Fire Safety

Fire safety design in new blocks of flats is governed by the Building Regulations 2010, but, once a block is occupied, guidance provided by the Local Government Association  guide: Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats.

The guide is intended to meet the needs of housing providers and enforcing authorities for guidance tailored to purpose-built blocks of flats. These buildings are only a small part of the scope of other guidance documents. The document is intended to assist responsible persons to comply with the The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) and the Housing Act 2004. Accordingly, it is expected that enforcing authorities will have regard to the guide.

The guide contains the following advice:

Fire Notice statements

“Stay Put” or evacuate.

The general advice is that residents of other flats should “Stay put” rather than evacuate unless directed to do so or it is clear that they are in danger.  The guide states that when a fire occurs within one dwelling (or, less likely, in the common parts), it is normally safe for other residents to remain within their own flat. This principle is undoubtedly successful in an overwhelming number of fires in blocks of flats. In 2009-2010, of over 8,000 fires in these blocks, only 22 fires necessitated evacuation of more than five people with the assistance of the fire and rescue service. An example of a Fire Action notice is available here.

Fire detection and alarms

The guide states that smoke alarms within individual flats should be adopted and installed in accordance with BS 5839-6.

In ‘general needs’ blocks designed to support a ‘stay put’ policy, the guide makes it clear that it is unnecessary and undesirable for a communal fire alarm system to be provided. There has never been any requirement under Building Regulations, local acts or bye-laws to install a communal fire alarm system in a purpose-built block of flats, nor is there any such requirement today under the Building Regulations 2010. A communal fire detection and alarm system will inevitably lead to a proliferation of false alarms. This will impose a burden on fire and rescue services and lead to residents ignoring warnings of genuine fires.  A fire alarm system ought to be provided only in a building in which some control can be achieved over the occupants to ensure that they respond appropriately. For most blocks of flats, it would be unrealistic to expect this. Nor is it necessarily desirable that evacuation should take place from areas remote from the fire, unless and until these areas themselves become threatened by the fire.
In view of the above, only in unusual circumstances will a communal fire detection and alarm system be appropriate for a ‘general needs’ purpose-built block of flats.

Fire detection and alarm systems are not normally provided in the common parts of blocks of flats (with the exception of sheltered housing schemes). This has been the benchmark standard for many years (see Appendix 1 of the guide) and continues to be the case for new blocks of flats under the current guidance in Approved Document B.

Fire Safety signs

The guide states that:

The normal access and egress routes within a block of flats do not usually require fire exit signs to assist residents and visitors to make their way out of the building in the event of fire.
Flats with a single staircase, regardless of the number of floors, would, for example, not usually require any fire exit signage.

In general, ‘Fire Door Keep Locked Shut’ signs should be provided on:
• the external face of doors to store rooms
• electrical equipment cupboards
• any ancillary rooms located within the common parts.
In general, ‘Fire Door Keep Shut’ signs should be provided on both faces of fire-resisting doors forming part of the protection to the common escape routes and on cross-corridor fire doors. However, this does not apply to flat entrance doors.

Lighting on Escape Routes

The guide states that:

Adequate artificial lighting and, where necessary, emergency escape lighting should be provided in common escape routes, such as corridors, lobbies and stairways, to enable residents and visitors to make their way safely out of the building.
It is not necessary to provide escape lighting in small blocks of flats of no more than two storeys, with adequate levels of natural or street lighting (borrowed lighting). However, emergency escape lighting should be provided within all common escape routes, including, where necessary, external stairways, balconies and roof level escape routes.
Where borrowed lighting is not reliable, e.g. street lighting switched off during part of the night, emergency escape lighting may be required even in two storey blocks. Although many existing blocks of flats may not have emergency escape lighting, the likelihood of loss of normal lighting within escape routes, as a result of fire, at a time when residents may need to use the escape routes, is very low. Therefore, the installation of emergency escape lighting, particularly in low-rise blocks, is unlikely to be a high priority compared to other improvements, such as fitting self-closing devices on doors. However, other considerations, such as the height of the building and inadequate normal lighting may dictate the urgency with which emergency escape lighting should be installed.
Emergency escape lighting should conform to the recommendations and requirements of the relevant parts of BS 5266. It should provide illumination for three hours in the event of power failure.
One or more test switches should be provided, so that the emergency escape lighting can be tested every month by simulating failure of the normal power supply to the luminaires without the need to isolate normal lighting circuits. An example of a test sheet is available here.

Fire fighting equipment

It is not normally considered necessary to provide fire extinguishers or hose reels in the common parts of blocks of flats. Such equipment should only be used by those trained in its use. It is not considered appropriate or practicable for residents in a block of flats to receive such training.  In addition, if a fire occurs in a flat, the provision of fire extinguishing appliances in the common parts might encourage the occupants of the flat to enter the common parts to obtain an appliance and return to their flat to fight the fire. Such a procedure is inappropriate.