Last Updated on 2 November 2022.
A must-read for any property manager or facilities manager charged with ensuring their people are safe, and their premises is legally compliant.
There are hundreds of components making up the schedule of responsibility within property management.
Fire safety is just one cog in that huge machine, but it’s an incredibly crucial one.
No one expects a fire to happen.
Not to mention, legislation and regulation in fire safety can often be either vague or confusing (something that’s slowly changing with governmental and third-party lobbying enforcement due to the bureaucratic overload and oversight in cases such as Grenfell) for those who don’t live and breathe it.
This can mean that crucial aspects can get waylaid; sometimes because the urgency isn’t made clear, or sometimes because the frequency of responsibilities gets misconstrued.
Benjamin Franklin is known to have said “fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” and it’s something we live by here at WFP.
With property managers making up no less than a third of our loyal client base, we’re attuned to their needs; not only in what information needs to be made clearer, but in what makes for effective, streamlined management of, what can be, a huge juggle of a multitude of properties within just one manager’s portfolio.
So, whether you’re a landlord, property manager or facilities manager, and you’re tasked with looking after the safety within a building (or multiple buildings), let’s sharpen that saw and help you prepare with 10 top tips for fire safety in property management…
Keeping Up With Fire Risk Assessments
Fire Risk Assessments are Step 1 in any fire safety to-do list.
Why? Because a Fire Risk Assessment analyses your building’s whole fire safety strategy, from perceived hazards and sources of potential ignition through to your prevention management and the ease of evacuation.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 explains that a Fire Risk Assessment must reflect a building in its current state.
We recommend an annual review, simply because the make-up (which isn’t necessarily just structural, but also down to the inhabitants, such as the number of them and their vulnerability) of the building is not likely to be identical as it was 12 months previously.
What’s important to note here is that, should something occur, such as a fire-related incident, and a Fire Risk Assessment is not found or found to be outdated, this would have repercussions for the Responsible Person(s), which includes those responsible for managing the building, therefore it’s safety.
Which leads on to crucial point Number 2…
Acting on Fire Risk Assessments
The Fire Risk Assessment is a tick-box within itself, however just simply doing it doesn’t mean it’s “job done”.
Following the assessment, you (as the property manager) would receive a report which gives a breakdown of all areas covered/assessed.
This is usually presented in a traffic-light-style system, whereby green are your good areas, amber needing improvement (usually within a maximum of six months) and red being a high priority needing immediate attention and improvement (usually within a maximum of three months).
Therefore, if you have the assessment and park the report without reading it or paying particular attention to those crucial recommendations, then you are responsible for those unactioned items having been made aware that those deficiencies exist.
It could be that your evacuation procedure has been changed from ‘Stay Put’ to ‘Simultaneous Evacuation’ due to insufficient compartmentation or flammable exterior cladding, and therefore a temporary fire alarm is warranted.
It could be that you’re all green and therefore no remediation or action is required, in which case – happy days!
So, always make sure you’re reading the reports and acting on the areas highlighted to ensure utmost care and due diligence is taken within your building’s fire safety strategy.
Checking Riser Cupboard, Plant Rooms & Communal Areas
Every block of residential apartments or offices will have at least one riser cupboard and/or plant room. Usually these are kept under lock and key by relevant personnel, such as yourselves (the property managers), and other onsite staff.
However, these areas can sometimes be targeted, sometimes for utilising as additional storage space and sometimes for more peculiar activities.
Keeping regular tabs on this is crucial to ensure there are no obstructions and no hazardous materials within proximity to things like the electrics.
Riser cupboards should (as with the rest of the building) also be adequately fireproofed. An inadequacy here relating to the materials making up the fabric around these areas should normally be assessed as part of a Fire Risk Assessment – another great reason to have one, and to use a competent person for them, as they know what they’re looking for!
You should also be ensuring the same for the communal areas, which is everyone’s essential path to safety in the event of an evacuation. Something as simple as a pram blocking a stairwell can create havoc in the wrong circumstances.
