Fire safety in high-rise buildings

Fire safety in high-rise buildings is now a much-discussed topic following the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. Fire safety in any building is not something that should be taken lightly, and everyone should know about the preventative measures that are discussed in this article.

High-rise buildings are especially designed to resist fire, stop the spread of smoke and provide a safe means of escape. Because of this, the majority of fires do not spread further than one or two rooms. However, as the tragedy of Grenfell Tower showed us, fire safety measures do not always work.

It is crucial that people remember what to do in the event of a fire so that they can protect themselves and their families. This is especially the case for people who live with the elderly, young children, or people with mobility issues.

To help you gain a clearer understanding of fire safety protocol in high-rise buildings, we have compiled a list of do’s and don’ts should a fire occur.

Do’s

Do make an escape plan so that you and your family are fully prepared if there is a fire in your flat. Everyone who lives in the flat must be aware of what the escape plan is and where the door key is. It is recommended that you carry out a fire drill to practice what to do if the event of a fire.

Do make sure that any exits are kept clear of obstructions, and that doors to stairways are in full working order.

If you are leaving the building because of a fire, do use the stairs.

If you are leaving the building because of a fire, do alert your neighbours and bang on their doors as you exit.

If it is too dangerous to follow the escape route because the stairs and hallways are filled with smoke, do ring for the fire brigade and stay indoors in the safest room. Keep the door closed and use towels or bedding at the bottom of the door to block the smoke.

If you are trapped, do use the balcony and wait there for the fire and rescue service.

If you smoke, do put your cigarette out properly.

Don’ts

Do not assume that somebody else has called 999.

In the event of a fire, do not use the lift.

If you head onto the balcony to escape from a fire, do not think about jumping.

Do not tamper with internal fire mains inlets on landings. Doing so could prove fatal if they fail to work when there is a fire.

Do not use or store bottled gas cylinders in your flat.

Do not smoke in bed.

Do not park so that you are blocking access to the flats. These roads are designed specifically to let fire engines get as close as possible to fight fires.

If you are very tired or have consumed a large amount of alcohol, do not attempt to start cooking.

Legislation in place currently and the possibility for reform

Following the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, questions have been raised regarding the standards of fire safety regulations for high-rise buildings in England and Wales.

The Buildings Regulations 2010 outline minimum standards respective of health and safety. These standards must be met when you are constructing new buildings.

Existing buildings

For existing buildings, fire safety falls under two separate pieces of legislation: the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) and the Housing Act 2004. The FSO imposes duties on individuals in charge of the high-rise building, while the latter imposes monitoring duties on local authorities to take enforcement action against those in control of a building.

In regards to the Buildings Regulations 2010, alterations and extensions must adhere to the set guidelines unless the building falls under an exemption.

The Fire Safety Order 2005

The Fire Safety Order 2005 imposes duties on the responsible person. In the case of high-rise buildings, this responsible person will be whoever is in charge of the premises.

This person must implement the correct fire safety measures, including undertaking a risk assessment to make fire safety arrangements, ensuring that suitable firefighting equipment is located on the premises, emergency routes are clearly outlined and fire safety drills are carried out regularly.

When it comes to high-rise buildings, the responsible person is often a landlord or freehold owner; however, this could also be a right to manage company or a residential management company.

The approach to the FSO is non-prescriptive; hence, it is recommended that fire risk assessments are conducted periodically to gauge any risks and determine the appropriate fire safety measures. These measures must be maintained and not just forgotten about once implemented.

For high-rise buildings that house blocks of flats, the FSO applies to the common areas only. It the responsible person’s duty to ensure that tenants are not compromising the safety of common areas of the building. Such activities that may compromise the safety include placing flammable objects or obstructions in corridors or blocking fire escape routes.

It is important that landlords bear such risks in mind whenever tenancy repairs and maintenance obligations are drafted. Additionally, it should be ensured that checks and safety audits are conducted regularly. Repairs that involve fire doors or any material alterations must comply with the Building Regulations.

It is the law to comply with the FSO, and failure to provide adequate safety measures is a criminal offence. If negligence to fire safety puts residents at risk of death or serious injury, the punishment can include an unlimited fine and a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Enforcement of the FSO is the responsibility of the fire and rescue authorities. These authorities will work alongside the responsible person in order to oversee the safety of the common parts of compatible buildings.

