Fire safety in social housing - what can we learn?
Ahead of next week's caretakers and estate managers' conference in Solihull, Steve Shoker of West Midlands fire service guest blogs about how we can make sure tenants are as safe as possible.
For landlords and housing providers, ensuring the safety of client groups and tenants may not be as straightforward as it would first seem. This can lead duty holders to feel unsure about the right standard to apply to their premises.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places onus on "responsible persons" to carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment according to hazards, activities, occupancy, size and use of the premises. However, social housing can range from single private tenancies, shared housing, houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) - in all of which the primary legislation would be the Housing Act 2004 - and hostels, hotels, sheltered accommodation and those that provide care or supported living, which would be governed by fire and rescue authorities where there are communal areas.
Some homes are more at risk of fire damage than others. For example, rehabilitation homes which accommodate those recovering from drugs and alcohol can be considered higher risk due to the effect of alcohol or drugs on people’s ability to react to a situation or fire incident.
Equally, students living in a shared house can be considered vulnerable, due to limited life experience and understanding of dangers with cooking, smoking, candles or safe use of electrical equipment.
If there are communal activities that occur between individuals such as routine cleaning, shared cooking, repairs and maintenance, (or reporting of such faults to the owner or landlord), routine servicing of gas and electrics, then this limits potential hazards and the risk of a fire starting.
In accommodation such as HMOs, residents may not be familiar with each other, may only share a bathroom or kitchen but no living areas and any maintenance or cleaning may be considered someone else’s responsibility. This for example, could allow a build-up of grease and fat in hobs or grills or electrical faults to go unnoticed, and could give potential for a fire incident to occur.
What can we do?
So what of the solutions to combat such risks? A suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment should help to determine what the risks are and what will be required to minimise such risks.
For example, consider alerting people at the earliest opportunity of a fire with the use of an appropriate fire detection alarm system serving communal areas and possibly other areas too.
Escape stairways and routes may be required to be enclosed in fire resisting construction. This may mean having suitable fire doors, fire resistant walls and floors and fire stopping any gaps where service works or pipes may pass through these walls or floors.
In places where there is limited or no natural lighting at night, emergency lighting may need to be provided. In hotels or hostels, or where people may not be familiar with the premises, emergency exit signage may be required to direct people to an appropriate fire exit.
With 63 per cent of fires deaths occurring in dwellings in England between April 2014 and March 2015, the need to recognise the dangers of fires in social housing suggests more can be done to educate responsible persons of their duties to provide safer housing.