Maintenance of Fire Safety Equipment
Depending on the building, you may have a variety of fire safety equipment used to either help detect or fight a fire.
From sprinkler systems and dry risers to fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire doors and emergency lighting – whatever combination of these your building has, they all require essential maintenance either on an annual or six-monthly basis.
Each property should have a smoke detector (usually mains connected), triggering when smoke is detected within the confines of that home), however some buildings also have a communal fire alarm system whereby additional detection and/or sounders are places within the properties to alert people as to when there is a fire elsewhere in the building – particularly if the evacuation strategy has changed.
Your engineers’ reports should be kept safely as these are evidence of your due diligence in carrying out these maintenance services; and, as with Fire Risk Assessments, any remediation should be acted upon to ensure these systems/products stay functional and have prolonged longevity.
Fire Safety Signage & Fire Action Plans
Fire safety is a responsibility not just for property managers, but the tenants, too. Everyone living there has a vested interest in keeping themselves and their neighbours safe.
This is made easier, of course, when everyone is clear about where the exits are and what they need to do if a fire breaks out.
Emergency lighting is also key here as, in the event of a power failure, these guide the way to safety.
Signage is probably the easiest aspect to get right, so there’s no real excuse not to do it.
Your Evacuation Procedures/Fire Action Plan should be noted on a communal notice board, along with an assembly point (usually outside in a car park), so that everyone is clear on what they need to do. Any Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for vulnerable persons, such as the elderly or disabled, should also be catered to.
You may wish to consult all your residents to ensure the most suitable action plan is implemented.
Fixed Wire Testing (EICR)
One of the biggest fails in fire safety is not checking your electrics. Inadequate or faulty electrics are also one of the most common reasons fires start.
The best way to keep on top of this is to have a Fixed Wire Test, which is sometimes also called simply ‘Electrical Testing’. This provides you with an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) which tells you how satisfactory (and therefore safe) your electrical infrastructure is.
Now that there is a governmental grant opening for landlords to install EV charging points, ensuring there is sufficient power in their buildings should be a top priority. Current isn’t endless; it does have its limits, and if those limits aren’t tested then you can’t be sure your building is safe.
Just like a Fire Risk Assessment, if there are inefficiencies or hazards then this will be made a note of for appropriate action to be taken.
Provide Fire Safety Training for Site Team Members
If your building has a concierge, for example, then that concierge team needs to know the ins-and-outs of what to do to both prevent a fire and how to manage an evacuation if there is one.
Fire Safety Training is essential for anyone involved in the oversight or management of a building to understand how to look out for hazards and how to respond effectively should, for example, the emergency services need to be called out.
I’m sure if everyone knew what a fire door’s job really was, and how the consequences of propping them open stop them from doing that job, no one would be doing it.
Without the proper advice and education, you wouldn’t necessarily know, and you wouldn’t be eyes open to what could (and does) go wrong.
There may be, also, a fire alarm which needs to be tested every week, or emergency lighting which needs to be tested monthly; something which is often overlooked in between maintenance visits.
It pays dividends to have site staff who are knowledgeable in operating these systems; too often, are people intimidated by fire alarms, when they’re simply there to help save lives.
Our engineers can train site team members during maintenance visits and are all too happy to demonstrate how to conduct weekly/monthly system tests, so do ask!
Don’t Forget About Fire Doors
Fire Doors are what we call “Clark Kents” in fire safety. That is, they sit dormant, discrete, and nondescript most of the time.
Until a fire happens, and then they break out of their shell and become passive safety superheroes.
We’ve seen fire doors propped, painted, damaged and almost falling apart. All of which, basically make it more a hunk of wood than a fire door.
Fire doors are specially manufactured to withhold a fire for a period of time; the most standard being FD30, meaning that it’s fire resistant for 30 minutes.
They must go through rigorous testing to be certified as FD30 or FD anything. There’s so much in the make-up of a fire door, from the intumescent strips which expand to seal the door when they sense heat, to the automatic door closers – you know, those weird metal bars at the top which make the door shut automatically?