Housing Act 2004

The Housing Act 2004 is responsible for imposing a duty on local authorities to maintain housing conditions in their area under review. To maintain housing conditions, it is likely that the local authorities will inspect common parts of residential buildings, such as the stairwells and corridors of flats in high-rise buildings.

It does not matter whether such buildings are under private or public ownership – if it is considered appropriate, the conditions of that building will be inspected. When inspecting the building, local authorities must consider all 29 hazards that fall under the Act. Such hazards include fire, noise and structural collapse.

Category One hazards are deemed the most serious -, and if any Category One or Category Two hazards are recorded during the inspection, the local authority must take enforcement action. This action will include issuing improvement notices and may involve emergency prohibition orders or, in more serious cases, demolition orders.

To help deliver a better understanding of fire safety in high-rise buildings, we have compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions.

Fire safety in high-rise buildings FAQs

Q. What counts as a high-rise building?
A. A high-rise building is a building that is more than 18 metres or six storeys high.

Q. Should the entrance door to a flat have a self-closer?

A. Yes. Every fire resisting door must have self-closers. The only exceptions to this are the likes of store cupboards or riser doors which are kept locked. Fire resisting doors must clearly display information regarding their purpose.

Q. Can a roller bolt catch be fitted to a fire door?

A. This form of latch can actually prevent a door from fully closing into the frame and therefore cannot be relied upon to deliver sufficient retaining action. It is because of this that their use on fire doors is not recommended.

It must be remembered that several latches use a roller as opposed to a bevelled bolt, such as those where a handle or turn is used to withdraw the latch. Bevelled bolts can provide a positive retention of the door leaf – but, still, it is important to ensure that the rollers of such devices are made of a material with a high enough melting point to meet requirements of fire tests. Melting points are more than 900C for step foods with over 90-minutes resistance.

Q. How often should fire doors be inspected?

A. Fire doors should be inspected a minimum of every six months. The legal responsibility of fire door inspections lies with the responsible person. Inspections involve ensuring that fire safety devices are correctly maintained and fit for their use.

Q. What can I do to help regarding fire safety in high-rise buildings?

A. If you live in a high-rise building, you should adhere to the correct rules associated with fire safety in your building. You must not obstruct any escape routes or do anything that would endanger yourself or others in the event of a fire. Make sure the smoke alarms in your flat are working – and, if you notice any damaged or missing fire safety equipment, alert the relevant persons.

FAQs surrounding Grenfell Tower

Q. What happened at Grenfell Tower?

A. Shortly after midnight, a fire broke out in a flat on the fourth floor of the 24-storey block and rapidly engulfed the building. The fire claimed 71 and left hundreds of people homeless.

Q. What were the circumstances around a fire door failing recent tests?

A. As part of the Grenfell investigation, the Metropolitan Police had a fire door from a flat at Grenfell Tower tested for combustibility. The results appeared to demonstrate that it did not resist fire for 30 minutes and therefore failed to comply with building regulations.

Q. Does this test affect the advice to building owners?

A. The government’s independent expert panel on fire safety appointed after the Grenfell Tower disaster has considered the test findings and whether any action is required. Their advice is that the risk to public safety remains low and that the fire safety advice remains unchanged.

Additional hazards around Christmas time

Christmas may be the most magical time of the year, but caution must be aired during the Christmas period, as there are added hazards – not least when it comes to fire safety.

While Christmas lights may look nice, they can prove deadly. If you wish to use fairy lights, you must ensure that the fuses are the right type – you can check the box to learn the maximum size of fuse that you should use.

Fairy lights should never be left on when you leave the building or go to sleep. If the bulbs blow, replace them as soon as possible. Bulbs should also never be left to touch any easily flammable materials such as paper. Do not overload sockets just to use your fairy lights.

Often, Christmas decorations are made out of light tissue paper or cardboard and can burn easily. For this reason, they should never be attached to lights or heaters or placed near the fireplace. Decorations should always be kept away from candles.

Of course, you cannot have Christmas without a tree – but, when you keep a live tree in your flat (or house), special fire safety precautions must be taken. A burning tree has the power to fill a room with fire and deadly gases at an alarming rate. The best way to tackle a Christmas tree fire is with a water mist fire extinguisher.

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