Landlords: Choosing a Fire Risk Assessor for Blocks of Flats, Who will You Trust?

(Edited to add: This one day workshop co-composed by me and Jane Eyles demonstrates simple but meaningful co-working; bringing tenants, residents and landlords together to improve fire safety:

https://www.tpas.org.uk/tpas-events/show/252)

 

Thanks to Martin Hilditch for prompting me to write this, with his insight piece for the excellent Inside Housing.

 

I started writing on this subject, to my landlord, a number of years ago. I live in a 23 storey social housing block with a single escape staircase and am a former Fire Safety Officer with GMFRS, of course I was bound to raise my concerns but never in my wildest dreams did I realise that my words were falling on deaf ears of building managers that were in fact woefully bad at managing fire safety.

Landlords didn't want to know and having become entirely accustomed to completely ignoring tenants, having normalised what 
Baroness Doreen Lawrence correctly referred to as "institutional indifference", they largely disregarded concerns of people like me and ED Daffarn, he wrote the in the blog of Grenfell Action Group in November 2016 that predicted a catastrophic event:

"The Grenfell Action Group predict that it won’t be long before the words of this blog come back to haunt the KCTMO management and we will do everything in our power to ensure that those in authority know how long and how appallingly our landlord has ignored their responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their tenants and leaseholders. They can’t say that they haven’t been warned!"

Still now, sixteen months after the horrendous fire at Grenfell Tower that saw a level of building management so dangerously incompetent that it cost the lives of 72 people, many landlords haven't grasped an understanding or sought the correct level and type of safety and fire safety advice.

Still now they try and guess their way through the process with their focus fixed on the pursuit of the cheapest possible solution, not understanding the plain and simple difference between a person qualified to assess a "low risk workplace" and one that's suitably skilled to assess more complex or higher risk premises. High risk premises such as those that have an array of interwoven passive and active fire protection factors that are absolutely necessary if you're going to suggest that people remain in the building when a part of it is on fire. You cannot divorce a staircase and some corridors from the rest of a residential tower block and pretend that it is a low risk workplace. You should absolutely not ignore the fact that it's a crucial part of a building that people sleep in.

 

Buildings that people sleep in, that hundreds of people might die in if there is a fire, are not low risk. They never are and never have been.

There's nothing ordinary or low risk about telling people to stay in a building that is on fire either. It doesn't happen in the shops you visit, it doesn't happen when you go somewhere socialising or for entertainment and it doesn't happen in your workplace. Even if you happen to be working in one of these blocks of flats your instructions are to escape if the fire alarm goes off. Whether it's appropriate to do so for one particular group of people in a particular type of dwelling is a subject for another blog.

Landlords will be pleased to know that there is guidance on the issue of choosing fire risk assessors, it was written some years ago to assist responsible persons, or duty holders, to choose a fire risk assessor. It appropriately entitled 
"A Guide to Choosing a Fire Risk Assessor".

If you are a landlord please bear in mind, regardless of how much you think you know, you actually know next to nothing about fire safety.

Fire is a science and fire safety is a deeply complex subject that's knitted together using architectural design, a wide variety of building materials, complex and varied construction techniques and scientifically arrived at fire engineered solutions. Be mindful that a building with dozens or even hundreds of men, women and children sleeping in it is no place for you to be budget conscious and cut corners. Your primary duty and responsibility above all else is to protect the people in your buildings from the dangers of badly managed safety systems.


Talking of systems... fire risk assessments are part of a Health and Safety Management System that is designed mitigate risks and to self-improve year on year. The HSE Plan, Do, Check, Act approach is that most commonly used by UK Health and Safety professionals. Done well it's a great system and it works.

What's that, you haven't got a functional Health and Safety Management System that's independently audited and has your Fire Risk Assessment processes integral to it?

 

Please, pull your socks up and get on with it. If you want some help, give me a call.

 

A Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor:
A guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor

A Type 1 FRA carried out at Stretford House, a tower block in Manchester, in 2013:

A Type 1 FRA (2013) for Stretford House, a Tower Block in Manchester.

A Type 3 FRA for the same tower block carried out by an underqualified assessor in 2017:

A Type 3 FRA (2017) for Stretford House, a Tower Block in Manchester.

A Type 4 FRA for the same tower block carried out by a properly qualified Fire Engineer in 2018:

A Type 4 FRA (2018) for Stretford House, a Tower Block in Manchester.