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DCLG issues new interim fire safety advice

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

The Department for Communities and Local Government has updated fire safety advice for owners if high-rise buildings with failed cladding systems.

Those who own buildings with Aluminium Composite Material cladding systems that do not meet the requirements of current Building Regulations guidance have been told they must implement the following interim mitigating measures to keep residents safe pending any remediation of the cladding system needed.

Tests were carried out on cladding on buildings across the country in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Interim measures recommended by independent panel of experts

  • If you have not already done so, you should inform your local fire and rescue service. Failure to do so may put fire-fighters as well as residents at risk. The fire and rescue service will carry out an urgent inspection with the ‘responsible person’ to ensure that they have identified and introduced appropriate interim measures, as set out below. The fire and rescue service will also carry out a further inspection once the interim measures have been completed.
  • Check that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been carried out within the previous 12 months and that the recommendations within the action plan of the assessment have been completed; and also, confirm that there have been no material changes (to the building, the fire safety measures or the occupancy) that could, potentially, undermine the validity of the fire risk assessment. If no fire risk assessment has been carried out, or you consider that material changes have taken place, you must immediately arrange for a fire risk assessment to be carried out by a competent person (e.g. by a person who is listed on a register of fire risk assessors operated by a professional body or certification body, or, preferably, by a company that is certificated by a third party certification body that is, itself, accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service to operate the certification scheme). Guidance on choosing a competent assessor is available
  • Engage with residents of the building to ensure that they fully understand the emergency fire procedures in the building. Ensure that fire procedure notices are updated, where necessary, and accurate. This is particularly important where a ‘stay put’ strategy is temporarily being changed to one of simultaneous evacuation, pending replacement of the cladding.
  • All residents should be surveyed in respect of their ability to evacuate the building without assistance.
  • Check there are no potential routes for fire spread from the interior of the building out onto the cladding system. This would include, for example, the presence and integrity of cavity barriers, and the risk of ignition to the external wall system via window surround and fitting details.
  • Check that, at ground level, or on any balconies, there are no combustible materials (e.g. storage of refuse) in the vicinity of the cladding system. Ensure that there are measures to prevent combustible materials in such locations (e.g. by temporary barriers or instructions to residents). Instruct residents that they must not have any barbecue on any balcony.
  • Close any car parks in which a vehicle fire could impinge on cladding.
  • Check that all flat entrance doors, and doors that open onto escape corridors and stairways, are fire-resisting and effectively self-closing against any resistance of a latch (or, for example, in the case of plant rooms or cupboards, are kept locked shut.) For guidance on these doors, consult the Local Government Association guidance on fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats. In general, doors that were deemed to be fire-resisting at the time of construction of the block will be satisfactory. Replace any non-fire-resisting doors (such as non- fire-resisting PVCu doors) immediately with doorsets2 that are third party certificated as providing at least 30 minutes’ fire resistance.
  • Check all walls that separate flats, plant and store rooms, etc. from escape routes to ensure there are no obvious routes for fire or smoke spread (e.g. holes where services, such as pipes and cables, pass through walls).
  • Check that any smoke control systems, including associated fire detection systems, are operating correctly.
  • Check all facilities provided for fire-fighters, including fire-fighting lifts and dry or wet rising mains. If you have ANY concerns you should contact your local fire and rescue service, who will, if they have not already done so, carry out an inspection to ensure functionality.
  • Ensure that there is sufficient roadway access and hardstanding for firefighting vehicles attending incidents and are required to operate to fight any fire externally.
  • Residents must be advised to ensure all smoke alarms are present and working in their flat; to report concerns about fire safety measures in the building (e.g. presence of combustible materials in escape routes) to their landlord and, understand the purpose and importance of any interim measures being taken.
  • Co-operate with any commercial premises within the building to ensure they do not impose any significant risk.

The DCLG says that once this work has been completed the competent person can assess whether a ‘stay put’ strategy is still appropriate for the building, in discussion with the local fire and rescue service.

The competent person will need to take into account a number of factors, including (but not necessarily limited to) the following:

  • The fire and rescue service attendance time
  • The general fire precautions in the building
  • The height of the building
  • Provision of sprinklers or other automatic fire suppression systems
  • The number of flats
  • The type of cladding system (i.e. Category 2 or 3 and type of insulation)
  • The extent of the cladding system
  • The number of means of escape stairways
  • The proximity of the cladding system to windows or vents within common
  • parts, particularly the stairway(s)
  • Risk of external ignition of the cladding system (e.g. taking into account the
  • height at which the cladding starts, proximity of cars etc. to the cladding)
  • Risk of internal ignition of the cladding system (e.g. from fires inside the building via unprotected window reveals and the proximity of ignition sources
  • such as domestic appliances).
  • The collective effect of the fire safety measures considered holistically, as
  • opposed to each measure in isolation.

The above assessment must be recorded so that it can be made available to the fire and rescue service.

If the decision by the competent person is temporarily to change a stay-put strategy to one of simultaneous evacuation, then you must inform your local fire and rescue service so they can update their operational procedures.

Where simultaneous evacuation is adopted, it will need to be managed, should an evacuation be necessary in the event of a fire.

This is likely to require the presence of a Waking Watch on a 24/7 basis. Even where a ‘stay put’ policy is to continue, a Waking Watch might still be appropriate.

A simultaneous evacuation policy is also likely to necessitate some form of fire alarm system to alert residents of the need to evacuate, unless there are sufficient staff in the Waking Watch to detect fire and initiate an evacuation at an early stage of a fire in the building.

Guidance on a Waking Watch and Common Fire Alarm systems has been produced by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) to assist building owners/responsible persons who need to adopt a temporary simultaneous evacuation strategy.

This is available on the NFCC website here.

In the case of the most serious risk, consideration must be given to moving some or all residents out of the block until satisfactory remedial work has been done

The advice has been endorsed by the National Fire Chiefs Council, who will be circulating it separately to fire and rescue services.

To read the document in full click here.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and award-winning Editor of RPI magazine. With 16 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and editorial content for our media partners.

She issues press releases promoting the work of the RLA and its policies and campaigns to the regional and national media and works alongside the marketing team on the association’s social media channels to build support for the RLA and its work.

1 Comment

  • Fire safety is one area where landlords may be better opting to go over and above the rules, rather than doing the bare minimum. This is especially true of HMOs and towers, because it seems likely that the government and councils will, in the future, further tighten existing regulations.

    If landlords are in doubt, there first option should always be to get professional guidance.

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