Fire safety guide for council owned flats
This guide sets the standard of fire safety we require for the buildings we let and details the necessary fire safety arrangements we will make.
The council takes its responsibilities for fire safety very seriously in all the buildings that it owns and manages, as taking the right kind of precautions against fire can mean the difference between life and death so I am very pleased that this guide specifically for flats has been produced.
Each one of us should do what we can to protect ourselves from the dangers of fire and the council will do its part by stating the standard of fire safety it requires for its buildings and implementing the necessary fire safety arrangements. We will also ensure that our managers of these buildings will maintain the standards set but I also strongly urge the persons living in them to abide by the rules we have set to better protect themselves and their neighbours from the consequences of fire.
Roz Millership Head of Housing
This guide has been produced specifically for the blocks of flats owned by the council and is based on the fire safety risk assessments carried out on each building. Although the council recognises its legal duty with regard to risk assessments is limited to the communal areas only it has extended the recommendations made in this guide to include the living areas of the flats as these potentially present the highest risk of fire occurring. The guide also makes reference to those flats within blocks that have been purchased privately as they remain integral to the fire safety of the building as a whole.
The primary principle adopted in this guide is to protect life with consideration of the following principles of fire safety;
- avoidance of the outbreak of fire
- provision of escape routes which are protected from fire and smoke to allow occupants to turn their back to the fire and leave the building safely
- early detection and warning of fire to occupants
- limitation of the development and spread of fire
- containment of fire and smoke to the area of origin
- management of fire safety
The guide has been written by the council in-house Fire Safety Team and in accordance with its Fire Safety Policy has been approved at board level and the responsibility for its implementation and monitoring has been assigned to the Head of Housing.
The following is a brief overview of the law relating to purpose built blocks of flats:
Housing Act 2004 Part 1
The Act requires the council to inspect premises under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and fire safety is one of the 29 matters taken into consideration
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
This Order covers with few exceptions all non- domestic premises and stands as the primary legislation for fire safety and reflects the duties and approach contained within the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. It covers some significant specific fire issues in detail including especially the duty of 'responsible persons' to take 'general fire precautions' and the need to conduct fire risk assessments
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
This Act provides the duty for Occupiers having overall control of premises to ensure the safety of persons while on the premises
Building Regulations 2000
These Regulations provide the standards of design and construction of buildings to achieve reasonable fire safety and fire resistance. Part B of the regulations deals with the main fire safety requirements for all buildings.
The council fully accepts its responsibilities to take all reasonable measures to prevent the occurrence of fires in the buildings it owns and to ensure as far is reasonably practical the safety of the occupants and visitors in the event of fire occurring on these premises.
The occupants of flats both tenants and those privately owned also have responsibilities in relation to fire safety. These responsibilities will be detailed in the tenancy agreement and as a covenant to the title deeds when a flat is sold. These responsibilities will make particular reference to the fire integrity of the building in that no alteration to property may be made without written approval first from the council.
The effects of the fire safety arrangements contained in this guide can be compromised if the occupants of the flats are unaware of the significance of the fire safety arrangements provided, of their own role with regard to fire safety and of the appropriate actions to take in the event of fire. The council will therefore ensure the occupants of all flats receive the necessary information on fire safety and that it is updated as necessary. The following sub-sections provide guidance on the information that should be provided.
Maintenance of escape routes
In the event of an outbreak of fire persons in flats should be able to evacuate the premises by routes safe from fire and smoke and be free from any obstruction. This can only be achieved if escape routes are fire sterile, fire resisting doors are kept closed and final exit doors are readily useable at all times. The following precautions will be put in place and maintained:
- all escape routes must be clear
- all escape routes and communal areas must be kept free of storage
- no floor covering such as carpet, rugs and door mats should be present in the communal areas unless provided and fitted by the council or if provided by the residents approval must be gained first from the council
- doors on escape routes must be kept closed
Fire prevention measures are a key element in the fire safety of flats and involve both the actions of the council and the occupants of the flats. It involves the identification and elimination of potential fire hazards both inside the flats and in the communal areas and the establishment of good house keeping practices. The following fire prevention measures will be put in place:
- disposal of waste - the council will ensure the arrangements are in place for the regular collection of waste and that suitable containers are provided for the storage of waste pending removal. Waste containers must never be stored in escape routes
- when ever any storage of goods in the communal areas is identified the council will notify the owner if known that they must remove the goods. If the owner does not remove the goods or they cannot be identified the council will immediately remove the goods and after a period of 30 days they will be disposed of. For this policy to become effective the occupants of flats must be made aware of the dangers of storage and encouraged to report all incidents immediately to the council.
- where some flats have balconies excessive storage on the balcony will create a risk of fire spread to other flats up and along the outside of the building. To prevent this only minimal storage will be allowed and the erection of shed type buildings on the balcony will be prohibited.
