Last updated: August 27th 2018
Many people throughout the UK live in tower blocks and flats. All flats are required to have a fire risk assessment as well as ensure that the building has a fire safety equipment that complies with UK law.
Most fires that raze down blocks of flats are usually caused by those living in those flats. One main factor of fire in flats is usually tied to carelessness. If residents can be extra cautious and be careful when dealing with anything that can cause a fire, there’d be fewer cases of fires in flats. We will have an in-depth look at some of the causes of flat fires shortly.
Fire risk assessments have been a legal requirement since 2006.
Having adequate fire safety is crucial in protecting the homes and lives of those living in the flats. Flat fires are known to be devastating and cause leave behind fatalities as well as losses. And while landlords or agents have a big responsibility when it comes to fire safety in their own buildings, residents also share in in the responsibility.
That said, residents also need to ensure that they are the brother’s keeper as this can go a long way in ensuring that everyone adheres to the fire safety guidelines available. So, what responsibilities befall both residents and landlords when it comes to fire safety risks for flats in the UK?
Fire Safety Responsibility for Residents
First and foremost, as mentioned, residents play a vital role when it comes to ensuring the security of everyone living in the flat. Residents in this context include both leaseholders as well as tenants. The first responsibility a resident has is ensuring they have the right fire detection equipment such as smoke detectors. Besides having them, they need to ensure they are always in working order.
Smoke detectors in any flat can make the difference in whether the whole block is razed down by fire or the fire department gets a signal warning and reacts immediately to prevent damage. Additionally, before renting a flat, one needs to ensure that the whole black has emergency fire exit doors in case a fire breaks out and that they are easily accessible. Emergency Fire exits can mean the difference between life and death.
Causes of Flat Fires
As mentioned, most flat fires are usually attributed to the careless nature of some residents. These include cigarettes that have not been put off properly and are disregarded and thrown out of windows. Back in 2016, a flat in a 17-storey block of flats almost got razed down by a fire that was believed to be in the living room of a flat on the second floor in Coventry City Centre. The fire department said that the fire was caused by a cigarette and that one man was treated for inhalation.
While in this case there were not many casualties, there have been other instances where people have lost lives and hundreds left homeless. If the fire had continued undetected and the firefighter team called in late, you can only begin to imagine the extent of the damage that would have been caused.
Another cause of fire is overloaded electrical sockets that lead to electrical faults. In the US for example, electrical fires account for 6.3 percent of fires that break out according to the country’s Fire Administration unit.
This translates to close to 24,000 fires. In 7 percent of the fire cases, there was an injured person while in 11 percent of the cases, someone lost their life. While some electrical fires occur due to issues in-house appliances or wiring failures, most of them occur due to mistakes that tenants make by overloading extension cords or electrical outlets.
Overloaded sockets can easily destroy a block of flats and a lifetime’s possessions leading to financial hardship, disrupted lives and incurred costs. There are safety measures that residents can take to ensure that no fire breaks out due to an overloaded electrical socket.
Other causes of Fire
Outdated wiring is another cause of electrical fires in flats. Old homes do not have the wiring capacity needed to shelve the heightened amounts of electrical appliances that average homes use today. These include air conditioners, microwaves, computers, video games and widescreen televisions. Breakers are meant to go off when too much electricity overloads circuits. However, old outdated breaker boxes in most cases usually have worn connectors that rarely work hence overloading the systems and causing an electrical fire.
Other common causes for electrical fires include light fixtures, light bulbs and lamps. Traditional light fixtures and lamps have a certain wattage that is recommended, if you exceed this you have the potential for a fire on your hands.
While placing a piece of paper or cloth over a lampshade may seem innocent, they can actually lead to a fire as the materials usually heat up and ignite. In recent years, LED light bulbs have become more popular than ever, with so many benefits such as their energy efficiency and low operating temperatures, many UK households and businesses are now primarily using LED light bulbs which greatly reduces the fire risk of lighting.
As a tenant, is the building is freehold, you become responsible for ensuring that the front door of the flat is a fire door that is of quality standard. On the other hand, if the building is leasehold, then both the leaseholders and tenants bear joint responsibility of making sure that the flat’s front door is a fire door.
