30 September, 2009
The importance of fire safety in residential accommodation should never be underestimated and must be a high priority at all times. The recent tragic incident in Camberwell in London has shown the potential outcome of a fire spreading in a tower block.
In order to prevent such disasters happening again, it is possible for authorities to serve fire safety notices upon residential landlords to get them to remedy the problems in their properties.
Two recent examples of this can be found in London and Nottingham. In the former, Southwark Council was issued with enforcement notices on three apartment buildings after the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority found that escape corridor ceilings and fire doors were not fire resistant. In Nottingham, the Arm's Length Management Organisation Nottingham City Homes was served with a notice ordering immediate safety improvements to a 13-storey tower block's fire alarm system and fire resistant doors.
Under both the Housing 2004, an authority can serve upon a residential landlord a range of notices and orders requiring action to be taken under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Under this System, an assessment can be carried out of premises and after giving the fire risk in question a 'rating' and also determining the potential level of injuries which would be suffered by residents in the event of a fire, the hazard will be classified as either a Category 1 hazard or a Category 2 hazard.
Following this, the authority has a range of options available to it in order to try to get a landlord to fix the problems. They can range from a mere advisory notice up to, in the most serious cases, a demolition order which can include the compulsory purchase of properties and the flattening of the building within 6 weeks of the property being vacated.
Further guidance can be found in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which replaces the need for fire certificates with a general duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safety of employees and non-employees and to take such fire precautions as necessary to ensure that the premises are safe. There is also a duty to carry out a fire risk assessment at each building in order to identify the potential hazards, to reduce the risk of the hazards and to determine what precautions are needed in the event of a fire starting.
The magazine Inside Housing has begun to vocally champion for greater fire safety in social housing through its 'Safe as Houses' campaign. It highlights incidents such as in London and Nottingham as reasons for doing so. The publication seeks a change to the building regulations to require builders to install carbon monoxide detectors in all new homes, emergency procedure notice in every corridor of tower blocks and a national database of all tower blocks in the country which will detail when the last fire risk assessment took place.
The risks associated with fire are potentially just as severe as those related to gas explosions. They both have the potential to cause loss of life and serious injuries. In order to reduce the risk of this as much as possible, residential landlords are advised to carry out regular fire risk assessments of all their premises and act swiftly upon any notices or orders that they may receive from other agencies in relation to remedial action to reduce fire risk.