tenants with fire safety advice.

Click here for further information for council and social housing landlords and building owners.

Hannah Mansell is spokesperson for Fire Door Safety Week, as well as BWF technical manager, chair of the Passive Fire Protection Forum and a trustee of the Children’s Burns Trust. She says:

“This new research shows that social housing landlords and building owners still have a long way to go meet their fire safety responsibilities. It is astounding to learn that in the last three months so little has been done to address the concerns of tenants and residents.

“Many people do not realise that the real job of a fire door is to hold back fire, smoke and toxic gases, delaying the spread around a building and keeping the vital means of escape route clear. They only work properly if they are specified, manufactured, installed and maintained correctly, and of course, closed when a fire breaks out. This is especially important in high rise buildings, houses of multiple occupancy and other types of shared sleeping accommodation.

“Checking fire doors should be part of a regular fire risk assessment. This should examine all aspects of fire safety management, including active and passive fire protection measures, signage, means of escape and the specific fire plan procedures.

“There needs to be crystal clarity about the Responsible Person and a total transformation of attitude towards fire safety of tenants in rented accommodation. Our focus for Fire Door Safety Week in this pivotal year is to ensure all landlords and tenants have the knowledge and resources they need to stay safe.”

Dany Cotton, London Fire Commissioner who oversaw the fire and rescue service’s response at Grenfell Tower, says:

“London Fire Brigade fully supports Fire Door Safety Week. This is an important campaign which drives home the potentially life saving role that fire doors play in buildings, especially residential buildings such as tower blocks. It is extremely concerning that the lives of the public and our firefighters are still being put at risk by poorly maintained fire doors and people acting irresponsibly by removing self closers or by keeping doors wedged open.

“Good fire doors help stop fires from spreading. Fires that spread put more lives at risk and I would urge everyone to check that their fire doors are properly maintained and kept shut. Remember they don’t just protect you, but everybody in the building.”

Paul Fuller CBE, chief fire officer of Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and chairman of the Fire Sector Federation says:

“It is simple. Proper fire doors save lives, but only if they are correctly made and installed, and certainly not if they are wedged open or in disrepair. Too often our officers walk into a building and see fire doors in an appalling state. We do what we can to advise and enforce the responsibilities of a building owner, but it is time for the Responsible Person to really step up. That’s why we are supporting Fire Door Safety Week – there can be no excuse, all the resources you need to promote door safety are there on the website and free to download.”

Fire Door Safety Week, a national campaign now in its fifth year, is run by the BWF, the BWF-Certifire Scheme and the Fire Door Inspection Scheme, in partnership with the Government’s Fire Kills campaign. It aims to raise awareness about the role of fire doors in preventing life changing injuries and the legal responsibilities of managing fire door safety.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, on 30 August the Government issued new advice for tenants and residents, outlining the following steps to take regarding building safety:

  • In the first instance, contact the landlord or building owner with any concerns.
  • If still concerned and not receiving reassurance, then contact the relevant local authority or local fire and rescue service for advice.
  • Contact the Department for Communities and Local Government building safety team by emailing: housingchecks@communities.gsi.gov.uk

About the research
Independent research was commissioned by the British Woodworking Federation, and conducted by Atomik Research.  1,001 renters across the UK aged 18-65 in the UK were surveyed in August 2017.

Fire door safety campaigners demand public register of Responsible Persons

In the shadow of the Grenfell Tower devastation, Fire Door Safety Week campaigners are renewing their call for a publicly available national register of Responsible Persons for fire safety in rented accommodation.

The register would require the name of the individual who has legal responsibility for fire safety in a building to be registered on a national database. Their name and contact details would be prominently displayed in the building to help tenants report any concerns.

In turn, the Responsible Person should sign a formal acknowledgement of duty of care and meet a mandatory minimum level of competence, says the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), organisers of the annual Fire Door Safety Week campaign.

Hannah Mansell, spokesperson for Fire Door Safety Week, who is also BWF technical manager, chair of the Passive Fire Protection Forum and a trustee of the Children’s Burns Trust, says:

“When we start digging, the identity of the Responsible Person is often a mystery. It can become very complex trying to identify who it is, especially in organisations that own or manage vast housing stock.