- services - the services in a building can cause or contribute to fire and arrangements will be made for regular checking of the electrical, gas installations and heating systems in the building.
- maintenance Work - building work, decorating and maintenance can also give rise to an increased risk of fires. The council will control and manage all such work especially when contractors are involved and will ensure a risk assessment is carried out before work commences, escape routes are not blocked, hazardous materials and equipment are controlled and the occupants of the flats affected are kept informed.
- inspection of fire safety arrangements - if the fire safety arrangements provided are allowed to deteriorate or occupants of flats fail to comply then fire safety will be compromised. To ensure this does not happen an inspection of the communal area will be carried out by the council every six months and all defects rectified. The occupants will also be encouraged to report immediately any defects noticed by them to the council.
Fire safety advice to occupants of flats
For all aspects of fire safety and prevention to be fully effective all occupants of flats must be familiar with the role they have to play. Fire safety and the actions to be taken in the event of a fire occurring must be clearly understood by everyone using the building. Occupants should familiarise themselves with the fire protection arrangements that have been provided in the building and comply with all instructions given by the council. A booklet has been prepared by the council for all occupants which gives advice on fire safety, see Appendix 1.
Fire evacuation information to occupants of flats
If an occupant discovers a fire in their flat or in the communal areas of the building or is alerted by the smoke detector in the flat it is important for their safety and others that they know exactly what to do in regards to calling the fire service, tackling the fire and evacuating from the building. Appropriate advice will be provided by the council to every occupant in the form of a laminated notice with the recommendation that it should be prominently displayed in the flat, see Appendix 2
The flats owned and controlled by the council are either 2 storeys or 3 storeys being purpose built non combustible construction with self contained units for general needs accommodation. They all have one stairway with no lifts and are classed as low rise. The risk assessment carried out by the council in accordance with the Regulatory Fire Safety Order 2005 recognised that a fire could occur anywhere in the building and because of this the council takes the view that its responsibility should go beyond its statutory duty under the Order, which requires only the communal areas of the building to be included in the risk assessment. This guide therefore takes into consideration the impact a fire within a flat could have on the other occupants of the building which the council considers to be a significant enough risk extending its responsibilities for fire safety to the individual flats.
Fire resistance standards
Each block of flats complies with Building Regulations requirements in that ' a building shall be so designed and constructed that there are adequate means of escape in case of fire from the building to a place of safety outside of the building, capable of being safely and effectively used'. This means that in each building there will be a minimum of 30 minutes fire resistance between each unit and the dedicated escape stairway between each floor will be protected by being sited within a fire resisting enclosure. This protected route will also provide a minimum of 30 minutes fire resistance including any screens and or doors forming the staircase enclosure. The lining of the walls and ceiling will also meet the standard of Class O which is detailed in British Standard 476 Part 1 as the degree at which flame spreads across the surface of lining material. The type of material used for Class O is inorganic such as concrete, metal and plaster.
Part B of the building Regulations which deals with the main fire safety requirements also makes reference to providing windows suitable for fire escape. Although there is a programme of works in place to insure the windows in every flat comply with this requirement the council takes the view that they should not be considered as part of the means of escape arrangements but regarded instead as 'rescue windows' to be used by emergency services or members of the public to pitch a ladder to as a last resort to assist escape from the building
Doors on escape routes
In addition to the 30 minute fire resisting self closing doors mentioned above along the fire escape route there will be three other types of doors giving onto the fire escape route. These are described separately below and will include the final exit door, doors to storage and utility cupboards and the doors to flats.
Final exit door
As this door also has to provide security for the building all exit doors will be fitted with a locking device that requires a key to open when entering the building but from the inside it must be operated without the use of a key.
Storage and Utility rooms
Where a purpose built storage cupboard is provided generally for the storage of cleaning materials or a utility cupboard for electric and gas consumer mains intake these doors will be half hour fire resisting with a notice on them 'Keep Locked'. No storage by residents will be permitted in the store cupboards and no storage at all in the utility cupboards.
Front door to flat
As the walls of the flat form the boundary with the communal area and have a minimum 30 minutes fire resistance the front door is integral to that fire resistance and to effectively ensure that the communal area of the landing provides appropriate and sufficient means of escape the council will upgrade all the front doors to flats of tenants and private owner's to half hour fire resisting self closing doors with intumescent/smoke seals. As previously stated no alterations may be made by occupiers, including private owners that may affect or negate the fire integrity of the means of escape. Where doors have been replaced by non fire resisting ones the council as part of its programme of upgrading the fire safety arrangements will liaise with occupants regarding replacing these non fire resisting doors with fire resisting doors.
