Ensuring tower blocks are compliant with adequate fire safety measures and have a valid fire risk assessment carried out is critically important to safeguard the welfare of residents and the building itself. A tower block fire can have a devastating impact, spreading rapidly and posing a real danger to life and the structure of a high-rise building.
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, fire safety in tower blocks has become an urgent priority, with legislation changing in the aftermath of the fire. Ensuring buildings which are undergoing maintenance on the exterior, and are equipped with non-combustible fire safe cladding is essential, and compliant with new measures set out in the Building Safety Act that was introduced earlier this year.
Our guide below outlines the current tower block fire safety regulations, plus tips and advice on what measures to take to ensure a tower block is safeguarded from the impact of fire.
Fire safety legislation
The most relevant regulation regarding tower blocks is contained within The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, that mainly deals with commercial buildings and covers residential blocks.
Fire Safety Act 2021
However, the government has introduced an updated piece of legislation across England and Wales called the Fire Safety Act. The act will require any person or persons responsible for multi-occupied residential buildings with two or more sets of domestic premises to update their fire risk assessment. The government has also published guidance on the new Fire Safety Act and how to approach obtaining an updated fire risk assessment.
Updates include an assessment of the building’s structure, external walls, and flat entrance doors and if the building has or should have fire safe cladding. Although a designated person can update the fire risk assessment themselves, it is advised that a suitably competent fire risk assessor is contracted to undertake the assessment. The update will likely require an assessment of materials which make up a building’s external wall system, and having the experience of a professional expert to carry this out will ensure all bases are covered sufficiently.
Fire risk assessment for tower blocks
A person who is designated as being responsible for the tower block and all safety measures must ensure that a fire risk assessment is carried out on an annual basis. This could fall to a landlord, a building management company or a managing agent, who must comply with legislation and ensure this is carried out.
A review of any work carried out should be undertaken and any recommended changes implemented upon the completion of the assessment. A fire risk assessment should carry out checks on the following items:
- Checks for fire signage and if this needs replacing.
- Fire door fittings may need fixing due to wear and tear.
- Checks for sprinkler systems and whether they need to be optimised.
- Tests for fire alarms and smoke detectors to ensure they are operating correctly.
- Tests for emergency lighting.
- Check all fire extinguishers as they may need servicing or replacing.
- Assessment to ensure whether new compliant fire doors are required.
- Checks that all delegated fire wardens have had adequate fire safety training.
Ultimately, a thorough fire risk assessment should point out any fire safety risks and areas of weakness in your fire protection plan and safeguard the building as much as possible in the event of a tower block fire.
Active and passive fireproofing measures
Protecting from the effects of a tower block fire requires both active and passive fireproofing measures. Active fireproofing measures are designed to react effectively to the event of a fire, such as smoke alarms or sprinkler systems. Whereas passive measures are designed to help contain a fire. Below are examples of the best active and passive fire safety measures that should be implemented within a tower block.
Fire escape safety routes
Fire escape routes should be safe and marked with signage that clearly informs everyone in the building where the nearest fire exit is located. Emergency lighting should be installed as a guidance system. In the event of a power cut, this will enable residents and anyone in the building to navigate the building safely. Ensure all routes are cleared of any fire hazards or flammable materials at all times.
Within a tower block, the front door for each individual flat is legally required to be a fire safe door, to ensure the collective safety of everyone inside the building. Adequate fire doors ensure that fire and smoke are prevented from spreading to the communal areas of the block and protect fire escape routes from the effects of fire.
It is also very important that fire doors are always kept shut and not wedged open. Ensure all fire doors are clearly labelled with warnings to users to not leave them open. Fire doors are only useful if they are adequately maintained. They must be durable enough to endure fires for an extended amount of time and strong enough to withstand any wear and tear as a result of daily use. Due to high usage, it is extremely important to have all fire doors maintained regularly and periodically.
Responsibility of residents
Equally, residents should always be informed and reminded of the potential implications changing the front door can have, as changing the door to something not fire safe will increase risk. Current guidance states that doors in tower blocks should be fitted with a self-closing device. it is of paramount importance to seek permission from whoever manages your building before making any alterations. Management companies should seek advice from the designated fire safety team or fire brigade if unsure.
Compartmentation divides a tower block into sections that each have corridors and rooms reinforced with fire-resistant materials. Through this method, the spreading of fire can be contained much more effectively, allowing people more time and opportunity to safely escape in the event of a tower block fire.
An evacuation strategy called the ‘Stay-Put’ policy forms the basis of the compartmentation method. Unless a fire occurs in their flat or within a communal area, residents are advised to remain inside their flat if there is a fire inside the flat of another resident.
Although this is not a legal obligation, the policy is aimed at allowing fire services to carry out their job safely and effectively, without the risk of panic being caused by a mass evacuation.
Smoke detection and sprinkler systems
By law, domestic smoke detectors must be installed in every apartment, along with a fire alarm system in the entire apartment complex. To guarantee that a fire is detected as soon as possible, there should be at least one smoke detector on the escape path and an alarm fitted in every room.
It should be communicated to residents that it is their responsibility to ensure their flat has a working smoke detector fitted at all times. Smoke detectors and sprinkler systems should be installed on each floor of the tower block and tested on a regular basis to make sure they are in excellent working order.
Communicating fire safety procedures
The designated fire warden and person or persons responsible for the safety of the tower block should ensure that all fire safety procedures and warnings are communicated sufficiently to everyone that lives or works inside the tower block.
Sending this out by letter or email on an annual basis is recommended, as legislation and measures may change and adapt in line with government guidance and recommendations as a result of a fire risk assessment.
Fire safety with UK Safety Management
At UK Safety Management, our fire risk assessments are carried out professionally and according to fire safety legislation. Through our extensive fire risk assessment, we can ensure your tower block is safely guarded and complies with fire safety regulations.
Contact us today and receive a quote, or speak to a member of our friendly, professional team who are always on hand to assist with all your fire safety queries.