Make sure your fire safety provisions are appropriate and up-to-date with this expert advice from Jamie Truscott

The number of people dying each year as a result of fires is declining. That’s a nice upbeat statistic to start with.

It must be assumed that since the introduction of the fire safety order in 2006 that people and organisations that are responsible for the management of fire safety have become used to the idea that the best approach is to be pro-active. But despite all of the statistics it is apparent from our findings on the ground that there is still much that can be done to improve the overall fire safety of properties.

If you are the Responsible Person (or Duty Holder in Scotland) you hold the responsibility for your company’s fire risk assessment by law. A robust fire risk assessment, along with good fire safety management, will help to prevent fires and when they do occur ensure that everyone can escape safely.

Cardinus Risk Management is one the leading fire safety inspectors in the UK. The company is BAFE SP205 Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment scheme to the NSI Gold standard and has a wealth of experience in fire risk assessment and is pleased to share some of its findings and expertise to help you make sure the property you manage is safer and more compliant. So let’s take a quick look at some of the most common problems we encounter and give you some useful advice to help you deal with them.

Test and maintenance of fire safety provisions

52 per cent of assessments found issues with tests and maintenance at a property.

All fire safety systems and equipment need to be maintained in effective working order. It is therefore necessary to have in place arrangements for routine inspection, testing, servicing and maintenance.

The inspection and testing of some items can often be carried out by non-specialist contractors, such as cleaners or property managers, provided they are suitably competent. A competent person can be defined as: “Someone with enough training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to be able to implement these measures properly.”

It is important that there is access to a suitable contractor to follow-up and address deficiencies identified through the testing. In particular it is important to attend a site at short notice to carry out emergency repairs resulting from the tests, for example in the event that a smoke vent will not close or a fire alarm system will not reset.

The most common issues noted with testing and maintenance are:

  • Emergency lighting – no monthly test.
  • Fire alarms – tested from panel only.
  • Smoke ventilation – no monthly test.
  • Fire doors not adequately inspected.
  • Poor or no record-keeping.

It is imperative that any fire safety equipment is maintained in good working order. This ensures that the equipment does not fail when it is needed most.

Cardinus is often confronted with a lack of proof regarding the test and maintenance of fire safety systems and equipment within a premises. The problems arising from this are twofold; the first being that the company is duty bound to make a significant finding recommendation, which can be time-consuming for the responsible person having to clear the issue once it has been checked. Secondly if, when a case goes to court, there is no recorded proof of a competent test and maintenance regime a judge will consider that it was not done at all.

Fire alarm and detection systems

32 per cent of all assessments found issues with fire alarm systems at a property.

A sophisticated fire alarm system or indeed a simple standalone smoke detector is designed with one purpose; to provide early warning of a fire situation to people who may be in danger.

A fire alarm system should not be confused with a fire detection system. The fire alarm system is the one that provides a warning while the fire detection system will not provide an audible warning but will operate other fire protection systems and equipment.

It is always a cause for concern when specified fire alarm systems in residential purpose-built blocks of flats are identified incorrectly. There appears to be, in general, a complete misunderstanding regarding fire alarm types and their appropriate use in certain types of properties.

The most common issues noted with fire alarm systems are:

  • Incorrect specification.
  • Inappropriate types of detector heads.
  • Insufficient test and maintenance.

Fire alarm systems are fundamental in giving an early warning to allow people to escape before a fire becomes fully developed.
During the course of its work, Cardinus often recommends the removal of fire alarm systems from the common parts of residential purpose-built blocks of flats. This can sometimes generate concern from residents and be a costly exercise.

The main issue here is that there has never been a requirement for fire alarm systems in these types of properties and all guidance suggests removal to prevent confusion.

Although purpose-built blocks of flats are not normally provided with communal fire alarm systems, there are exceptions. The most common example is a sheltered housing scheme, but this is a special case, and, even then, a ‘stay put’ policy is normal.

In some blocks there may be fire detection systems installed which will operate smoke ventilation systems, fire door closers and other fire protection equipment. These are not designed to give warning by way of bells and sirens.

Within individual flats, early warning of a fire is an essential component of ensuring that residents can evacuate safely. This is usually achieved by the installation of smoke and heat detectors within the flat.

Fire doors

75 per cent of all assessments found issues with fire doors at a property.

Fire doors are doors that have been specifically designed and manufactured to prevent the spread of fire for a specified duration of time. They are required in almost every building. Their main purpose is to protect escape routes, such as corridors and staircases, thereby allowing people time to escape safely. In most situations, a 30 minute fire door (FD30S) is acceptable unless a higher fire resistance is required which can be anywhere from one hour to three hours or more.

It is almost unheard of to visit a property and not find some issues around fire doors. Issues can be anywhere from residents replacing existing fire doors on their individual flat entrances to a simple lack of inspection and maintenance regimes.

The most common issues noted with fire doors are:

  • Not closing effectively.
  • Poorly fitting into frames.
  • No intumescent strips or cold smoke seals.
  • Plastic letterboxes.
  • Cat flaps or ventilation grilles cut into doors.
  • Residents replacing doors.
  • No periodic inspection.

A fire door is only effective when it forms part of the fire-resisting construction of an existing wall or partition. As soon as the integrity of a fire door is lost it becomes of little or no use as a restriction to the spread of smoke and flame. This will directly affect the safety of people in the building. These problems can usually be simply rectified by a planned protective maintenance programme which identifies and repairs defects.

Other types of fire stopping, Arson, storage and escape route concerns also featured heavily in our data which was taken from a random sample of 100 surveys from the thousands we carried out in 2015. The continual progress being made across the UK in both the residential and commercial sector is both important and welcome. The major issues that have dogged fire safety standards in the past are now under better control. However, for continual improvement we need to make sure we stay diligent in terms of carrying out the appropriate regular safety inspections and look at the information these risk assessments uncover at both a local and national level.

Thinking about booking a fire risk assessment? You can do so at the link.

This article was reproduced from our risk management magazine Connect and it’s jam-packed with brilliant articles written by some of the industry’s leading experts. You can download your copy of this summer’s Connect magazine here.

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