Self contained smoke alarms
The fire safety risk assessment concluded that as the communal areas of the building will be kept clear of all storage the risk of a fire starting will be very low and will not require automatic fire detection. As the greater risk of fire is considered to be within the flats the council has decided to provide and fit a smoke detector in every flat. The detector will be the mains operated self contained type wired to a separately fused circuit at the consumer board. The smoke detector will normally be located between the sleeping areas and rooms of high risk these being the kitchen and the lounge which generally the internal hall way will be the most effective place to site the detector. In some circumstances the layout of the flat will necessitate the occupants having to pass or go through these high risk rooms in order to exit from the flat. In these circumstances consideration will be given to providing an additional detector to the room of risk or fitting a fire resistant door. The council will regularly inspect each detector and the occupier of the flat would be responsible for reporting any defect to the council immediately.
The 3 story blocks of flats will be provided with emergency lighting of the non- maintained type capable of illuminating the landing on each floor level and the stairway. This lighting will be inspected and maintained by the council in accordance with the manufacturers instructions
Both 2 storey and 3 storey blocks of flats must be provided with facilities for occupants to be able to turn on normal lighting during the hours of darkness in the communal areas to enable them to move safely within the fire escape routes. Where press button slow release lighting switches are provided there should be adequate lighting duration to facilitate escape in the event of fire from the furthest point away from the final exit door.
Taking into consideration all the blocks of flats are regarded as low rise and having single staircases and the occupants will be familiar with the layout there is no requirement to provide emergency exit and directional signs. To make it clear that the council operates a 'No Smoking' policy in all its buildings No Smoking signs will be prominently placed on all floor levels.
Rooms containing refuse chutes or rooms provided for the storage of refuse should be assessable directly from the exterior of the building. Internal access to these rooms can only be by way of a protected lobby.
The standard of fire safety arrangements for all 2 storey and 3 storey blocks of flats will include:
- Protected escape route to the open air
- All escape routes to be free from obstruction and storage
- The front door to all flats having half hour fire resisting with intumescent/smoke seals
- Self contained mains operated smoke detector provided to every flat
- Emergency Lighting provided for 3 storey blocks of flats for escape routes and general lighting for 2 storey blocks of flats
- Fire safety information provided to all occupants
- Fire Safety Inspection of each building carried out at 6 monthly intervals
- No alterations by occupants allowed that will effect or negate the fire safety arrangements
This leaflet has been produced to give you the fullest information on the fire safety features of the building and the rules that we have put in place to prevent the occurrence of fire also fire safety advice to keep you, your family and neighbours safe from fire. All of the information in this leaflet has been endorsed by the Essex Fire and Rescue Service.
Your building has been designed and built with fire safety in mind. The walls and doors between flats, stairs and corridors are specially designed to resist fire and stop the spread of smoke. The stairway is also protected so that in the unlikely event of a fire threatening your safety you can turn your back on the fire and walk to safety from the building.
Although every thing has been done to make the building as safe as possible from fire a tremendous amount still relies on the commitment of residents to think constantly about fire safety, we therefore strongly urge you to take the time to read this leaflet carefully and put into practice the advice given, some of which is compulsory either because it is a legal requirement or required by the council.
Inside your flat
As in any home following basic safety rules in your day to day activities will greatly reduce the risk of a fire in your flat. A little time spent looking around for fire hazards could prove to be time well spent.
The room that presents the highest risk is your kitchen where you should check for the following:
- is your kitchen organized to prevent items such as tea towels and paper rolls coming into contact with your cooker when it is switched on
- only use the cooker for cooking and never for heating or drying
- if you use a chip pan never fill it more than half full with oil or fat, and
- never leave it unattended with the heat turned on. If you have a chip pan fire, don't move it and don't throw water on it, turn off the heat and, if safe to do so, smother the flames with a damp cloth, fire blanket or the chip pan lid and then leave it to cool for at least half an hour.
- take care if you need to leave the kitchen whilst cooking, be safe take pans off the heat or turn them down to avoid risk
- don't put anything metal in the microwave
- keep your oven, hob and grill clean and in good working order as a build up of fat and grease can easily ignite
Another common cause of fire is electrical faults so the things you need to check are:
- make sure all your electrical appliances have the British or European safety mark
- check that you use the correct rated fuse to prevent overheating
- don't overload, try to keep to one plug per socket and remember extension leads generally will be limited to 13 AMPs
- look out for any signs of damage to plugs and wiring and replace if found to be damaged
- keep electrical appliances clean and in good working order to stop them causing a fire and don't attempt to repair them unless you are confident you know how to do so
- be very careful when using portable heaters which include those that use other forms of energy. Make sure they are secure, clear from materials that can burn and if they do use paraffin or bottled gas ensure the storage of the fuel is safe
An obvious cause of fire is naked flames which would include cigarettes and candles, if either of these is present in your flat you should follow simple rules like:
- use a proper ashtray and don't leave cigarettes, cigars or a pipe lying around as they can easily fall over and start a fire
- ensure you have properly put your cigarette out and disposed of it carefully
- never smoke in bed and take extra care if you are tired, taking prescription drugs or drinking alcohol as you may fall asleep in the chair whilst smoking
- keep lighters and matches securely out of reach of children
- make sure candles are secured in a proper holder and away from materials that may catch fire
- put candles out when you leave the room and use a snuffer as its safer than blowing them out as it prevents sparks flying
- never leave children alone with candles
Having looked at all the areas of risk there are two features provided in your flat that will give you added protection. The council have fitted a smoke detector to give you early warning of a fire starting and a half hour fire resisting front door to restrict the spread of fire.
