Building Risk Review

As part of Fire & Rescue Services (FRS) ongoing national work to understand and help reduce the risk in high rise residential buildings, the BRR programme is aimed at meeting the ambition set out by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in Parliament on 5th September 2019 to ‘significantly increase the pace of inspection activity across high rise residential and other high risk buildings’[1] and is supported by the allocation of government funding[2] to ensure all high rise buildings have been inspected or reviewed by the end of 2021.

In order to meet the Secretary of State’s commitment and the December 2021 deadline, the National Fire Chiefs Council Fire Protection Board have agreed that FRSs will be able to use a combination of triage, inspections, and desktop audits to provide information on a minimum data set agreed by the Board.

The objective of the BRR Programme is to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that FRSs are aware of the various elements impacting fire safety in high rise residential buildings and will help identify actions which need to be taken by the responsible person/s to rectify any issues.

Information on Balconies

Our Balcony fire safety advice:

  • Do not use BBQs under any circumstances
  • Never store flammable materials like gas on your balcony
  • Reduce clutter and try and keep items on the balcony to a minimum
  • If you smoke make sure you stub cigarettes out and NEVER flick them off your balcony
  • If you have concerns about balconies on your building, in the first instance contact your Landlord or the Managing Agent for your building.

Smoke Control

An appropriately designed, installed and maintained smoke control system is essential to effectively managing fire safety risks within a residential building. All residential blocks of flats (except those accessed by open balconies), regardless of size, should be provided with some form of smoke control system.

The type of smoke control system will depend on the age and size of the building. In older buildings this may be done via natural ventilation, utilising vents that are permanently open, while in newer buildings it is likely that these will open automatically under the control of smoke detection equipment within the communal area.

How do effective smoke control systems support means of escape and firefighting activities?

There has been a number of incidents within residential buildings where fire crews attended and the smoke control system has not activated correctly, and in one of these occurrences led to the products of combustion spreading beyond the floor of origin.

  • A serious fire occurred in a high-rise residential building and was able to spread from the flat of origin into the common corridor due to the flat front door failing to close after the occupier had escaped. This caused the automatic opening vents (AOV’s) on the fire floor to open, however due to the incorrect configuration of the smoke control system, the AOV’s across all floors also opened, causing the smoke and hot gases to spread beyond the fire floor.  
    • Automatic Opening Vents should only open on the floor involved. In accordance with Section 14 of BS9991:2015, “only the AOV leading from the protected corridor or protected lobby where the smoke has been detected should be configured to open. If automatic opening vents open on all floors, there is a possibility of smoke being entrained into additional floors not directly involved.
  • Following a fire, the attending FRS undertook an investigation as to why the automatic opening vents (AOV’s) had failed to open during the incident. The cause was identified to be a fault, however in the process of conducting the investigation, it was found that the smoke control system had been configured incorrectly and that had it have operated, the vents on every floor would have opened at the same time.
    • It is important that active fire safety systems including AOV’s designed for life protection are tested and maintained regularly and in line with relevant British standards.

As can be seen in the incidents above, smoke control is an essential part of keeping occupants of a building safe in the event of a fire and the incorrect or non-operation of these systems at a time when they are relied upon, may put the lives of the occupants at risk.

Requirements of the Responsible Person

Responsible persons should be aware of the type of smoke control system in the building and how this is intended to control the spread of smoke in the event of fire. This should be available within the original design information, but if it is not then the RP should seek professional advice from a competent person in order to understand how the system installed is intended to function.

The Responsible Person (RP) should:

  • Understand the “cause and effect” for the system. If this is not understood professional advice should be sought from a competent person in order to understand how the system installed is intended to function.
  • Be aware of the basic working principle of smoke control systems as detailed in Section 9 of the MHCLG ‘Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings, January 2020 namely;

“Where an automatic smoke control system is in place, in the event of heat and/ or smoke entering the common parts, it should vent that heat and smoke in order for the means of escape to be used safely and to facilitate the firefighting activities within buildings.”

“In the case of an automatically opening system that relies on a smoke shaft, if smoke is detected, the door/ damper to the smoke shaft on that floor should open together with the vent at the top of the shaft. This creates a chimney effect, allowing the smoke to vent to open air. All other vents opening into the smoke shaft should remain closed in order to maintain the fire separation in the building, prevent smoke spreading to other floors and to avoid reducing the rate at which smoke is being vented from the affected floor.”

“There have been issues with electromagnetic holding devices for vents which can have an unpredictable performance leading to failure under fire conditions. Such failure can occur due to a loss of power to the devices, or through the magnetic fields of the devices being weakened as temperatures in and around the smoke shaft increase. Therefore, it is 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.”

  • Ensure that the system is being tested in accordance with British Standards (BS EN12101 and BS9999), namely;
  • Weekly by the RP – which is a simulated actuation of the system ensuring that any fans and powered exhaust ventilators operate correctly, smoke dampers close (or open in some cases), natural exhaust ventilators open and other features such as automatic smoke curtains operate as required etc.
  • Every three months there should be an actuation of all smoke control systems where all zones should be separately tested, and it should be ensured that the items detailed above operate correctly.
  • At least annually there should be a full system inspection and test carried out by a suitably qualified person.

Some older buildings were designed with permanently open vents, and that these may have been blocked up/ obstructed over time for the comfort of residents. Where this is found to have occurred, the fire risk assessment should have considered how this additional risk is to be mitigated as it may render the smoke control system ineffective.