Putting the onus on owners

Posted by Tom Archer on 11/03/20 10:00

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has issued new guidance for owners of multi-storey buildings in multiple occupancy. It brings together advice from the Independent Expert Advisory Panel in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

Not surprisingly, much of this advice concerns dealing with aluminium composite panels and the risks that they represent, it also addresses other issues concerning fire safety in these buildings. The summary says, ‘The Expert Panel has also updated advice on the assurance and assessment of Fire Doors, which applies to residential buildings at any height. Further advice is provided on spandrel panels, balconies, external wall insulation systems, and smoke control systems.’

In particular, there is an entire section dealing with the responsibility of building owners for smoke control. It starts: ‘The Expert Panel believes that an appropriately designed, installed and maintained smoke control system is essential to effectively managing fire safety risks in a residential building.’

It stresses the importance of professional advice, saying firstly that building owners should be aware of what kind of smoke control system they have, and if they aren’t, they ‘should seek professional advice to ascertain how it should function’.

It reminds building owners that, ‘Smoke control systems should be tested weekly by the building owner to ensure that they are operating effectively, with a full system inspection and test carried out by a suitably qualified person at least annually.’

This guidance is important because of the extremely damaging nature of smoke, which is the number one cause of death in fires and responsible, in many non-fatal cases, for long-lasting respiratory damage.

It also warns about problems with electro-magnetic holding devices for vents, which can fail in fire conditions, saying It is therefore recommended that the use of electromagnetic holding devices as part of any smoke ventilation shaft installation should be reviewed as part of the fire risk assessment with consideration being given to replacing these devices with a more robust form of vent actuator’. If this cannot be done immediately, the review should consider mitigation measures. And, it continues, ‘The mitigation measures to be put in place will vary from building to building and you should seek professional advice from a suitably qualified fire engineer. The local Fire and Rescue Service should also be
informed and consulted on the planned mitigation measures.’ This holds true for all control systems which should be checked regularly and repaired or replaced if necessary.

This report is welcome for the clear way in which it sets out the responsibility of building owners and the importance of obtaining appropriate professional advice. Expect more to come on the subject. In the Queen’s Speech last December, the Government announced that it will introduce a fire safety bill. The purpose, it says, is to ‘Deliver meaningful change to ensure an appalling tragedy like Grenfell can never happen again.

This will make the responsibilities of building owners clear, and also ensure that they will be held to account for any failings.

All this should be a wake-up call for building owners. While some have acted irresponsibly it is also true that they may have a difficult time. They have, and need to be aware that they have, a great deal of responsibility in terms of fire, and they need professional assistance. If they call on Colt, the company has the knowledge, expertise and competence to check the compliance of systems, whether or not they are Colt systems, and can make recommendations for improvements.

The next generation of owners already have onerous responsibilities, but there is help available that will allow them to share part of the burden.

Topics: smoke control maintenance