Fire safety in residential blocks of flats is a major issue that has been recently brought into the spotlight due to the fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017. Although the Government has introduced new legislation surrounding fire safety in residential buildings, residents are also obliged as part of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to ensure they do not compromise the fire safety of the block for themselves and other users of the building.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order regulates fire safety in the communal areas of multi-occupied residential buildings. According to the Fire Safety Order the responsible person who is usually either the freeholder or the Residents Management Company (RMC) is held accountable for managing and minimising the risk of fire by arranging regular fire risk assessments. The fire risk assessment should include recommendations which the responsible person should follow. Such recommendations are, what evacuation policy is suitable for the property (get out vs stay put), whether an alarm system is necessary, and if so the type and scope of system, making sure that fire doors are adequate, well maintained and self-close fully into the frame.
What responsibilities lie with residents?
Residents are expected to reduce the risk of fire starting from inside their own homes. The majority of fires in multi-occupational block of flats tend to originate from individual apartments either because of cigarettes, hobs, candles, or electrical faults from overloaded sockets. However, residents also hold responsibilities under the Order relating to the maintenance and repair of the communal areas. The most common residents’ responsibilities are listed below.
- No items, such as bicycles, prams, furniture etc which cause an obstruction to fire exits and/or fire escape routes are to be stored in the common parts. It is essential that these are never blocked and access for emergency services is permitted (including within the car park).
- Smoking is strictly prohibited in the common parts
- All fire and flat entrance doors must self-close. Doors must not be wedged, tied or otherwise held open
- No damage should inadvertently be made towards the buildings’ fire protection when carrying out flat alterations. Any structural or material alterations made to flats should be authorised by the managing agent. Especially when it comes to flat entrance doors, ceilings or walls, no unauthorised alterations are allowed as, in many cases, they form the fire protection of the building and their performance might be affected in the event of a fire.
- The use and/or storage of petrol, bottled gas, paraffin heaters or other flammable material is strictly prohibited within all areas of the block including individual flats, balconies and the common parts. This also includes BBQs on balconies, which are not allowed in any case.
- Fire Action Plans are to be read and understood. Residents who live in buildings that have been designed with a high level of compartmentation would probably be advised to follow a ‘Stay Put Policy’ instead. This is where the Fire Brigade extinguishes the fire whilst residents remain within their apartments if unaffected by heat or smoke. In this way, the risk of residents leaving their flat and entering an area of smoke and flames is significantly reduced. However, this policy cannot be applicable to all buildings, in any case, the fire action plan should be displayed in the common areas and residents made aware of its contents.
- Fully functional smoke/heat detectors must be fitted and where necessary carbon monoxide alarms installed with regular tests and maintenance performed
- They have to understand the importance of maintaining block security, making sure doors close behind them when they enter or leave, not allowing unknown persons to ‘tailgate’ into blocks and being vigilant for deliberate fire setting.
- They must be aware of any emergency e.g. a gas leak in their property. Residents must also report essential repairs needed to fire safety measures in their flat or elsewhere in the block.
- Residents should allow contractors sent by managing agents to inspect or carry out works to their flat, house or room, at a pre-arranged suitable time and provide information that they may reasonably require.
On a similar note, the Fire Safety Act 2021, which officially passed the parliamentary process on April 29th, brings flat entrance doors within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. Therefore, flat doors from now on will be treated in the same way as all the other fire safety equipment of residential blocks. That is, residents will be obliged to ensure under the Order that the main entry door of their residence meets the required standards of fire resistance and complies with the requirements of BS EN 1634-1:2008 (30 minute rated door / Self closer / Intumescent strips & cold smoke seals) and is subjected to routine inspection to ensure the door is well maintained.
It is residents’ duty to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations on fire safety and it is essential that they act straightway should any repair or emergency requirement arise within their property. Residents should cooperate and coordinate with their managing agent on matters of safety in order to prevent fire incidents.