A self contained smoke detector wired to the consumer board with a battery backup has been fitted in your flat. This detector will give you early warning of fire by an audible sound and because it is connected permanently to the electric supply there is very little you need to do to look after it except test it regularly and report any defects to the council. You will be given instructions on how to carry out a regular test when it is installed and the council will service it every year. It must also be stressed that if your smoke alarm sounds never assume it is a false alarm, act immediately and check the flat for any signs of fire.
Half hour fire resisting door
A fire resisting door has been fitted to the front door of your flat to protect you should there be a fire directly outside your flat. Not only is this door fire resisting it also has a smoke seal around the edge to prevent the passage of smoke into your flat. This means that if there was a fire outside your flat that prevented you from leaving the building safely you would still be safe in your flat until the arrival of the fire service. Because this door prevents the passage of fire and smoke into your flat it also prevents fire and smoke in your flat escaping and endangering others, this doubles the protection these doors provide to everyone
For these doors to remain effective it is vital that they are maintained therefore you must not exchange your door for a different type or alter it in any way, for example by cutting a cat flap into it or cause damage to the smoke seal, you must also report all defects to the council.
Outside of your flat
To leave the building safely in the event of a fire; the landing area and the staircase form a protected escape route. The floor, walls and ceiling are made from non- combustible material and each level is protected by fire resisting doors. For this dedicated escape route to remain effective it must be kept free from storage and combustible material, this means that all occupants must comply with the following rules:
- to ensure the escape route is kept clear at all times no storage is allowed in the communal areas
- the erection of any structure for the purpose of creating a storage area in the communal area is prohibited
- to remove the risk of fire starting or spreading within the escape route no combustible, flammable or explosive materials can be stored or temporarily left.
- where fire resisting doors are provided they must be kept in the closed position
- to ensure that escape routes are always kept free from obstruction by excessive storage or the presence of combustible, flammable and explosive materials it would be helpful if residents would advise the council if they become aware of any storage so that it may be removed thus maintaining a safe environment for all residents.
- the council operates a non smoking policy in the communal areas of all its buildings therefore cigarettes, cigars and pipes must be carefully extinguished before entering the building
- the council will regularly inspect the escape route but again for your safety if you notice any damage to doors, screens and the staircase it should be reported immediately to the council
Often when fire breaks out so does confusion and error. If you have a well practiced fire evacuation plan you will be better able to deal with an emergency situation and protect your family by knowing what you are going to do in the event of a fire. Your plan should include the following:
- make sure everyone including friends and relatives who may be staying with you knows exactly what to do
- keep your door keys where everyone know where to find them and make sure your door is not difficult to open
- close all the doors behind you as you leave
- if you have time take a coat with you especially at night and in the winter
- ensure you have all your family with you, keep together and give clear instructions on what to do
- if you are able warn other residents by pounding on their door as you pass
- move quickly to the outside of the building but don't run unnecessarily.
- phone the fire service as soon as possible and give all the information you can
- do not re-enter the building until the fire service give permission
What to do if you discover a fire
- Only tackle the fire if it is small and you are not putting yourself in further danger
- Warn everyone to leave
- Don't waste time collecting valuables
- If there is smoke keep low below the smoke where the air is clearer
- Before you open a door check if its warm, if it is, don't open it, fire is on the other side
- Call the fire service on 999 as soon as you are clear of the building
- When the fire service arrive tell them what you know about the fire and building
What to do if your escape is blocked
- If you can not get out, get everyone into one room with a window and a phone
- Block the bottom of the door with carpet/bedding open the window and call HELP FIRE- remember help will be near and you will be protected for some time
- If you are on the ground floor or first you may me able to escape through the window, don't jump instead lower yourself and use bedding to cushion your fall
What to do if your clothes catch fire
- Don't run you will make the flames worse
- Lie down and roll around, this makes it harder for the fire to spread
- Smother the flames with a heavy material like a blanket or coat
- Remember - Stop, Drop and Roll