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The Secret Risk Assessor - June 2019

23 July 2019

To help you avoid prosecution the secret risk assessor gives an overview of the requirements for fire risk assessments in residential properties and there's a lot more to it than you think.

THE TRAGIC events at Grenfell Tower on 14thJune 2017 have highlighted the woefully insufficient standards of fire safety in residential properties. Recent press releases have suggested that it is unlikely that any prosecution files will be prepared until 2021, and while the investigation continues it would be inappropriate of me to comment on this or any other individual cases.

I will, however, use this article as an opportunity to discuss the requirements for fire risk assessments in residential properties, and to highlight the different types of assessment and where to get suitable guidance to assist you.

Firstly it should be remembered that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 does not apply to single domestic premises, however it does to other types of residential buildings. To simplify this, generally if a home is occupied by one family then a fire risk assessment is usually not required. If the building is leased to separate family's then a fire risk assessment is required, often for the communal areas only but sometimes for the entire building and effort should be made to vie all rooms. A term often used is House of Multiple Occupation (HMO), for example a student style house – to be clear a fire risk assessment is required in a HMO.

Types of fire risk assessment for blocks of flats

Type One – this is generally where risk assessors will begin. It covers a NON DESTRUCTIVE ASSESSMENT OF THE COMMUNAL AREAS ONLY. An assessment of the protection of the means of escape will be required to include a good sample of the flat doors. Attic or roof voids should be accessed along with plant rooms, service risers etc. False ceilings should, where possible, be lifted and the areas above them inspected.

Type Two – when a type one assessment has identified some cause for concern that a fire could spread to another flat from the point of origin then a DESTRUCTIVE SURVEY OF THE COMMUNAL AREAS ONLY will be required.

Type Three – This in a NON DESTRUCTIVE ASSESSMENT OF THE COMMON PARTS AND FLATS, and will include accessing a number of flats to assess the fire protection standards. As with a type one assessment doors and ceiling tiles should be sampled, however the addition of inspecting flats allows the assessor to look for things like compartment walls between flats, the standards of detection and condition of electrical installations.

Type Four – The most laborious and intensive type of assessment cover a DESTRUCTIVE SURVEY OF THE FLATS AND COMMON AREAS.

For any destructive surveys it is common practice for the assessor to take along a specialist contractor who can make repairs after the inspection is completed.

In short, if you are a fire risk assessor who undertakes work in a block of flats you do not just “walk up and down the staircase”.

Of course not all residential buildings are blocks of flats. We in the UK live in a vast array of weird and wonderful buildings, some which are very safe and some which are genuinely death traps.

There are a myriad of guidance documents available, many of which differ greatly in their advice. For example one of the documents highlighted below will recommend fire extinguishers in communal areas, another will strongly advice against them. One will list the exact grade of fire detection and alarm system as per BS 5306 Part 6, another will suggest an alarm system is counter-productive. All the advice (or at least most of it) is perfectly sensible if used in the correct context in the right type of building.

NFCC Guide to Fire Safety in Specialised Housing

  • Buildings or parts of buildings where care is provided due to mobility, mental or cognitive health issues, medical impairments etc

  • Can be purpose built OR converted properties

LGA Guide to Fire Safety in Purpose Built Blocks of Flats

  • Helps with compliance with the RR(FS)O and The Housing Act 2004

  • Also covers flats within Sheltered schemes

LACORS Guidance for Fire Safety in Certain Types of Existing Housing:

  • Single households

  • Shared houses

  • Beds sit style HMO

  • Pre 1991 buildings converted into blocks of flats

  • Sheltered houses with no care provided

  • Small hostels

CLG Guide to Fire Safety in Sleeping Accommodation

CLG Guide to Fire Safety in Residential Care Building

BS 9991 Fire Safety in the Design Management and Use of Residential Buildings or ADB for designing and managing new builds.

As highlighted above there is a lot more to a fire risk assessment in residential buildings than you may have first thought. Hopefully the assumption that these assessments are easy and can be knocked off at a rate of half a dozen a day because it’s just a staircase have been dismissed.

If you undertake a fire risk assessment in buildings where people are asleep, sometimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs (prescription or otherwise), suffer some sort of impairment, are young or very old etc, then if you get it wrong there is clearly a significant risk of fatalities occurring. Please view a fire risk assessment in a residential building as one that requires a large amount of time, and if unsure seek advice from somebody with experience in these types of buildings.

The Secret Risk Assessor is a well-known risk assessor in the fire sector. They have asked for their name to be withheld so they can speak freely about common failings they see in buildings across the UK.

Tel:01342 314300