Fire Risk Assessment for Flats

09/12/2019
The freeholder of a leasehold block of flats, whether purpose built or a conversion, has the legal responsibility to carry out a fire risk assessment for the block and, on the basis of the result of that assessment, to instal features which ensure that the whole building and all the flats within it are up to the appropriate legal standards required for fire safety.

Physically a fire risk assessment -  or at least the legally-recorded results and recommendations stemming from a fire risk assessment inspection - takes the form of a document which by law must be carefully stored and ready for inspecting by fire safety authorities as required and renewed or replaced periodically when either subsequent reviews of the original assessment or completely new assessments are carried out.

Depending on the findings of a fire risk assessment, there might be a legal requirement to carry out works to a block and/or to introduce, maintain or add to specific fire safety equipment: this is governed by ongoing and relevant Fire Safety Standards and you should advice from a relevantly qualified expert about these matters.

NB Please note also that fire risk assessments should always be considered in the light of knowledge of the location of any asbestos (click to find out more about asbestos) in a building. This is particularly the case if it is adjudged that a destructive inspection needs to be carried out because there is a risk that asbestos might be disturbed in doing so. 

If nothing is known about the location of any asbestos in the building then you must get an asbestos survey done and if you are going to carry out a destructive inspection, then as stated,  you must carry out an asbestos survey before you carry out the fire risk assessment.

Asbestos: are you concerned as a flat/house owner or a freeholder/landlord?

The asbestos survey you need as a freeholder or landlord is obviously different from the one you would obtain as an individual flat or house owner. Our asbestos survey article considers both and treats them separately (click to find out more).


This article looks at fire risk assessments for flats and considers:




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    1

    What are the legal aspects of fire risk assessments for flats (including who must arrange them, who must carry them out, how often and the principles involved)?


What principles govern fire safety in flats?

Purpose built flats and conversions should be designed from the outset with fire safety in mind and it’s a legal requirement for all blocks of flats (including houses converted into two or more flats) to have a fire risk assessment. This will at the very least include the communal areas and the front doors of individual flats (which must be fire(-resistant) doors). For conversion flats, the risk assessment may well need to extend to the interior of the flats themselves.

A basic fire risk assessment examines the communal areas and examines the main doors - if applicable to the flats. If there's any reason to doubt the structural fire protection of a block, a more intrusive assessment may be required, which might include opening up the structure of the building to check its fire resistance. 

In the case of purpose built flats:
  • There should be a reasonable degree of compartmentalisation between each flat.
  • There should be reasonable separation between flats and the communal areas — so each flat is effectively an independent, fire-resisting block with a low probability of fire spreading beyond the flat where it broke out.
  • Stairs, corridors and anything related to fire exits should have emergency lighting and fire exit signage.
Further measures are not 'set in stone' and requirements will vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of purpose built block. This might mean that there isn't a need for drills or communal evacuation and normally, communal areas won't require items like fire extinguishers because the are a low fire risk, however you should always seek the advice of an expert for assessment purposes.

Fire safety instructions to tenants

The fire risk assessment should be reflected in any fire action instructions given to tenants regarding a block's fire safety. With a simpler block, these instructions might take the form of a fire safety notice in communal areas but they might take the form of a bespoke document copied to all residents. 

If you are a tenant and are unsure of your block's fire safety plan, you should contact your landlord, Resident's Management Company or agent.


Which legislation underpins Fire Risk Assessment in the UK?

The relevant Acts/statutory instruments are the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 in Scotland and the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 in Northern Ireland (click to find out more).


In the case of conversions:
  • These are generally 'low-rise' (they would have been converted out of a house originally) and the freeholder should, knowing the design of the individual flats, assess the fire risk liaising additionally with individual flat owners - this may, for example, involve ensuring that they have individual fire extinguishers (normally water and CO2) and at least one fire blanket.
  • There should always be emergency lighting on stairwells, as with purpose built flats.
  • If communal areas represent an additional fire risk - for example if there is a designated common room - there should be fire extinguishers, exit signage and fire blankets available if appropriate.

Who must arrange a fire risk assessment for flats?

