What are the 5 key fire safety concerns for purpose built blocks of flats?

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An experienced fire risk assessor will treat every premises they inspect as a unique undertaking, not only checking a wide range of different building elements but also their condition and suitability. Although two neighbouring properties can be wildly different in terms of their fire safety, the same methodical approach should be taken in their assessment and many of the same concerns will present themselves during each survey.

Five of the key concerns to be considered in purpose built blocks of flats are:

Means of Escape

In the majority of purpose built blocks of flats, escape will be via one or two main entrance doors on the ground floor. The route to these doors should be kept clear at all times, as the smoke from a fire will significantly reduce vision; turning any tenant items stored in the communal corridors such as bikes and buggies, in to trip hazards and blockages. The final exit doors should ideally open outwards, with any electrical locking devices deactivating upon detection of fire. Easy use manual overrides such as thumb locks should be used, with bolts, chains and internal key locks removed.

Compartmentation

Fire safety can be achieved by restricting the spread of fire. By ensuring that there are no gaps in compartmentation between flats and the escape route, flat to flat, inside any risers, voids or communal areas, then a fire will normally burn itself out before spreading to other parts of the building. The construction of the component building elements such as the ceilings, walls, floors should be suitably fire resistant to enable the fire burn out without affecting the structural integrity of the building.

Flat Entrance Doors

The current best practice is to have FD30S flat entrance doors. FD30S means that the door should be fire resistant for 30 minutes and well fitting with an intumescent strip, smoke seal and a self-closing device. In blocks up to six storeys, flat entrance doors which are notionally 30 minute resistant are acceptable. In blocks above six storeys but less than 30 metres high, flat doors should be upgraded to FD30S levels. In blocks of 30 metres and above, they should be replaced with FD30S doors. All flat entrance doors should be provided with a self-closer as a minimum.

Combustible Materials

Combustible materials should not be stored or allowed to collect in any communal areas. Large amounts of post and junk mail will often collect. Tenants may leave their weekly rubbish outside their flat, or old furnishings they no longer want. Some tenants may install curtains to communal windows in order to make the area more homely. All of these present an increased fire risk and jeopardise the fire resistance levels the building was designed with.

Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting should be provided in blocks above two storeys, or any block where borrowed light is unreliable, such as those with limited windows or near street lighting which is not on throughout the night. Emergency lighting should conform to BS5622 and provide three hours of illumination in the event of a fire.

This list is in no way exhaustive and should only be used as an introduction to some of the more recurrent concerns a fire risk assessor will encounter.

It is the responsibility of what the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO for short) defines as the ‘responsible person’ to make sure that they fulfil their duty of care in regards to fire safety towards any ‘relevant persons’.

In many cases, the ‘responsible person’ will be a company or organisation such as a housing association, private landlord or managing agent. The ‘relevant persons’ will include tenants, workmen, visitors and staff.

For more information about our fire risk assessment services, please contact Pennington Choices on 0800 883 0334 or by email on info@pennington.org.uk

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