The demand to assess and successfully manage fire safety within high-rise residential buildings has never been greater. And with 2021 introducing reformed regulations, how is this new age of fire safety shaping up?
For multi-occupied residential buildings, fire safety responsibility is often wrongly shrouded in ambiguity. Only recently, the CEO of Grenfell Tower’s management body passed blame to staff for an outdated building safety plan, of which information on vulnerable residents was 15 years out of date.
This baton-pass type approach simply isn’t effective, or even appropriate for a topic as vital as fire safety. After all, the standards associated with fire safety are by obligation, robust. Yet, for multi-storey and multi-occupied residential buildings in particular, history has uncovered a pitfall of wrong doings and poorly constructed fire safety practices.
With that, the pressures to do better have been mounting, and amidst the whirlwind of reformed conventions this year – consider EU and COVID updates – fire safety has rightly remained high on the agenda. Meaningful strides have been made towards improving fire and building safety, with the government providing a revised £5.1 billion in funding for the removal of ACM cladding in high-rise blocks, and significantly, upon examination of the final report of the Hackitt Review, further amending legislations in a bid to make regulations as airtight as possible.
In April, the Fire Safety Act 2021 (FSA) was introduced, seeking to amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) by improving identification, assessment and enforcement in high-rise residential buildings. The newly reformed act further clarifies the duties that responsible persons must manage in order to reduce the risk of fire within their multi-storey structures, as well as the potential penalties, should those responsibilities be neglected.
Focusing on all components of a building, the new policies cover everything from structure and external walls (including cladding and windows) to the entrance doors to individual flats and the fire doors for domestic, multi-occupancy premises. In addition, the FSA is set to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report, highlighting accountability for lifts, evacuations, fire safety instructions and ensuring flat entrance doors comply with present-day standards.
Crucially, the introduction of the FSA will empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action where necessary, leaving building owners (responsible parties) liable should they fall non-compliant. Considering East London was hit with another major fire incident in a 19-storey residential block only a week after these legislations were introduced, the changes have come at an opportune time.
More recently, the Building Safety Bill (BSB) was introduced to the house of commons on 5th July. As the name suggests, the BSB focuses heavily on enforcing higher safety standards for all residential buildings – also protecting occupants and providing them with a larger platform to voice their concerns. Once again, scrupulous responsibility is at the forefont of the new framework, with improved compliance and tougher penalties linked to the various stages of building design, construction, completion and finally occupation. FSA and BSB combined, there’s simply no room for shortcuts anymore.
Separate to the procedural removal of ACM cladding, attention shifts to what building owners can accomplish internally to improve fire safety standards. Beyond comprehensive risk assessments and evacuation plans, referenced at multiple stages of the reformed FSA is the use of fully compliant, fully tested fire doors. Often found propped open, damaged or poorly maintained, fire doors are a regular sticking point when it comes to fire safety incidents – yet characteristically, ey thare fundamental in keeping people safe in fire situations.
Available in ratings ranging from FD30 to FD120, fire doors and their equipment will provide between 30 to 120 minutes of protection against fire and smoke – but only when fitted, maintained and working correctly. The overhauled regulations have now put an increased pressure on building managers to comprehensively inspect the certification, gaps, seals, hinges and the closing elements of their fire doors – whether main or individual flat entrance doors – to ensure all is functioning suitably.
All dedicated fire doors require a fitted fire door closer (a minimum size 3 is recommended), and when it comes to their maintenance, it’s good practice to perform weekly checks. To ensure the closer (and door) is working as intended, it’s key to release a fire door from a fully open position to ensure it closes into the frame at an appropriate speed. Furthermore, by opening and releasing the door from a 5 degree angle, checks can also confirm the closer is shutting the door onto the latch effectively. Should an internal inspection highlight an operational issue – perhaps from damage to the door and its furniture – building managers must ensure maintenance is carried out quickly and professionally in a conscious effort to keep their doors operating as intended.
Additionally, with certified and compatible ironmongery playing a key role in the operation of fire doors, all hardware and furniture – including the door closer, hinges, intumescent seals, wall sealing, latches, locks and the door leaf – must meet their respective EN classification codes and health and safety standards. With safety inspectors, fire and rescue teams and residents all permitted to raise concerns, the approach to fire safety should always be done to code – from the planning and installation stage right through to maintenance periods. If not, building managers risk falling foul to what the BSB now references as the ‘golden thread of information’, a live digital documentation of a high-risk residential building’s lifecycle, designed to increase transparency and accountability.
It’s clear then that we’re approaching a new age of fire safety for high-rise residential settings, with the newly reformed FSA and BSB – alongside accelerated government spending – paving the way to a brighter, safer future. With this renewed focus, building managers must take the next steps and strive to understand their responsibilities while revisiting the basics of fire safety before taking action of their own.