FSA calls for ‘action on fire safety’

FSA calls for ‘action on fire safety’

THE HEAD of the Fire and Security Association (FSA) noted that the Grenfell Tower fire raises ‘wider questions about fire safety’ in certain residential buildings.

Steve Martin, head of the FSA and head of technical at the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), was interviewed by Professional Security about fire safety, and stated that ‘devastating incidents’ like Grenfell Tower ‘do of course raise wider questions about fire safety in these types of residential buildings’. On the building regulations, he noted that these ‘govern how building owners and managers should oversee a range of work, including the provision of fire and emergency systems’.

They also govern ‘the materials used during its maintenance and build’, and over the past 15 years since Approved Document B came into force, ‘there has been progress on technical standards, some of which has not as yet reflected in the building regulations’. Additionally, BS 5839:1 covers non-domestic buildings and is ‘due out in the near future’, while one aimed at homes – BS 5839:6 – is now ‘being revised’.

Mr Martin stated that ‘it’s now vital that the experts who have been involved with developing these standards are able to provide guidance and support during the planned review of the building regulations, announced following Grenfell’. He moved on to reflect on the ‘Stay Put’ policy enforced by ‘some high-rise building owners if fires break out’, which has become a ‘focal point for queries about fire safety’.

The policy ‘encourages residents of flats in close proximity to another apartment where a fire started to remain where they are, as the building’s design should theoretically contain the fire’, and while this ‘approach may seem reasonable’, it ‘fails to take into account the impact refurbishment work can have on the building’s compartmentation, or whether fire detection and alarm systems in communal areas have been downgraded’.

As a result, Mr Martin points out, ‘given that a number of high-rise buildings have undergone significant refurbishment work since they were originally built, the time has arguably come to review the “Stay Put” policy – or consider removing it altogether’. Finally, he reflected on ‘specifying the right contractor’, as building owners and managers ‘have a legal and ethical responsibility to specify the right contractors to design, install and maintain an appropriate system’.

One such approach is to ‘specify contractors who have the relevant accreditations – which in the case of fire systems are BAFE SP203-1 and LPS 1014’, while another option is to ‘specify membership of a relevant trade association’ in ‘tendering and maintenance arrangements’. He also pointed out that ‘regular safety checks undertaken by qualified professionals can also minimise the risk of fires starting within buildings’.

One area of this is gas safety checks in rented homes, which ‘are already mandated by law every year’, and the ECA believes that ‘these similar requirements should be extended to electrical safety checks across the rental sector’. Mr Martin concluded that ‘it’s now vital that residents in high-rise buildings are given peace of mind from a thorough review of the existing regulations, and a commitment by government to ensure that building installation and maintenance work is undertaken regularly by trained professionals’.