Your landlord or managing agent (or a Residents’ Management Company or Right to Manage Company), acting on behalf of the freeholder, has a legal duty to arrange for a fire risk assessment to be carried out on the communal areas of your building, and for it to be kept under review. The landlord or managing agent must nominate and record the name of a 'responsible person', who is ultimately responsible for the development and upkeep of an adequate fire risk assessment, by law.

Who must carry out a fire risk assessment for flats?

You can carry out a fire risk assessment yourself as a landlord/freeholder/managing agent as long as you are taking into account the appropriate legislation and government guidance (click to view HM Government's Fire Law and Safety Guidance Documents for Business) - you aren't legally required to employ a firm of professional fire risk assessors. 

That said, the larger and more complex a building is, particularly if you are dealing with different types of tower block or non-standard construction materials, the more you are advised to seek the services of a professional fire risk assessor because of their greater experience and professionalism (unless this is your line of business) and additionally, if a disaster does occur, these firms have to carry public liability insurance.

How often must a review of the fire risk assessment take place?

The fire risk assessment by law must be reviewed periodically, however there are no clear rules on exactly when a review must be carried out and what it must consist of. This depends entirely on the nature and extent of the building involved and any specific circumstances which might affect matters.

That said - and purely in the most general terms (i.e. what follows is not to be considered a definitive statement in law), for low risk modern low rise blocks, a review might be carried out every 2 years with a new assessment every 4 years.

For higher risk blocks you might expect there to be a yearly review and a new assessment every 3 years. 

A review should additionally be carried out when any work of scale on the building has been completed.
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    2

    What are the fire safety standards for flats (whether period conversion or purpose built and including communal areas)?


Conversion flats

  • There should be a 30 mins fire protected route (walls, doors, ceilings) in place, which will normally be the main staircase.
  • There must be a fire door between each flat and the escape route.
  • The existing flats, with fire doors in the flats (there should be 2 fire doors between the risk and the stairs) walls and ceilings may already be 60 mins fire resistance which is the Building Regulation standard for conversion to flats. However, often the internal layout/internal fire doors will have been modified or removed or just propped open during use, reducing the level of protection (between the risk and the stairs) to 30 minutes. So the fire safety standard is concerned with retro fitting basic fire safety measures into non complying buildings, therefore the minimum retro fit is to be 30 minutes fire resistance throughout plus improved detection. Lathe and plaster ceilings in good condition can provide a modified 30 mins fire resistance. Cracked/unkeyed ceilings not meeting this standard should be improved.
  • For flat conversions the advice/recommendations of the Council/Fire Service should be sought for all elements of fire safety prior to works taking place.
  • All flat entrance doors must be 30 minute fire doors, no uPVC or solid wood doors or non fire resisting glazed doors are permitted unless 30 minutes can be proven.
  • No cat flaps, letterboxes or damage are permitted.
  • Non complying doors must be replaced.
  • Fire doors must be self closing and fitted with intumescent strips and smoke seals, with escape type locks.
  • There must be 60 mins fire resistance between basements and ground floor but 30 minutes plus detection is acceptable if the basement ceiling is in good condition with no voids/gaps, with 30 minutes fire protection and no voids/gaps.
  • The presence of a basement or cellar may make a 2 storey building into a 3 storey building for the purposes of these regulations – the landlord should seek advice before carrying out any works.
  • There should be 60 mins of fire resistance between non-residential units/units put to other uses and residential flats in the building.
  • Any variations from the 60 minute standard must be agreed with Fire Authority (usually agreed if there are methods of additional fire detection present).
  • Final exit doors must be openable without the use of a key (such as night latches, mortice escape locks with thumb turn inside or other escape type lock.)
  • Electric meters within the staircase must be enclosed in a fire resisting cupboard/housing.
  • The staircase which is the protected route must be kept free from combustible materials and obstructions.
  • There should be a mains operated phased fire alarm and smoke detection system which provides a high level of protection while minimising false alarms and suitable for all flats regardless of tenures (leaseholds/short tenancies or mixture of both), designed and installed to British Standard 5839 Part 6 2004 Grade D and category LD2 (detectors in escape routes and heat detector, 600mm from main entrance fire door within each flat), detectors to be interlinked together to form one system.
  • Within each flat, in circulation space, there should be a single point optical smoke detector with remote hush/test switch to be fitted, not linked, but under control of the flat's occupant. The system should default to evacuate mode if a flat is on fire and the heat detector activates prior to fire door being under threat from a blaze. There should be a remote hush fitted to the main system in a secure location to avoid false hushing or tampering.
  • Flat conversions usually reduce the lighting to the stairways, making them dark even in daytime. Emergency lighting must be installed in escape routes to BS 5266 Pt 1: 1999 Code of Practice for the emergency lighting and be of category NM/2.
  • There should be a minimum of one fire blanket in every kitchen.
  • The landlord or tenant should test the fire alarm weekly and an annual check by a competent person must be carried out and comply with BS5839 Part 6 2004.
  • Each smoke/fire detector head should be replaced every 10 years (guaranteed life of the standby battery). If the building has been unoccupied or the mains power has been disconnected, the system should be thoroughly tested to ensure the operation of the power supply and standby supply.


