Following the inquest into the deaths of six people in a fire at a high-rise development in London, the jury found that the local authority who managed the building had missed various opportunities to conduct fire safety checks.
Judge Kirkham has since made recommendations to the local authority, which are applicable to all landlords of residential property. In the following article Kerry Gwyther, partner and head of Regulatory at TLT, outlines the judge's comments and how landlords should carefully consider their own practices in light of this case.
On 3 July 2009 a fire caused by a faulty television spread quickly through a high-rise development and resulted in the death of three adults and three children who became trapped in flats on the 11th floor. The inquest was ordered to determine how, when and where the deaths occurred.
The local authority was found to have used materials which were below the required standards. Had the materials been of the correct standard, the spread of the fire could have been slowed. It was also found that the council had missed various opportunities to check fire safety at the building on previous occasions when works had been undertaken and that no fire risk assessment had been carried out. The inquest heard expert witness evidence stating that the council should have prioritised the high-rise development as it was a high risk building.
The Fire Brigade was also identified as not knowing the building and the layout of the flats.
Recommendations to Landlords
Judge Kirkham wrote to the council with recommendations relating to high-rise residential buildings. This advice is relevant to all landlords of residential accommodation, particularly high-rise and other multiple occupation premises.
Information and Guidance
Those who are about to enter into occupation of a flat or maisonette should be given demonstrations of all fire safety features of the building including 'walk throughs' of escape routes.
Residents must be given clear guidance about how to react in the event of a fire, particularly when they should leave the building or remain in their flat.
The Council should consider how information can be made available to residents, including fixing notices in flats and communal areas.
All signs should be reviewed to ensure that they are prominent and provide useful information, for example:
When residents should evacuate.
Clearly showing escape routes.
Using diagrams to ensure that it's easily understood, especially for those who cannot read English.
Co-operation with Emergency Services
Closer co-operation is needed between the emergency services and the building's management. Information should be given to the emergency services so that they can easily locate individual flats in an emergency.
The use of information boxes and signs outside of the building should be considered.
Landlords should also liaise with the emergency services regarding vehicle access.
Fire Risk Assessments
Policies and procedures in relation to high-rise residential buildings should be reviewed and high-rise buildings prioritised for 'regular rigorous' review and assessment.
Consideration should be given as to the training requirements of the individuals carrying out fire risk assessments.
Housing providers should identify when individual flats need to be inspected and establish an appropriate process for selecting flats for inspection.
Assessors must also have access to all relevant information about the design and construction of the building and any works that have been carried out so that they are able to identify whether compartmentation is sufficient.
Maintenance and Refurbishment Training
Staff engaged in procuring and supervising work should be given training to ensure that any materials used when works are carried out are of the correct standard and have the necessary fire protection qualities.
Retro Fitting of Sprinklers
Consideration should be given to the need to fit sprinkler systems.
Action for Landlords
All landlords need to consider their current practices in relation to fire safety. High-rise residential developments have inherent dangers which must be protected against. Landlords must ensure that all reasonable precautions are in place or face costly consequences.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at April 2013. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.
TLT LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England & Wales number OC 308658 whose registered office is at One Redcliff Street, Bristol BS1 6TP England. A list of members (all of whom are solicitors or lawyers) can be inspected by visiting the People section of this website. TLT LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 406297.