What precautions can I take to prevent a fire in my home?
Following on from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, Nathan Humphreys, Head of Residential Management at Watsons gives his opinion on fire safety in flats and maisonettes. While the emphasis for industry and the government following the Grenfell Tower fire has been associated with tall buildings, any block of flats or maisonettes need to ensure they are adequately protected against fire risk.
“The Government, fire risk and property sectors – both public and private are assessing the lessons to be learned following Grenfell, and we all welcome the improvements which will come about in due course. However fire safety isn’t just about cladding systems, fire protection methods and stay put or evacuation policies,” says Nathan, “we all have a role to play in our own homes and to our neighbours in minimising risk no matter how big or small the building. Sometimes the seemingly most innocent of objects or routines can be the biggest risks.”
The causes of fires in homes has not been affected by new technology or processes, but remains very much linked to daily household routines. Modern living styles tend to involve the use of various forms of deodorants, diffusion sticks and battery operated aerosols which are popular and preferable to mains powered devices – and are obviously infinitely better than candles with open flames.
“When people think of the causes of fire sometimes the most innocuous item can turn out to be the risk you don’t recognise. A common sense approach should be taken by all when it comes to fire safety. It should be remembered that unattended tea lights (with no saucers) can even ignite plastic baths in bathrooms. Hair straighteners and similar heat producing devices are very hot in use and retain their heat for some time after being turned off. They should be thought of as akin to irons and not put down on beds, carpets or other combustible surfaces.”
Although there are many fires in homes, thankfully most of them do not result in death, injury or large financial losses for insurers. But even a small fire in any home is a major tragedy, as it will result in the loss of family treasures, photos and memories. In the period from January 2009 to December 2017 there were 910 large loss fires in dwellings, 45 of which were in flats and maisonettes of up to three storeys. Of the latter, 70% were caused accidentally, 23% deliberately and just 6.3% of unknown origin.
“Sadly, and disturbingly, about one of five fires in flats and maisonettes of up to three storeys are deliberately started. This figure has been about the same in all forms of dwellings for several years now, and includes both attacks by occupiers as well as outsiders. We often get asked by our residents why we don’t allow access into communal electricity meter rooms – and it is purely because of acts of vandalism and arson which have happened over the years.”
“Owners of properties should consider having their fixed electrical wiring installations inspected periodically as required by BS 7671, with the interval between inspections being stated on the test certificate. For landlords this is five yearly, or at a change of tenancy in the case of rented domestic premises. If the wiring has not been tested for some years a check should be made with the landlord to allow the safety of the installation to be determined. Similarly, damage to fixed wiring, socket outlets and similar fittings should be reported to the landlord for arrangements to be made to allow a competent electrician to make suitable repairs.”
In a similar way, annual testing of the gas installation by a Gas Safe registered engineer should be arranged by the landlord and the results of the tests provided to tenants. Although in service, electrical testing of portable electrical appliances (PAT testing) does not apply in a domestic environment, all portable electrical equipment should be given a brief visual inspection before each use. If damage is seen to the appliance, cable or plug, a competent electrician should be consulted.
Some of the most common accidental fires in the home result from cooking activities, most of which can be avoided. Most importantly of all, avoid the use of pans of oil for deep fat frying: this should only be undertaken using a proprietary thermostatically controlled fryer.
Every home should have a suitable number of smoke and/or heat alarms installed, together with carbon monoxide detectors where gas boilers may be operating. The alarms should be mains powered with batter backup and provide a warning loud enough to wake anyone at night (75dBA at the bed head). Domestic smoke and heat alarms should be tested periodically (ideally every week).
For more information, please contact Nathan Humphreys via email: firstname.lastname@example.org