Purpose-built flats can represent an especially distinctive challenge as far as fire safety is concerned. Flats have been a key part of the UK’s housing stock since Victorian times, and it has long been recognised that any building effectively containing multiple residential dwellings – rather than just one – brings with it the possibility of human occupants being at higher risk in the event of a fire.
Despite this, the communal areas – or ‘common parts’ – of blocks of flats were not finally brought within the scope of mainstream fire safety legislation until the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force in October 2016. For the remainder of this article, we will refer to this landmark legislation as ‘the FSO’.
One of the key requirements laid down by the FSO for blocks of flats is for a fire risk assessment (FRA) to be carried out. However, you might not be familiar with the specific types of FRA that can be undertaken in such buildings.
Whose responsibility is it to arrange a fire risk assessment of communal areas?
It is the landlord of a block of flats who is considered to be the ‘Responsible Person’ for such a building, with regard to fire safety. It is therefore this person who is required to ensure that in the event of a fire, measures have been put in place to ensure the occupants’ safety.
One should also note that FRAs relate to fire safety within the communal areas – or ‘common parts’ – of a block of flats, and that the flats themselves are outside the FSO’s scope. In practice, however, it is usually necessary for those carrying out an FRA to gain limited entry to at least a sample of the flats within the given building. This allows for examination of the measures implemented within flats to ensure that when a fire breaks out in a flat, other residents are not put at undue risk.
It isn’t legally required for an FRA to be carried out by a specialist, such as a consultant, which may lead the landlord or other Responsible Person to undertake the risk assessment themselves. However, regardless of who does carry out the FRA, the Responsible Person will be liable for prosecution in the event of fire placing people at risk of death or serious injury as a consequence of an inadequate fire risk assessment.
What sort of fire risk assessments for purpose-built flats are there?
Guidance previously issued by the Local Government Association (LGA), and endorsed by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), outlined four types of FRA that those responsible for fire safety in a purpose-built block of flats may arrange to have undertaken. Some of these are destructive, and all are explained below.
Type 1 – Common parts only (non-destructive)
This is the most common type of fire risk assessment and tends to be sufficient for most purpose-built blocks of flats, as well as conversions. It is the basic FRA for satisfying the requirements stipulated by the FSO and takes the form of a non-destructive inspection of the common parts of the flat building, and not the private dwellings.
Unless there is reason to believe there could be major health and safety issues in occupied areas of the building – such as flats – a closer look at these areas is not usually expected or required when carrying out a Type 1 FRA.
Type 2 – Common parts only (destructive)
A Type 2 FRA largely resembles a Type 1 FRA in its scope and objectives, except that – as the term above suggests – it entails a degree of destructive inspection, taking the form of sampling. A contractor will normally need to be present for this.
While this type of fire risk assessment may be suggested following a Type 1 FRA, it should not be recommended as standard procedure. Type 2 FRAs are generally rare, and should only be carried out if there is good reason to think the building may have serious structural deficiencies that could lead to a fire spreading beyond the flat in which it originated.
Type 3 – Common parts and flats (non-destructive)
This type of fire risk assessment encompasses the same work involved in a Type 1 FRA, and like a Type 1 FRA, it is non-destructive in nature. Type 3 FRAs exceed the scope and requirements of the FSO, although not the Housing Act, in that they consider the flats inside the block, and not just the communal areas.
Someone undertaking a Type 3 FRA will consider the arrangements for means of escape and fire detection (i.e., smoke alarms) in at least some of the flats, in addition to accounting for compartmentation between flats. This type of FRA is generally considered necessary if it is thought that there could be a fire risk inside the flats; however, it can be difficult to arrange in leaseholder flats.
Type 4 – Common parts and flats (destructive)
The scope of work for this type of fire risk assessment is the same as that for a Type 3 FRA, except that it involves some destructive inspection in both the communal areas and the flats, undertaken on a sampling basis. As is the case with a Type 2 FRA, a contractor will generally need to be present for the purpose of opening up construction and making good once the inspection is done.
While Type 4 FRAs are the most comprehensive form of fire risk assessment for blocks of flats, they are also the most complicated, and it can be difficult to gain access to flats. In any case, a Type 4 FRA will only be appropriate to carry out in limited circumstances. These include when a new landlord takes over a block of flats where the history of works undertaken is unknown, and there is reason to suspect residents could be at serious risk from fires in both their own flats and neighbours’ flats.
Are Type 2 or Type 4 fire risk assessments needed?
In general, both Type 2 and Type 4 FRAs should not be routinely recommended, unless such an inspection is judged to be strongly justified after completion of a Type 1 or Type 3 FRA.
In practice, a Type 1 FRA is usually suitable and sufficient in the vast majority of cases when the Responsible Person for a block of flats is seeking to determine the building’s fire risk so that they can put in place the necessary fire precautions.
Using software to help manage your fire risk compliance
Given the challenges that such a specialised building as a purpose-built block of flats can represent with regard to the management of fire safety, it is highly understandable why you may be attracted to solutions that promise to make this process easier from start to finish.
One such solution that lives up to the promise is ACMS UK’s Vision platform, with its powerful and highly customisable Fire Risk Assessment and Management Software Module. This is an excellent online-based platform for managing FRAs in one or several blocks of flats for which you may be the Responsible Person, with each assessment able to be unique to the type of property you manage.
But Vision software is more than just a vehicle for delivering an FRA, it’s a complete fire risk management solution. Vision enables users to devise their own action plans, assess and allocate priority risk levels to each area, identify significant findings, upload plans and evacuation procedures. All this information can be downloaded into a hard copy fire risk assessment reports if required, but because the platform is online, it means assessments can be carried out on-site using the mobile app and once uploaded, the data is now live.
Used in conjunction with the Vision-tag (Near Field Communication technology) that you can utilise to locate, identify, manage and monitor fire risk and emergency equipment, accesses and exits, it enables users to manage the whole risk effectively and efficiently.
To learn more about this formidable compliance solution that will ensure you are satisfying your obligations with regard to managing the fire risk in your properties, please don’t hesitate to call one of ACMS UK’s experts today.