Fire Precaution in High Rise Buildings

At a number of events I have spoken at I have been asked about Article 14 which related to the fire safety for high rise blocks over 18 metres and in particularaimed to provide guidance for building owners with aluminium composite material (ACM) in their external wall systems, including cladding and insulation.

On 20th January 2020, this document was replaced with a Government published document entitled “Building Safety Advice for Building Owners of Multi Storey, Multi Occupancy residential buildings”. This recent document brings an Expert Panel’s advice together in a single document and supersedes the existing Advice Notes 1 to 22. The advice on the assessment of ACM external wall systems (previously Advice Note 14) has been updated and incorporated.

One principal finding of the new report is that the Expert Panel has significant concerns that consideration is not routinely given to Requirement B4 of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations which requires that “the external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls and from one building to another, having regard to the height, use and location of the building.”The report therefore reiterates the need to assess and manage the risk of external fire spread of buildings of any height. 

Following the tragedy at Grenfell, the Government set up a screening programmeto assist owners with the identification of the type of ACM present on their buildings. The screening is still open and remains free to building owners. Owners who suspect they have ACM should therefore submit samples for testing. 

For new residential buildings of 18 metres or more (or where building work is carried out on existing residential buildings of 18 metres or more), the Government has introduced an effective ban, through an amendment to Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations 2010, on the use of combustible materials in external walls and specified attachments (including balconies, etc.). The ban limits the use of materials to products which demonstrate a specific classification. Details can be found in the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018. 

Where it has been determined that the external wall system does not meet an appropriate standard of safety, building owners should inform their local Fire and Rescue Service and put in place appropriate short-term interim measures. The underlying message is that the removal of unsafe material and action to remediate unsafe wall systems should be carried out as soon as possible. 

Whilst the Expert Panel identified ACMs as the most dangerous cladding system, it also raised significant concerns with some High Pressure Laminate Panels. It is clear that Building Owners must understand the make up of their building and take any necessary remediation works as soon as possible.

Given the significant safety implications surrounding high rise blocks, those involved in risk assessment and remedial works should, according to the expert panel, be a Chartered Engineer registered with the UK Engineering Council with suitable experience in the fire safety of high-rise residential buildings.

If ACM or other potentially dangerous panels are identified, the type of interim measures that may require consideration include:

Check a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been undertaken and comply with any recommendations.

Engage with residents of the building to ensure that they understand the emergency fire procedures.

All residents should be surveyed to identify their ability on vacating the building without assistance

Check the presence and integrity of cavity barriers which should inhibit fire and smoke spread.

Ban the use of barbeques or residents from smoking on balconies. Ensure the escape routes remain free of combustible materials or other debris.

Check that all flat entrance doors, and doors that open onto escape corridors and stairways, are fire-resisting and effectively self-closing

Check all walls that separate flats, plant and store rooms, to ensure there are no obvious routes for fire or smoke spread (e.g. holes where services, such as pipes and cables, pass through walls). 

Check that any smoke control systems, including associated fire detection systems, are operating correctly. 

Check all facilities provided for fire-fighters, including fire-fighting lifts and dry or wet rising mains. If you have ANY concerns you should contact your local fire and rescue service, who will, if they have not already done so, carry out an inspection to ensure functionality. 

Ensure that there is sufficient roadway access and hardstanding for firefighting vehicles attending incidents.

Residents must be advised to ensure all smoke alarms are present and working in their flat; to report concerns about fire safety measures to their landlord. 

As property investors and landlords we must regularly review our property portfolio with fire precaution at the fore of our thoughts. We are under a legal, moral and ethical obligation to provide safe accommodation, which is fit for purpose.