Moreover, as a tenant of any flat, one can undergo training on what to do in the event a fire breaks out. This way, one will be more than equipped on the best way of dealing with a fire breakout.
Managing Agents and Landlords
Of course, the greatest responsibility should be borne by the landlord. This is because any building owner has a say in how their flats will be designed and fire safety needs to be a key priority especially in the common areas or shared facilities within the blocks. These include corridors, stairwells etc. However, in certain tower blocks, there can be a Residents’ Association that selects a member who is responsible for the fire safety of the block.
They are usually known as the ‘Responsible Person’ who is responsible for fire safety in your block’s communal areas. It is the responsibility of such a person to ensure that the flat has a valid Fire Risk Assessment for the building and that it complies with the UK law. Additionally, they need to ensure that the common areas have proper protection from fire and that all residents living in that block of flats are aware of the procedures and policies of the building’s fire safety. According to the Fire Safety Regulatory Reform Order – also known as RRO – it is a legal requirement to have a person that is responsible for the building’s fire safety.
The ‘Responsible Person’ designated for your flats is usually the first person anyone can contact if they want to find out more about the fire safety measures, procedures and policies for your flats or the purpose-built flat blocks. If you live in a flat and have no idea about the flat’s fire safety policies, it is time you looked for the fire safety ‘Responsible Person’.
Fire Safety Risks to Check
There are certain fire safety risks that you can check in the flat you live in to know how well your flat is equipped in the event a fire occurs.
If you do not invest in any other fire safety detector in your home – even though we strongly recommend that you do – at least ensure that your home has a smoke detector. If your flat does not have one already, it is time that you got yourself a smoke detector for every room in your flat if possible. Smoke detectors are designed to act as an early warning in case a fire break out and make it possible for you to react quickly and get you and your family to safety as you call the emergency services.
Additionally, you can get specialists alarms that go beyond the standard alarms. These alarms are designed for those who cannot hear the normal alarms when they go off. The specialist alarms can be placed under the pillows and include vibrating and lights pads.
Fire Resistant Doors
No one ever plans to cause a fire. However, accidents do happen and while we never know when it is important to have certain measures in place such as a fire-resistant door. Fire-resistant doors are usually doors that are rated and used as a form of passive fire protection.
Fire-resistant doors work by preventing the spread of fire from one room to the other especially when the doors are closes. Depending on the material, they usually reduce about 90 percent of the heat from the fire making it safe for those trapped in other rooms to move to a safe area and contact emergency services. It is strongly advisable to have fire-resistant doors in your home in case a fire breaks out.
Know Your Fire Plan
The first thing that anyone moving to a new flat should do is to know or master – if possible – the flat’s fire plan. It is important to know the right exit routes from your flat in the event a fire breaks out. This is information that you cannot choose to forego.
Besides knowing the exit routes, it is crucial that you test them out as this could make a huge difference not only to you but to your family as well. Testing the emergency fire exit routes in your flat enables you to know what might block the path and how to deal with it in case you are fleeing an actual fire. It is not uncommon to have neighbours have prams and bikes at such exits.
Knowing this beforehand could go a long way in saving your life as well as of those around you.
One global requirement by most governments is the need to have a stipulated number of fire extinguishers in any building be it corporate or residential depending on the floor size. While most blocks of flats will always have a fire extinguisher in common areas, it is important to have your own fire extinguisher in your home.
This can easily be used to put out any little fire before it spreads out to other areas in the flat. If, however, you have never seen a fire extinguisher in your building, it is time you contact your agent or landlord.
Fire Risks Assessment for Flats
Every building owner knows that is important to carry out a fire risk assessment for their flats. Certain tenants will never move into a building unless they see the fire risk assessment that has been done on the building. These assessments have been a legal requirement since 2006.
Your landlord or agent has a legal obligation to ensure that they plan for a fire risk assessment that is meant for the communal are only. As such, if you are currently occupying a flat and have no idea of the potential risks that your communal area may pose, you may need to talk to your landlord or agent to get a better understanding.
Additionally, landlords who have not conducted a fire risk assessment should do so by involving the right bodies that are legally acceptable.