“Although the Fire Safety Order took effect over 10 years ago, our research shows that tenants don’t know who to report fire safety concerns to. Even worse, when we surveyed those who are responsible for fire safety, half of them didn’t even know or were unclear about their role.

“Under the Fire Safety Order, Responsible Persons have to ensure that a regular fire risk assessment (FRA) is carried out by a competent person and is documented.

“The FRA should examine all aspects of fire safety management, including active and passive fire protection measures, signage, means of escape and the specific fire plan procedures.

“Their responsibilities also include acting on improvement advice and creating the emergency fire plan for the building, the key to this is arming the occupants with the knowledge of what to do in an emergency.

“Where in-depth and expert knowledge is lacking, the Responsible Person has a duty to engage someone with the relevant expertise to be able to implement or advise on key areas.

“There needs to be crystal clarity about the Responsible Person and a total transformation of attitude towards fire safety of tenants in rented accommodation.

“By identifying the Responsible Person and providing their contact details, occupants become empowered to report any concerns they have about the fire doors in their buildings. This would also ensure that those responsible for keeping tenants safe from fire know their duty and are made aware of issues directly.”

The call for a register of Responsible Persons was first made following the inquest into the death of Sophie Rosser, 23, who died in 2012 following a fire in her block of flats in London. At her inquest, the Coroner was frustrated in her attempts to allocate the blame to any particular person or organisation.

Research last year confirmed the BWF’s fears that little has been done to address this problem. More than half of all tenants had no idea who the Responsible Person was for the building where they lived and even more worryingly, two thirds of low income households renting flats had never been given the emergency fire plan information.

Fire Door Safety Week, now in its fifth year, will run from 25 September to 1 October and aims to raise awareness about the role of third-party certificated fire doors in preventing life changing injuries and the legal responsibilities of managing fire door safety. It will focus on promoting awareness of the critical role of fire doors in high rise buildings, houses of multiple occupancy and other types of shared accommodation.

The campaign will be giving advice, hosting events and sharing useful resources. It will also be signposting tenants as to where they should be reporting their fire safety concerns.

So far, the campaign has confirmed cross sector support from a wide range of organisations including the fire and rescue services, housing associations, charities, BWF members, fire safety professionals and organisations from every corner of the UK.

A quick guide to the Fire Safety Order

Under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (2005), the responsibility for maintaining fire safety in non-domestic buildings falls to the Responsible Person.

In a workplace, this is the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, for example, the occupier or owner.

In all other premises the person or people in control of the premises will be responsible. If there is more than one responsible person in any type of premises, all must take all reasonable steps to work with each other.

The Responsible Person must:

  • Ensure that a fire safety risk assessment is carried out and reviewed on a regular basis
  • Identify and record the fire hazards
  • Identify and record the people at risk
  • Evaluate, remove or mitigate the fire safety risks
  • Prepare an emergency plan and provide training
  • Review and update the fire risk assessment regularly
  • Part of this risk assessment and fire management plan must consider the safe installation, maintenance and inspection of fire doors.

The person responsible for fire safety in Scotland is called the ‘duty holder’, while in Northern Ireland they are known as the ‘appropriate person’. However, the duties of this person, regardless of country, are the same: to carry out the fire risk assessment and ensure the safety of anyone using their premises.

Grenfell Tower fire – Statement from the BWF

David Oldfield BWF CERTIFIRE chairman David Oldfield, Chairman, BWF Fire Door Scheme:

“The stories we hear about Grenfell Tower are concerning and the BWF team has been working tirelessly since the tragedy to provide the necessary support and advice to those involved and ensure that corrective action is timely and efficient.

Fire doors are in every building that we live in, work in and sleep in, but they are often overlooked, ignored and allowed to slip into a sorry state.

Many people do not realise that the real job of a fire door is to hold back fire, smoke and toxic gases, delaying the spread around a building and keeping the vital means of escape route clear. They only work properly if they are specified, manufactured, installed and maintained correctly, and of course, closed when a fire breaks out.

