Supplier Spotlight – Horbury Property Services: Getting It Right With Fire Risk Assessments

Richard Sutton, General Manager at Horbury Property Services, looks at the importance of passive systems, such as fire doors and other fire compartmentation.

“For many building owners, businesses and landlords, fire safety starts with the fire risk assessment. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) order 2005 requires that this must be carried out by a competent person… someone with ‘sufficient training and experience or knowledge’.  But the question many people are asking is, how do you determine how much training, knowledge or experience is enough? Many organisations are not aware of any third party accreditations for fire risk assessors, or simply don’t know or check just what is required to become a good fire risk assessor.

Obviously practical experience counts for a great deal, as does having an understanding of building regulations, construction methods and building materials, which allows the assessor to better judge the risks.   There have been cases that have gone through the courts that have involved fire risk assessors being jailed for failing to carry out a suitable fire risk assessment.  Without adequate training and the relevant knowledge and observational skills, it is highly likely that breaches of passive or active fire protection measures will go undetected in social housing.

Take, for example, fire doors.  A typical fire risk assessment of a set of fire doors requires only a visual inspection – it does not require that every door is inspected.  According to FDIS (Fire Door Inspection Scheme) potential punishments for fire door related convictions can include up to two years in jail and unlimited fines.

The reason that fire doors are failing in such large numbers is that any problems are not being picked up in fire inspections, or thorough inspections are not being carried out by the responsible person.  Without adequate training, a person would not be able to know whether a fire door would fail, or whether it would perform as it should, offering adequate protection in the event of a fire.

The Exova BM Trada certified course is one that is widely recognised and respected in the fire safety industry and housing providers should check that their contractors are certified to meet this standard.

If fire door inspections are not being carried out by fully approved and certified individuals, how can building occupants and owners be safe in the knowledge that they are being given the best protection.  Often as part of the fire risk assessment, a small sample of fire doors are given a visual inspection.  If the individual is untrained, they are unlikely to pick up any faults with the fire door and could lead to a building having several doorsets that are not compliant.  In the case of a fire, this could be a very serious situation that is putting lives at risk and resulting in serious consequences and fines.  Often after fire door inspections, remedial works may be required to protect occupants and ensure compliance, which needs to be part of regular planned maintenance for a building.

Regular fire door inspections

With the current concerns about fire risks in residential and commercial buildings, then there is a very real need to prioritise inspection of fire doors to ensure that remedial work can be carried out as quickly as possible.

Indeed, there is a lack of understanding about the need for fully certified fire doors.  Budgetary pressures again may mean that an inferior fire door is specified which may not be certified to perform to either 30 or 60 minutes’ fire resistance.  This could mean that it does not meet that building’s minimum fire safety requirements.

The same is true of fire compartmentation.   This needs to be considered as part of the overall fire risk assessment.  However, this is often not given due consideration as the responsible person in most cases will not have the skills or understanding to be able to carry this out effectively.  As fire compartmentation requires just a visual inspection, it needs specialist skills, expertise and equipment.

Fire compartmentation

It is not just fire doors that are critical to maintaining fire compartmentation in buildings. A local authority building that we inspected recently was found to have 168 breaches to its fire compartmentation.  A thorough inspection of its fire compartmentation had not been carried out since it was built.  Most of the breaches were due to IT and mechanical work being carried out on the building without the correct fire stopping being put in place.    It is surprising how often compartmentation has been breached, which leads to the risk of rapid smoke spread in the event of a fire.

An added concern is how, due to budgetary pressures, remedial work on fire doors is being carried out these days on a responsive basis, rather than as a regular programme of planned preventative maintenance.  This has created a bubble of repairs that are required and an increase in the potential risk.  If issues are identified, it may be the case that work cannot be carried out for several weeks if a framework of approved contractors is not in place.

It is quite a worry that many public and private buildings are still not being regularly and competently inspected for their fire doors and fire compartmentation.

