Housing association properties have one thing in common. They’re all different. So, if you’re in charge of fire safety for a housing association, how can you make sure you’ve got all your bases covered? That’s where we can help.
In this blog, we’ll clarify how housing associations should tackle fire safety. If your housing association stock includes purpose built flats, Grenfell and other tower block fires should offer a timely reminder that poor fire maintenance can have devastating consequences.
The law’s view on housing association fire safety
In England and Wales, there are two pieces of legislation which govern fire safety for housing associations. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 legislates for fire safety across all businesses, while the Housing Act 2004 offers a housing-specific perspective.
You have dual responsibility for tenants and the building. You must ensure that both are protected. It’s also important that you give your tenants the information they need to keep themselves safe. This will include actions they should take including checking smoke alarms are working and not damaging fire safety equipment in common parts.
Social housing has a higher than average proportion of vulnerable and disabled tenants. Under the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, you are obliged to ensure these tenants are not disadvantaged in any way.
So, now you’re up to speed on the legislation, let’s move on to good fire safety management.
Carry out one (or maybe two) fire risk assessments
Because there are two Acts governing fire safety in housing associations, there are also two types of fire risk assessment for landlords. The Housing Act 2004 states there should be ‘sufficient properly designed and appropriate sited smoke and/or heat detectors with alarms in every dwelling’. At the same time, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires landlords of flats and other multi-occupancy buildings to carry out fire risk assessments in all common parts.
Our advice is to err on the side of caution and carry out fire risk assessments for all your managed properties.
What will your risk assessment look at?
- Identifying fire hazards and risks
- Identifying specific groups of people at risk
- Decide how to mitigate these risks
- Agree on training requirements
- Review annually
Fire safety issues in housing association properties
In properties with communal areas (or ‘common parts’), there is often a risk of damage to fire safety equipment. This damage isn’t always malicious; it may be unintended. What do we mean by that?
Fire stopping is a term given to fire safety equipment which acts as a physical barrier to fire. A good example is fire doors. If they’re constructed from suitable retardant materials, they can hold back a fire for, say 30 minutes, until emergency services arrive. But if a resident decides to install a cat flap or a new letterbox, this can have dire consequences. The changes to the door’s structure undermine its fire-retardant properties and could render it useless as a barrier to fire.
Another issue commonly reported is obstructions to fire evacuation routes. Corridors are usually designated emergency exit routes. However, day-to-day, residents may use corridors to store large items of personal property such as bikes or mobility scooters.
A mobility scooter creates a heightened risk not only because of physical obstruction, but also as a potential ignition source. They release high levels of toxic gas when burned; during a fire, it’s easy to see how they can complicate an already precarious situation.
So, not only are fire risk assessments vital, but regular maintenance checks of all equipment are needed to prevent situations like these from arising.
Installing fire alarms
Once your fire risk assessment is completed, you’ll have a clearer picture on what’s needed in your properties. The Housing Act requires you to install heat/smoke detectors on each floor of the buildings. It’s also worth installing carbon monoxide detectors; these are mandatory where solid fuel is burned e.g. log burners or coal fires.
British Safety Standard 5839 is the accepted code of practice for the design and installation of fire alarms. There are six categories of alarm system from A to F, with D to F applying to domestic properties. The norm is for mains or battery powered alarms.
The common parts must also be protected with an alarm system. It’s also worth installing emergency lighting, but this will depend on the size and design of the building. As we keep saying, the fire risk assessment should address this.
Is your smoke ventilation system well maintained?
When speaking to our housing association clients, we have come across a common misconception regarding smoke ventilation/automatic opening vents.
Many believe that their current fire safety contractor is qualified maintain the AOV system. It’s clear where this confusion lies as many AOV systems are linked to fire alarm systems. But that doesn’t mean they can be serviced and maintained in the same way.
Smoke ventilation systems are complex. Service engineers are highly trained, so it’s worth checking who’s servicing yours. Are they qualified to do so? We’ve found that most housing association fire safety contractors are not qualified to service and maintain an AOV.
Smoke ventilation in high rise buildings
Housing associations whose portfolios include flats and high-rise buildings should ensure they’re working with smoke ventilation specialists.
High-rise fires are made infinitely more complicated by smoke ingress. Smoke prevents inhabitants from seeing clearly during an evacuation. What’s more, it can quickly overwhelm their bodies, leaving them unconscious within minutes.
Smoke vents, also called automatic opening vents, open during a fire creating a natural exit flow for smoke and hot air trapped in a burning building. You may decide you need to give your system a little boost; this is possible with a powered ventilation system which draws the smoke out of the building.
Either option acts as an active fire safety measure, giving your tenants valuable and much needed time.
It pays to find a fire safety supplier you can trust
It’s not just smoke ventilation experience that we can offer you. There’s a lot to get right when it comes to housing association fire safety, most importantly, legal compliance. Remember, the Housing Act and the Fire Safety Order must both be considered when planning your fire safety strategy. Guiding you through this process is something we’re happy to do.
There are many fire safety suppliers on the market and it can be tricky to differentiate one from the other. Everyone says they have the right qualifications and training, but how do you know for sure? Why not ask if they have third-party accreditation from an organisation like BAFE? The accrediting bodies are all independent and will assess a supplier against a set of external standards.
To find out more about our accreditations and how we can help you plan your fire safety strategy, get in touch today.
We’re accredited by a few organisations, including BAFE which is one of the most respected and trusted in the industry. To find out more about fitting the right fire alarm for your school today, give us a call. We’d love to help.