Health, Safety & Fire

Gregg Masters, Commercial Director at 4site Consulting discusses the health, safety and fire implications that you need to consider for different building types.

All properties need to have effective health, safety and fire management procedures in place to ensure that the building, its tenants, employees and any site visitors are kept safe.

Building owners or those who are responsible, such as property managers, need to ensure they are considering all aspects of health and safety in their properties. Fire may be seen as the most important issue to consider, however, asbestos, general health and safety, and legionella risks also deserve attention in order to fulfil your legal duties to manage those risks.

Residential buildings come in a variety of different forms, including student accommodation, private rental, and holiday lettings. The type of property and the way it is being operated needs to be carefully considered as there may be particular health, safety and fire issues that relate to different property types.

Holiday Lettings – Airbnb

In the last few years there has been a major influx in the amount of properties being used for short-term holiday lettings. The Chartered Institute of Housing UK Housing Review found that Airbnb has over 77,000 lets in Greater London alone. If you chose to let your property out, for however short a time, you become responsible for the Health Safety & Welfare provisions at the property for those paying guests.

Platforms such as Airbnb do not check if hosts are compliant with Regulations, such as fire safety, before allowing them to host guests. Airbnb have made some improvements in this area by developing a fire safety guidance for hosts and giving away free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for eligible hosts. When booking a property with the platform guests can see whether or not it has a smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.

This is helpful for guests to see when choosing their accommodation, however it is not yet a mandatory requirement for hosts to implement. It has been suggested that Airbnb are not doing enough. For instance, hosts are not briefed on the most important fire safety measures, such as carrying out a Fire Risk Assessment.

If you own a property and are letting it out, the Fire Safety Order 2005 makes you responsible for taking steps to protect guests from the risk of fire. This includes having a Fire Safety Plan explained to guests, having electrical equipment tested, and having a Health, Safety and Fire Risk Assessment carried out. You will also need to have smoke detectors throughout the property and heat detectors in the kitchen.

As well as managing fire risks you also need to consider the risk from Legionella Bacteria in holiday lets, particularly if accommodation is being left unoccupied for a period of a week or more, as stagnant water encourages bacterial growth. To reduce this risk, you should regularly clean taps and shower heads, ensuring they are free from limescale. The law requires you to assess and manage these risks and you should therefore consider having regular Legionella Risk Assessments and water monitoring, carried out by a competent person. Asking guests to inform you of any defects in the heating or water temperatures during their stay is also important as systems can deteriorate between assessments.

Student Accommodation

In recent years, a University education has become more popular than ever and there are a growing number of students who demand high quality student accommodation. Student accommodation usually consists of unrelated occupiers who live independently from one another but share common areas of the same building, such as a kitchen or living area.

Like holiday lettings, student accommodation is likely to be left unoccupied for long periods, outside of term time. Therefore, the risk from legionella can be high as water can be left to stagnate. To manage this risk, the responsible person should put in place a flushing regime, which basically means turning on taps for about 5 minutes before use, where they have been left unused for a long period of time. Regularly Legionella Risk Assessments should be carried out and ongoing monitoring and control measures should be put in place.

Information and guidance on fire safety should be provided to students at the beginning of their occupancy, to help avoid risks. Particularly because kitchen fires in student accommodation are more likely to occur at the beginning of the academic year. Fire alarm systems should be tested weekly and records for this should be maintained. Student accommodation falls under both the Housing Act 2004 and The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, therefore the responsible person for the building should ensure a Fire Risk Assessment is carried out by a competent person. In addition to this, the buildings should include emergency lighting, adequate fire doors and escape routes should be maintained and kept clear.

Student accommodation that is 10-storeys or higher legally require sprinklers. However, since Grenfell, industry bodies have called for sprinklers to be required in all new and refurbished flats, including student accommodation. In addition to this, some buildings used for student accommodation may have ACM cladding, similar to that found on the Grenfell tower and therefore require special consideration prior to its replacement.

Blocks of flats

In England around 10% of the population live in a purpose built flat. Fire safety in high-rise blocks has been a particular topic of attention over the past couple of years since the Grenfell disaster.

Most fires occur within the domestic dwelling and rarely spread to common areas or neighbouring dwellings as long as the compartmentation is effective.

In order to maintain sufficient compartmentation, flat front doors need to be fire resisting and self-closing. In addition to this, corridors leading to stairs and stairwells themselves need to be of fire resisting construction and ideally compartmented. Compartmentation minimises likelihood of fire spreading between flats, from flats to common areas, from flats to other areas in the building such as commercial units.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to the common parts of a residential block of flats and states that a fire risk assessment should be carried out. There are four different types of fire risk assessments that can be carried out depending on the nature of the building. Usually, a Type 1 (non-destructive) Fire Risk Assessment of the common areas only is sufficient to comply with the Fire Safety Order. Other types involve an assessment of the dwelling and sometime an intrusive survey, which is normally only required in certain circumstances and often recommended following the type 1 survey.

The Fire Risk Assessment will state whether the building has a policy of ‘Stay Put’ or ‘Simultaneous Evacuation.’ Most purpose-built blocks of flats will have a ‘Stay Put’ policy, however, this is dependent on there being effective compartmentation. If a building does have a policy of ‘Simultaneous Evacuation’ residents will be encouraged to leave the building by a suitable detection and alarm system.

Another important aspect of health and safety to consider in blocks of flats is the risk presented by asbestos. Modern blocks built after the year 2000 will not usually contain asbestos, however it is likely that those built before will do so. An Asbestos Management Survey will be initially required under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Samples will be taken and if asbestos is found yearly re-inspections will be required in order to ensure it is being managed appropriately. You can have the asbestos removed but this will need to be done by a licenced professional and the decision to remove or manage asbestos is usually determine by the asbestos survey.

No matter what type of property you are responsible for, you will need to consider the health safety and fire implications for that building type.

If you would like further advice on your responsibilities contact the team at 4site Consulting on 01376 572936.

Reviewed: July 2019