Fire Door Safety Week investigations have pointed to an endemic fire safety problem in this type of housing stock and many other residential, recreational, leisure, healthcare and educational buildings.

It is sadly not uncommon to see buildings without fire doors, no emergency lighting or signage on doors and escape routes, broken fire rated glass, wedged-open fire doors, poor fire stopping around service hatches that breach compartmentation, no intumescent or smoke seals in fire doors, rubbish and combustible material left in the common areas.

In the catalogue of issues that the full investigation will reveal, it is clear that there are systemic failures that need to be looked at. We must look for quick wins, but take a holistic approach to active and passive options to ensure that we can all live, recover, work, learn and play in relative safety.

Our hope is not simply that full and comprehensive inspections and risk assessments happen now, but that their recommendations are acted upon quickly, and that the regulatory framework is addressed and policed with suitable resource to ensure we don’t simply create a hiatus and allow matters to drift back to the reprehensible state they are now in.

We also reiterate our call for a Register of Responsible Persons so that the responsible person is not a mystery person lurking in the shadows, but must be front and centre so that people know where to take their problems.

By identifying the responsible person by name and providing the appropriate contact details, residents and building users are empowered to raise problems. This also ensures that those responsible for keeping them safe are made aware of issues directly. This doesn’t do away with the need for fire risk assessments, but supplements an effective process by harnessing the crowd to stay vigilant.”

www.bwfcertifire.org.uk

 

Grenfell Tower fire – Act now, warns campaign

Fire safety in tower blocks is an “endemic problem” say campaigners

Less than a year since fire door safety campaigners turned a spotlight on high rise tower blocks, the country wakes to news of the devastating inferno at Grenfell Tower, West London.

Hannah Mansell, chair of the Passive Fire Protection Forum, trustee of the Children’s Burns Trust and spokesperson for the BWF’s Fire Door Safety Week campaign, said:

“We have a right to be very angry at the news about Grenfell Tower. I regularly sit in meetings with fire safety professionals, and their fury and frustration at the inaction of local councils and social landlords is palpable.

“We have been warning about the risks of a fire like this for years. ‘What we need to get people to take notice is a huge fire in a tower block’ they say. Well, here it is.

“There is an endemic fire safety problem in this type of housing stock. I have walked around tower blocks documenting and filming the fire safety breaches. I’ve seen flats without fire doors, no emergency lighting or signage on fire doors and escape routes, broken fire rated glass, wedged-open fire doors, poor fire stopping around service hatches that breach compartmentation, no smoke seals in fire doors, rubbish and combustible material left in the common areas, and no information displayed on the specific fire plan of the building.

“But that information appears to fall on deaf ears. Action must be taken now to address these issues.

“Our hearts go out to the residents of Grenfell Tower, their neighbours, friends and families, and the extraordinarily brave fire fighters and medics who are continuing to deal with the emergency.

“And to every local council and housing association I say, you know what to do, take action today. The next one could be tomorrow.”

Research for Fire Door Safety Week last year underlines some of the problems, in particular showing that the poorest in society continue to be at greatest risk from fire, with lower income tenants more concerned about fire safety where they live, less informed about how to protect themselves, and less able to move away from perceived danger.

Just a third (35%) of the lowest income households renting flats say they have been given information on the emergency fire plan for the building where they live, compared to 88% of tenants on incomes over £100,000 a year.

Those on incomes of £25,000 or less are much less likely to feel completely safe from fire (27%) than those on incomes above £80,000 (44%).

But two out of every nine (22%) households with incomes under £25,000 living in rented flats who have concerns over fire safety are unable to move because they can’t afford to.

More than half of all tenants (58%) and over 70% of lower income tenants have no idea who the ‘Responsible Person’ is for the building where they live – the person to whom they should usually report their fire safety concerns. And worryingly, 15% of all tenants living in blocks of flats who have got fire safety concerns have never reported those concerns to anyone at all.

The BWF has also carried out FOI research which suggests worrying problems in other London tower blocks.

 

After the fire

A legal tidal wave of pain is heading Southwark Council’s way. And it could easily hit other London councils too, says Hannah Mansell.

It is seven years since the fatal fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, which claimed the lives of three young women and three children.

