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Guide to ‘Fire Safety in Purpose-Built Blocks of Flats’ re-published on Home Office website

25 July 2021

‘FIRE SAFETY in Purpose-Built Blocks of Flats’ – the 193-page guidance document originally scripted and issued in 2011 and formerly hosted on the Local Government Association’s website before its removal last month – has now been re-published online by the Home Office.

This development follows on from a letter sent by Bob Docherty (president of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers) to Lord Stephen Greenhalgh (the Government Minister directly responsible for fire and building safety) encouraging the Home Office to reinstate the guidance as a matter of urgency.

In essence, the document – withdrawn by the Local Government Association due to changes in Government policy and regulation and a feeling that those changes render it outdated – is a guide originally drafted by Colin Todd at C.S. Todd & Associates with a view towards ensuring adequate fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats, regardless of their age.

The guide offers practical advice on how to assess the risk from fire and also manage fire safety in such buildings. It encompasses Case Studies based on the commonly found issues in blocks of flats with suggested fire safety solutions duly outlined.

September last year saw Colin Todd’s consultancy practice confirming that it would be revising the contents of the document as part of the Government’s stated desire to “overhaul” existing Fire Safety Order guidance. The proposed publication date for the revised version is at some point later on this year.

Indeed, the Government expressly states on the Home Office website that, as it stands, “the guidance is no longer comprehensive” and should be read alongside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Consolidated Advice Note as well as the National Fire Chiefs Council’s own guidance on simultaneous evacuation procedures.

Importantly, the information relating to vulnerable persons which is outlined in paragraphs 79.9, 79.10 and 79.11 is being considered by way of a Home Office consultation on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans. That being so, this particular text (which can be found on page 122 of the online guidance document) has been ‘greyed out’ while the consultation process is ongoing.

The Government has commented: “It is widely recognised that many of the aspects [contained in the guidance] regarding fire safety in blocks of flats are still relevant and useful. We think it is important that fire safety professionals have access to this guide.”

Fire risk assessors

The guidance document outlines that: “When upgrading fire precautions, fire protection products and related services should be fit for their purpose and properly installed and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions or a relevant standard.”

It goes on to state: “Third party certification schemes for fire protection products and related services are an effective means of providing the fullest possible assurances, offering a level of quality, reliability and safety that non-certificated products may lack. This does not mean goods and services that are not third party approved are less reliable, but there is no obvious way in which this can be demonstrated. Third party quality assurance can offer comfort, both as a means of satisfying you that goods and services you have purchased are fit for purpose and as a means of demonstrating that you have complied with the law.”

The document details how to select a professional fire risk assessor, explaining that: “The use of registered or third party certificated persons or third party certificated firms to carry out fire risk assessments is one way in which ‘Responsible Persons’ can establish due diligence in compliance with the requirement for a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.”

Further, the publication asserts: “Purpose-built blocks of flats are very different in nature from commercial premises such as offices, shops and factories. In selecting a fire risk assessor, the ‘Responsible Person’ should ensure that the competence of the fire risk assessor extends specifically to the principles of fire safety as they are applicable to purpose-built blocks of flats.”

Stephen Adams, CEO at BAFE, has observed: “It’s imperative that guidance continues to be made available to the public and those people responsible for fire safety in blocks of flats. It’s reassuring that the Home Office is currently undergoing a review of this information. We advise anyone using this document to refer to the additional advice notes made available and to be thorough in their understanding before implementing any new or updated fire safety policy.”

Appendix 3 highlighted

BAFE has also moved to highlight Appendix 3 and its reference to the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council (A3.4): “At the time of publication of this guide, the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council – a broad group of fire industry and business sector stakeholders – is preparing a competency standard for persons who carry out fire risk assessments on a commercial basis. It is anticipated that this will be published by the end of 2011.”

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council did issue its guidance in 2011. That guidance is now in its third iteration and published by the Fire Sector Federation. Access the website https://www.firesectorfederation.co.uk/advice/choosing-a-fire-risk-assessor/ for further information.