Grenfell: essential fire safety checks for all landlords to undertake

After over 80 days of evidence at the Grenfell inquiry, the Chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick is expected to issue interim recommendations during April 2019.

The evidence given during the first phase of the Inquiry has highlighted a number of basic housing management and asset management issues that are worthy of re-checking in every landlord organisation, whether in the social or private rental sectors. There is a need to ensure that all the equipment needed in the event of a fire (emergency lighting, dry risers, automatic opening vents, lifts, fire fighting locks, alarm systems, fire doors) are inspected in accordance with the regulations and there are robust procedures in place to remedy defects, whenever they are reported by residents or staff. It would be appropriate to consider whether Premise Information Boxes should be installed at tower blocks, sheltered blocks, or hostels. A discussion with the local Fire & Rescue Service about where they should be located and what information goes in them is recommended.

Accessible plans and information

Emergency plans for these blocks should include clear information about the location of local community centres that could be used as reception centres and the location of the centre keys at 1 o’clock in the morning! Housing Associations and private landlords will need to ensure that their emergency arrangements are known to the local authority, in which each building they own is located. In addition, the computer information about the known residents of each block needs to be accessible 24/7. This includes emergency cover arrangements for events like holidays, sickness or other absences. It will certainly be necessary to review the arrangements about the information held about leaseholders (and their tenants). Invariably, this is likely to be necessary when we begin to implement the Hackitt recommendations about building occupiers. If asset teams are undertaking extensive refurbishment of buildings and have not yet begun to use the very useful document that was produced following the Lakanal fire, then now is the time!

This would also be a good time to review the organisation’s fire safety action plan taking into account the recommendations of the Lakanal Coroner that were made early in 2013 The reality is that prior to Lakanal House most housing managers (and residents) had never heard of a “stay put” policy. If a fire occurred in a property, the fire brigade turned up and extinguished it. If residents in the block saw the fire and considered themselves at risk, they got out. Others stayed put, usually, because they didn’t know there was a fire in the block at all!

Fit for purpose in the 2020s

We are now in a different world where everyone has a view (valid or not) about stay put and landlords are going to have to accept that a “stay put plus” is likely to become the new norm. Although it is clear (with Lakanal and Grenfell being the exceptions) that “stay put” has worked for many years, it may be time to respond to residents’ concerns by creating a further level of assurance, in addition to passive fire safety. This could include:

  • Installing misting systems on a flat by flat basis, WITHOUT the need to consult leaseholders about the costs, because there are no communal works needed;
  • Providing an individual fire extinguisher to those residents that request them. New ones on the market do not require servicing or maintenance; and
  • Installing an alert system throughout the building that could link with individual properties and could enable a controlled evacuation to take place.

Whatever action is taken, it is clear that fire safety cannot be allowed to be far from the top of Asset and Housing Manager’s daily “to do” lists. Article submitted by Jan Taranczuk, CihCM, an experienced housing practitioner

By Patrick Mooney, Editor