You might’ve never heard anyone speak so fervently about fire doors before, but that’s because we know the magic they do when it comes to compartmentation and saving lives.
As a property manager, your building is likely to be made up of fire doors, and all of these need regular servicing and inspection. This is typically done on a six-monthly basis, but can depend on the footfall of your building, which is usually made clear within a Fire Risk Assessment.
(See, Fire Risk Assessments are rearing their head again?!)
Fireproofing/Firestopping & Compartmentation
You might remember me mentioning fireproofing earlier on in this article, when I was referring to the materials used within riser cupboards.
So, all materials are either non-combustible or combustible, fire retardant or a fire’s best friend.
We’ve all heard about cladding, which is an issue and topic all by itself, but the materials on the inside of buildings often get overlooked.
You could have the best fire doors in the world, but if the walls around it are not sufficiently fireproofed, then that blaze will simply tear through it.
Fireproofing is another form of passive fire protection, like the fire door, in that it doesn’t do anything until that crucial moment you need it to. It doesn’t sound an alarm but get a fire near it and it’ll flex its muscles for you.
Your Fire Risk Assessment should pick up whether the materials in your building are combustible or not, and whether they are sufficient for a ‘Stay Put’ evacuation strategy to be enforced, i.e., the building/box inhabitants are in should withstand the fire long enough before the Fire Brigade attends to fight the fire.
If this hasn’t been addressed in your Fire Risk Assessment, it’s worth having a survey to investigate this by a competent specialist. It may be (and one would hope) just a one-time report, but it’s one that will mean ultimate peace of mind for both you as a property manager and for your tenants living in the building.
Walls can look solid, but you can’t always tell what sits beneath. Sometimes it’s not even down to the materials but the lack of materials completely in what’s referred to as ‘voids’, i.e., empty, hollow spaces that act like a space shuttle for fires.
Trusting the Right Fire Safety Team
This one’s particularly interesting.
Usually, when you employ someone to do a service for you, you expect them to know what they’re doing, do the job right and do it fairly.
In the world of property management, and probably in a few other worlds as well, efficacy is sometimes assumed rather than tangibly demonstrated.
As a landlord or property manager, you are as responsible (if not more so) than the person you’re employing to do a job.
In the fire safety industry, because it’s so (unbelievably) unregulated – which is, like legislation and regulation, something else which is slowly changing – i.e., anyone can touch an alarm system without proper qualifications, then it’s easy for people to market themselves as experts with absolutely nothing to back that up with.
So, it’s on you to take the proper care, consideration, and due diligence to make sure who you’re employing are fit for the job.
There are a few ways you can vet your fire safety team. You can:
- Check they’re third-party accredited, e.g. They are on the British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) register
- Ask to see their appropriate insurances
- Look at their reviews and recommendations
It’s important to hold your Fire Safety Team accountable for their professionalism, experience level and reliability.
After all, it’s you that’s accountable for how effective, or ineffective, they are in keeping you safe.
They’ll have to answer for their inefficiencies should their services prove to have overlooked something drastic, but it’s you that answers to what documents/records you read and what effort you went to ensure a competent
specialist was secured for the task at hand.
You may even find you employ a company who ticks all these boxes for you, except their definition of a call-out is turning up three weeks later or only accepting communication through a ticketed email system.
Since fire safety is a crucial element of your overall property management strategy, doing all the above (Numbers 1-9) are incredibly important; however, if you do all those steps but place trust into incapable hands then that lets the fire safety side down massively.
That’s where we come in! As winner of the ‘Fire Protection Service of the Year’ 2022 accolade in the Prestige Awards, WFP is your trusted team that’s here to help you stay safe and legally compliant.
From consultations and risk assessments through to design, installation, maintenance, and repairs of your crucial fire safety systems, we’ve got your back!
Call 01277 724 653 today for help or guidance with your building’s fire safety strategy.
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