The fact remains that the fire risk assessment has to be taken seriously.  As part of this, only fully trained and certified fire door and passive fire inspectors should be carrying out assessments of fire doors and compartmentation.  This will ensure that building are compliant and occupants are offered the best possible protection.”

For more information about fire compartmentation, fire stopping and fire stopping inspections, contact the Horbury Property Services team on: 01709 917555 or visit the website www.horburypropertyservices.com.

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Press enquiries: Marina Wood, Dragonfly PR, Tel 01709 300130 or email: marina@dragonflypr.co.uk

 

The Social Housing Compliance Forum Review

The Social Housing Compliance Forum met again last month for another series of discussions and guest speakers covering a range of the most pressing issues facing maintenance and planned and void property works.

First up was Ryan Dempsey, Chief Executive Officer of The Compliance Workbook, who gave a presentation based on his expertise in the field of Electrical Testing.  Ryan’s presentation covered the core components of what makes up effective Electrical Testing; from strategy and planning, asset management, the risk and review process, and lifecycle delivery.  His session finished with a look to the future of compliance management.  From big data to machine learning, compliance is moving into an age where technology and innovation will only grow in importance.

Richard Townsend, Technical Development Engineer at Napit followed with an interactive session looking at EICR observations and codes.   Presenting a series of electrical observational tests, forum member’s had to decide what EICR code they would ascribe to each one, if needed. This prompted discussion on a range of issues, from the role of the manufacturer to the installer becoming the designer and accepting responsibility for faults.

Following a request from members to have a session dedicated to sprinklers in high rise buildings, the Forum was happy to welcome Keith MacGillivray, Chief Executive, British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association. Keith began by looking to establish a consensus on what sprinklers were, highlighting the many questions he had been asked in his role; do they make fires worse? how much water do they use in comparison to the Fire Service? And what are the labour and cost implications, whether by installing or retrofitting sprinklers?  The session emphasized the role of fire sprinklers in preventing deaths in tower fires and put forward a case for retrofitting.

Moving onto boiler failures and engineer call outs, John Jackson, Area Sales Manager for the Yorkshire and North East at Sentinel spoke next.  John began by highlighting the large number of boiler call outs that are to systems that actually do not have the correct water treatment and what products are available to clean, protect, and maintain water systems.  Water treatment works in a similar way to topping up the oil of a car – it’s an important part of ensuring the system lasts longer and performs better.

Maintaining a focus on boilers, Peter Hobson, Regional Sales Manager at Neomitis Ltd updated attendees on the need-to-know information following April’s introduction of the Boiler Plus legislation.   For combi boilers, the new minimum performance standards in homes in England is now  set at 92%ErP.  It was also integral that combi boiler installations included certain features (although not all at the same time) such as the monitoring of either external weather data, a function to maintain internal temperatures, or functions that promote energy efficiency or automation.

As with all Social Housing Compliance Forums, the day ended with the meeting of a dedicated gas group.  As part of this, Neil Holden from the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting and Marr Darville, Head of Field Performance Certsure LLP fielded questions from members. The conversation centred around the 18th Amendment regulations.  Attendees sought clarification on the new Code 3 protection regulations; if something complied with the old regulations but not the new, would this be coded as unsafe?  The consensus around the room was that this would not necessarily be the case, but it was best practice to ensure people were aware of potentially unsafe areas.  Finally, the group agreed that the next meeting would consider radon gas as part of the agenda.

Ryan Dempsey from The Compliance Workbook and Keith MacGillivray, from the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association will be speaking at the upcoming NHC Health and Safety in Housing Conference taking place 12 July 2018 in Leeds, book your place now at https://www.northern-consortium.org.uk/event/health-safety-housing-2/.

The next meeting of the Social Housing Compliance Forum will be taking place September 2018.  For further information please contact Liam Gregson, Member Engagement Officer, Northern Housing Consortium, by emailing liam.gregso@northern-consortium.org.uk.