The first legal case arising from the tragedy was concluded at the start of March this year. Southwark Council pleaded guilty to four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.

Crucially, the legal case centred not on the fire itself, but on the accountability to risk that existed in the building prior to the fire. The focus was on the failure to identify and manage building defects that sat quietly in the background, setting the scene for the deadly firestorm that ensued that summer’s afternoon in 2009.

These defects included serious breaches of fire compartmentation throughout the structure, the corridors and staircases in the building. There were no intumescent strips and smoke seals in fire doors that would have helped prevent the spread of fire and smoke, and no fire risk assessment existed for the building.

The council’s subsequent £570,000 fine, which included £300,000 court costs, was substantial, but actually much lower than it could have been. The judge specified that the fine was reduced by almost half because of the early guilty plea and other mitigating features. Legal experts have also pointed out that, had current health and safety law applied to such cases, the fine could have been in the millions.

Nonetheless, Southwark Council was found to be knowingly taking huge risks with public safety, and I suspect this is just the start of the legal tidal wave of pain heading their way.

Given the likelihood of private action by those directly involved, let alone the cost of repairs to date, the financial cost of this fire is almost certainly going to reach seven or eight figures.

New research highlights broader risks

More worryingly, newly published research by the Fire Door Safety Week campaign indicates that other councils could easily find themselves in the same position.

Last year, the BWF-Certifire scheme made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to each of the 32 London councils. It asked how many residential blocks over six storeys the council owned, and for the date of the last fire risk assessment. The results were shared with the enforcing authority, London Fire Brigade.

Only 15 full responses were received, identifying a housing stock of 1,025 residential blocks six storeys in height or above. All had a fire risk assessment, and 90% of those assessments had last been updated in the previous couple of years.

So far so good, you might think. But the frequency of a fire risk assessment is determined by a number of factors including a risk rating, the age of building and the number of storeys.

The fire risk assessment should be considered a living document – it doesn’t remain valid for an unlimited amount of time and regular review is required. Indeed current local government guidance goes as far to say that for blocks with higher risk and blocks over four storeys in height, an annual review might be more appropriate, with a new fire risk assessment every three years. For the highest risk premises, an annual fire risk assessment might be appropriate.

Our FOI research revealed that there were 102 high rise residential properties in London that were fire risk assessed prior to 2014. Two councils responded that they had a number of buildings that had last been assessed in 2010 and 2011, over five years ago.

Closer inspections reveal fire safety breaches

So we went to have a look. Onsite inspections to some of these buildings revealed visible breaches of fire safety including non fire-rated front doors to some individual flats, a lack of emergency lighting or signage on fire doors and escape routes, broken fire rated glass, wedged-open fire doors, poor fire stopping around service hatches that breach compartmentation, no smoke seals in fire doors, rubbish and combustible material left in the common areas, and no information displayed on the specific fire plan of the building.

We’re not the only ones to have raised the alarm on this. Just a year after the Lakanal House fire, an undercover BBC news report exposed widespread lack of fire risk assessments and broken fire compartmentation in the capital’s high rise residential buildings.

The fire compartmentation of Lakanal House should have contained the fire in one place, enabling the implementation of the ‘stay put’ fire plan.

Such a plan is often implemented where it’s not easy or practical to run a quick or safe evacuation, so it’s found in a variety of complex residential, commercial, healthcare and sleeping accommodation.

Complete and unbroken passive fire compartmentation, including effective fire doors, is absolutely critical in buildings that have a stay put fire plan. They should enable users of the building to seek refuge from fire and smoke, as well as creating a safe and protected route for the fire services to tackle the source of the blaze. But in reality, and especially in existing rented housing stock, this is just often ignored.

The heart-breaking outcomes of the Lakanal House fire and this prosecution must act as a massive reawakening of accountability in those directly responsible for the fire safety of their residents. This will be the theme yet again of Fire Door Safety Week – our work is far from done.

Hannah Mansell is technical manager of BWF-Certifire, chair of the Passive Fire Protection Forum, trustee of the Children’s Burns Trust and spokesperson for the national safety and awareness campaign Fire Door Safety Week (25 September – 1 October 2017).