Purpose-built flats

There are copious regulations for these reflecting the many different types in existence (such as e.g. flats above shops) and their communal areas; we therefore recommend that interested parties seeking further detailed information should click on the following link to view an official Government PDF on the subject: fire safety standards for purpose built flats


    3

    What sort of fire risk assessments for purpose built flats are there?

According to some experts, there are four different four different fire risk assessment types that can be carried out for a purpose-built block of flats.

The differences come from the extent of the building that is undergoing the required inspection for fire risk. The fire risk assessment must be the correct one for the particular type of premises and the amount that has been revealed with regard to its structural protection.

In all cases, a block's landlord is the Responsible Person who must ensure the safety of all the block's occupants and decide and enact what is necessary to achieve this.

Type 1: Communal parts only, non-destructive

This inspection is non-destructive and focuses on occupants' means of escape as well as examining a few of the entrance doors to individual dwellings. It considers any construction measures to separate individual flats from the common areas and doesn't require inspecting any particular dwelling beyond its entrance.

If there are false ceilings in the common parts whose tiles are able to be demounted, samples of these are taken.

If there are any doubts about the safety with particular regard to inadequate compartmentation and fire stopping, then a more involved fire risk assessment should be carried out, however there should be clear notable reasons for making this decision.

Type 2: Communal parts only, destructive

As it sounds, this inspection looks at the same areas as for a Type 1 assessment, but the assessor/s take samples for destructive inspection. You need a contractor to open up parts of the block's construction and to make repairs afterwards and some samples have to be taken from flats themselves which makes it better if you can take these samples from a flat which is vacant.

The essential reason for opting for a Type 2 assessment over a Type 1 is if there is reasonable doubt that a flat's structure won't prevent it from spreading a fire to another dwelling.

Type 3: Communal parts and flats, non-destructive

In this assessment of fire risk, the arrangements for fire detection (smoke alarms) and the means of escape must be inspected in a sample of flats. Inside the flats the assessment is non-destructive, but it is essential that the fire resistance of doors leading to rooms be considered. Fire prevention measures are not considered if they are within the control of the landlord or responsible person, though heating and electrical installations maintenance may be looked at.

Type 3 assessments may be necessary for rented flats if any serious risk of fire to residents is perceived in the case of fire in their flats. This risk may arise because of the age of the flats, and suspicion of material alterations that are not authorised and are widespread. This assessment may not be possible in flats that are on a long lease, that will not allow access to freeholders.

Type 3 assessments require the sxame work as Type 1 assessments but have a wider scope.

Type 4: Communal parts and flats, destructive

This is the same as a Type 3 assessment in scope but includes destructive inspection and testing in both flats and common parts carried out in some sample areas and selected flats.

A contractor has to be present both to open up the construction for inspection and thence to make it good after inspection and subsequent testing.

It's more likely that this kind of inspection will be called for when a new landlord takes over a block and where there isn't a clear history of works to inspect and/or there are suspicions that residents might be at risk from fire in their apartments or those of their neighbours.

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