The third piece of advice given by the government in the event of building cladding likely to be or not compliant is ~ inform your residents. And our view at 2 Rivers ~ don’t do it with just a note on the notice board ~ engage with residents to ensure they fully understand the emergency fire procedures in the building, particularly the meaning of “stay put.”
In our experience too many managing agents rely on the notice board or their resident website portals and they expect and put all of the responsibility to become informed, onto the resident. This is poor customer service and frankly not good enough. Face to face meeting by the agent’s property manager with the directors if an RTM/RMC or Resident Association, is the least they should do. If neither of these is in place, meet with as many of the residents as possible, especially those who are known and liked on their site to try to spread the word. Where you do put your notices, make sure they are accurate.
Among the things to bring to residents’ attention:
- Check that at ground level or on balconies, there are no combustible materials e.g. storage of refuse in the vicinity of the cladding. Ensure there are measures to prevent combustible materials in such locations e.g. by temporary barriers or instructions to residents. Instruct residents they must not have any barbeques on any balcony.
- Check that all flat entrance doors and doors that open onto escape corridors and stairways are fire resisting and effectively self-closing against any resistance of a latch (or, for example, in the case of plant rooms or cupboards, are kept locked shut). For guidance on these doors, consult the Local Government Association guidance on fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats. Click here for this website. In general doors that were deemed to be fire-resisting at the time of construction of the block will be satisfactory. Replace any non-fire-resisting doors (such as non-fire-resisting upvc doors) immediately with doorsets (i.e. doors and frames) that are third party certificated as providing at least 30 minutes fire resistance.
- Check all walls that separate flats, plant and store rooms, etc from escape routes 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 and to be set up to fight any fire externally.
- Check that insulation or other materials that form the façade meet all relevant standards.
If the building is protected by an automatic sprinkler system (or equivalent fire suppression system) you might not need to take any further interim measures before replacement of the cladding. If the building is not protected by a suitable suppression system you must consider the need for interim measures. The measures adopted need to be based on an assessment of the risk by a competent person, but the following must, at least, be considered:
- Residents to be advised to ensure all smoke alarms are present and working in their flat; to report concerns about fire safety measures in the building (e.g. presence of combustible materials in escape routes) to their landlord and, understand the purpose of any interim measures being taken.
- Closure of car parks in which a vehicle fire could impinge on cladding.
- Provision of a temporary communal fire alarm system, comprising smoke detectors in circulation areas and plant rooms, and fire detectors (possibly heat detectors, rather than smoke detectors) in conjunction with fire alarm sounders in each flat. This will enable the entire block to be evacuated simultaneously in the event of fire. This option is unlikely to be suitable for tall blocks, in which a large number of people would need to use escape routes at the same time. The system may compromise a wireless system, using radio to link devices.
- Provision of a fire watch by appropriately trained patrolling security officers or wardens.
- In the case of the most serious risk, consideration must be given to moving all residents out of the block until satisfactory remedial work has been done.
All good advice from the government, a lot of work for managing agents, but the fire at Grenfell is the wake up call we all got to tighten up, adopt and continue robust practices in fire health and safety.