The Grenfell Tower tragedy has brought fire safety to the fore in the social housing sector. In this blog, leading experts at suppliers on the Technical Support Services framework give their advice on how best to approach fire risk assessments
- Understand what type of fire risk assessment you require
It’s absolutely vital for a social landlord to develop an understanding of what type of fire risk assessment they should be specifying.
Commissioning something detailed and intrusive when it’s unnecessary represents poor value for money, while a basic assessment may not give you the coverage and depth required.
There are four types of fire risk assessment:
Type 1 – common parts only (non-destructive)
Type 2- common parts only (destructive)
Type 3- common parts and flats (non-destructive)
Type 4- common parts and flats (destructive)
Types 1 and 3 are the most commonly requested, while 2 and 4 are more in depth and require a degree destructive investigation to examine the fabric of the building.
The type of assessment to be undertaken depends on both the building and its occupants, with higher-risk blocks demanding a more in depth assessment (a high-rise block with over 50s accommodation for example; if of LPS construction will need to be a Type 4).
As a general rule, intrusive assessments don’t need to be repeated if good records are kept, whereas programmed repeat non-destructive inspections are essential to flag up any potential hazards. Either way, your consultant should be able to offer advice on the best way forward.
The initial assessment will determine the subsequent frequency of future assessments by looking at the hazards and risks associated with a particular property, the type of occupancy and its use. An FRA should specify when a review is due.
- Don’t treat a fire risk assessment as an end in itself
A fire risk assessment is not a tick box exercise. Commissioning fire risk assessments and then failing to act on their findings not only puts lives at risk, it’s also a waste of money. Recommendations need to be converted into action where appropriate.
Too often, consultants revisit clients’ properties only to find issues flagged up in previous assessments haven’t been addressed.
There are numerous reasons for this – for larger landlords the sheer volume of properties involved may appear overwhelming and difficult to stay on top of, particularly when budgets are already stretched. Internal issues such as changes of personnel or merger with another landlord can also lead to work being sidelined. Obviously, none of these would be viewed as a ‘reasonable excuse’ if disaster were to strike.
Work with your consultant to ensure you understand the report’s findings and if action is required take advice on the areas to prioritise.
- Get the fire safety message across to residents and staff – they are part of the solution
Gaining access to properties is an issue for landlords that comes up time and time again. It’s an essential part of the fire risk assessment process and also ensures landlords can carry out their own checks.
Importantly, in a recent test case a Croydon Council took a leaseholder to court over her refusal to allow access to a property. She had replaced the flat door with a uPVC one, a combustible material, and the landlord needed to change it back to a fire door. The council won.
In addition, there’s a reason why fire doors are sold as a door set that includes the frame. A quality manufacturer will not supply a door without its accompanying frame because the two have been tested together to ensure compliance. Replacing the door and leaving the frame risks compromising its effectiveness in the event of a fire and invalidates its safety certificate.
Another common issue is the storage of items in communal areas that could represent a fire risk.
It really comes down to communication and education – people often don’t realise what can contribute to increased fire risk.
Does your organisation make residents and staff aware of what to look for and things not to do? If not, one solution is to work with your consultant to produce a list of dos and don’ts that can be distributed.
- Make fire safety an integral part of your asset management strategy
What approach have you taken to date? Are all of your FRAs complete, of the right type, and up-to-date? Have all actions been completed?
A sensible starting point would be to carry out a full stock condition survey to assess the state of the stock. This can be used to inform your asset management strategy and flag up any issues requiring attention, including the general safety of buildings.
Part of the problem may be that information hasn’t been recorded, or updated properly. Some landlords have adopted database systems like Keystone and Qube to record information received from full stock condition surveys and fire risk assessments.
Robust data makes it simpler to keep on top of maintenance and to budget accordingly.
It also allows repairs and maintenance to be tendered on a schedule of rates basis with contractors so it isn’t necessary to go out to tender each time.
The computer database informs the landlord what needs to be done, the contractor carries out the work and it’s recorded on the database.
- A measured approach to fire safety assessments is a win-win
The recent upsurge in demand for fire risk assessments following Grenfell tells its own story. Many landlords are realising that they are not where they need to be and that’s led to a spike in demand.
It’s also created problems in the supply chain with manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand for fire doors. PfH is able to bring some certainty to that equation thanks to its members’ significant collective buying power, its sector expertise and strong relationships with suppliers.
A more measured approach that prioritises and plans works as part of an active asset management strategy offers the best solution for landlords and tenants and facilitates a responsive supply chain.
This means properties are maintained to the necessary standard in a managed manner that gives landlords certainty over their future expenditure and greater ability to secure value for money from their suppliers.
- PfH would like to thank Pennington Choices, Pellings, Michael Dyson Associates, Ridge & Partners and Rand Associates for their help in compiling this article. All five are on lot 1 of the Technical Support Services framework.
- To find out more go to the framework page