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Although fires in high-rise buildings are relatively rare, when they do occur they can often have severe consequences for the building’s occupants and owners. The recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower in London, in which at least 80 died with dozens more injured, is a case in point, writes Steve Martin, pictured, Head of the Fire and Security Association (FSA) and the ECA’s Head of Technical.
Devastating incidents such as the Grenfell fire do of course raise wider questions about fire safety in these types of residential buildings.
The Building Regulations govern how building owners and managers should oversee a range of work, including the provision of fire and emergency systems (Part B, which came into force in 2002), and the materials used during its maintenance and build. Over the past 15 years, there has been progress on technical standards, some of which has not as yet reflected in the Building Regulations. Most recently, BS 5839:1, which covers non-domestic buildings, is due out in the near future, while a sister standard aimed at homes (BS 5839:6) is being revised. It’s now vital that the experts who have been involved with developing these standards are able to provide guidance and support during the planned review of the Building Regulations, announced following Grenfell.
Stay put policy
Another area that’s always a focal point for queries about fire safety is the ‘Stay Put’ policy that some high-rise building owners enforce if fires break out. This policy encourages residents of flats in close proximity to another apartment where a fire started to remain where they are, as the building’s design should theoretically contain the fire. This approach may seem reasonable, but it fails to take into account the impact refurbishment work can have on the building’s compartmentation, or whether fire detection and alarm systems in communal areas have been downgraded. As a result, given that a number of high-rise buildings have undergone significant refurbishment work since they were originally built, the time has arguably come to review the Stay Put policy – or consider removing it altogether.
Specifying the right contractor
Building owners and managers have a legal and ethical responsibility to specify the right contractors to design, install and maintain an appropriate system. One approach is to specify contractors who have the relevant accreditations – which in the case of fire systems are BAFE SP203-1 and LPS 1014. Another option for clients is to specify membership of a relevant trade association – such as the FSA – in tendering and maintenance arrangements. Regular safety checks undertaken by qualified professionals can also minimise the risk of fires starting within buildings. Gas safety checks in rented homes are already mandated by law every year, and the ECA believes these similar requirements should be extended to electrical safety checks across the rental sector. It’s now vital that residents in high-rise buildings are given peace of mind from a thorough review of the existing regulations, and a commitment by government to ensure that building installation and maintenance work is undertaken regularly by trained professionals.