Fire Safety in Houses in multiple occupation
HHSRS or Housing Health Safety Rating System
The key structure of the system is that a dwelling, including the structure and associated outbuildings and garden, yard and/or other amenity space, and means of access, should provide a safe and healthy environment for occupants and, by implication, for any visitors.
It should be borne in mind that all properties contain hazards, for example stairs, gas,electric,hot water,cables,fires,cookers,mats,rugs,glass,appliances etc. and it is not possible (or desirable) to remove all hazards. The emphasis should be to minimise the risk to health as appropriate.
What are the hazards?
- Dampness, excess cold / heat
- Pollutants e.g. asbestos, carbon monoxide
- Lack of space, security or lighting or excessive noise
- Poor Hygiene, sanitation, water supply
- Accidents – fall, electric shock, fires, burns, scalds
- Collisions, explosions, structural collapse
Damp and mould growth caused by rising or penetrating damp should be seen as a high priority Condensation mould should be addressed by better ventilation and ambient temperatures
Asbestos and such like need to be removed from the property by specialist firms Carbon Monoxide detectors should be installed
Security measures should be put in place, such as 5 lever locks on main entrance doors, security lighting with PIR detectors
Better provisions for waste products, food. Provisions for storage of cleaning agents away from food storage and preparation areas.
Constant supply of clean hot and cold water
Safeguard against trips or falls due to uneven surfaces, worn carpets etc. Safeguard against electric shock by having the installation tested by an NICEIC contractor Safeguard against fires by installing smoke detectors as standard, fire extinguishers and blankets in kitchens. Safeguard against structural collapse by regular and routine maintenance throughout the letting
The above is the “Beef” that councils have over landlords to ensure that properties are let to a suitable standard. Not only that, under another piece of legislation is The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which applies to all non-domestic premises other than some specifically listed exemptions. Under this order which now make it mandatory for fire officers have to be consulted on all HMO’s to decide on the best course of action to follow to safeguard against fire in the common areas of HMOs.
Not all HMO’s are the same, and therefore, are treated differently once the Rating Score has been determined, but the basics are always there:
- Fire Safety
- Means of Escape
- Electric Safety
- Gas Safety
- Furniture Safety
- General Hazards, such as trips or falls from uneven surfaces
- Overall amenity standards in the property
Is a fire risk assessment based approach where the responsible person(s) for the premises or area they have control must decide how to address the risks identified, while meeting certain requirements.By adopting a fire risk assessment , the responsible person(s) will need to look at how to prevent fire from occurring in the first place, by removing or reducing hazards and risks (ignition sources) and then at the precautions to ensure that people are adequately protected if a fire were still to occur. Therefore the main emphasis of the changes will be to move towards fire prevention.The fire risk assessment must also take into consideration the effect a fire may have on anyone in or around your premises plus neighbouring property. The building fire risk assessment will also need to be kept under regular review.
The HHSRS makes provisions that the electrical installation must be in sound condition and therefore the only way to make certain that this is safe and to BS7671:2008, which is known as 17th Edition of the IEE wiring code which came into effect from the 1 July 2008. All commercial, domestic and industrial wiring installations must be designed, constructed, inspected, tested and certificated to meet the requirements of BS 7671: 2008.
The installation must be inspected by an accredited contractor. Many councils will only accept an NICEIC or ECA accredited contractor, although there are other accreditation bodies, these are the most widely accepted.
As this is a new standard, properties having not complying with the 17th Edition will fail. However, it will be up to City & County of Swansea’s Environment Dept. to decide on what action is taken for properties that have been rewired during the last 5 years – the 16th Edition. It may be accepted that so long as there are no Code 1 or Code 2 Hazards which are life threatening hazards , that local authorities will accept these until the next Licence application, when they will need to be brought up to the 17th Edition.
For new HMO applications, the wiring must conform to the 17th Edition of the IEE Code
Plan for regular (perhaps annual) checks on the property for maintenance purposes, as damage by tenants or alterations on the property can affect the property condition.
Landlord’s must comply with the following:
- Plugs Sockets etc (Safety) Regulations 1994
- Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994
- Low Voltage Electrical (Safety) Regulations 1990
Which inturn form the basis of the wiring code. It is so easy to assume that all is working, yet, tenants can change fuses in plugs to the wrong rating.
Gas safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and amendments
These Regulations makes it a legal obligation to ensure that ALL gas appliances, whether fixed or portable, be maintained and checked every 12 months. A record should be kept of these checks and any maintenance undertaken.
The appliances should be checked and maintained only by qualified Gas Safe registered installers. The checks also apply to flues, pipework and ventilation.
Information must be supplied to the tenants of such checks and any previous maintenance work records must be made available to them.
Any breach of the Regulations could result in prosecution – with fines now up to £60,000 and/ or even imprisonment for severe non-compliance where death or injury is caused.
When fiiting gas cookers in flats, cookers must have a Flame Saftey Device or FSD – This is designed to cut off the gas supply in the event the flame goes out or the appliance tips over. Landlords should inform tenants of this requirement, if allowing tenants to supply their own appliances.
Fire and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988
Fire and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 1993
The Regulations apply to all upholstery and upholstered furnishing, loose fittings; permanent or loose covers, which we will refer to as “Furniture” in this article, but the technical criteria, are beyond the scope of this article.
You cannot give, sell, lend or supply in any other way Furniture that does not comply with the Regulations.
Labels must be attached to the Furniture to say that the article complies.
If no label is visible, it will be deemed NOT to comply and must be removed from the property. In certain circumstances, if document can be produced to confirm the article complies, this may be acceptable. On mattresses, if there is no label, there may be a BS number, this should be BS7177 and is acceptable.
Glass Doors / Windows / Glass in furniture (Tables etc)
Low window sills or windows were the sill is 800mm from the floor or less, then the glass must be toughened. If there is an internal door and glass panelling alomg side then the glass in the door must be toughened upto 1500mm from the floor and the side panels toughened upto 800mm (this is the critical area and will be applicable to 300mm to either side of the door. In reallity, it may be cheaper to replace the door and side panel. Failure to ensure the correct glass being fitted may render you liable for prosecution under the Health And Safety at Work Act 1974, General Product Safety Regulations 2005 and Consumer Protection Act 1987.
Where a glass panel is in a protected area, thus must now by Pyroglass. Georgian wired glass, sometimes known as safety glass is no loner acceptable.
PYROGLASS is a laminated glass of several clear layers of glass held together by interlayers or intumescent gels that react in the event of a fire.
As soon as either side of the PYROGLASS approaches a temperature of 120ºC, the process of intumescence is activated and a fire screen is created.
In a fire, the gel is able to absorb the thermal radiation, thus retaining the energy of the fire and controlling the increase in temperature to the side of the glass not facing the fire. The amount of time the glass can resist the fire depends on the thickness of the gel.
When replacing glass table tops, these again must be of toughened glass
General Product Safety Regulations 2005
The “Catch All” Regulations came into force implementing a European Council directive.. Any product supplied to a consumer (in this case the Tenant) must be safe. A dangerous product is defined as one that is not safe. Only antiques are exempt.
Replacing glass in tables, will come into this category, so remember when replacing broken glass table tops, to ensure that they are toughened.
Failure to comply with any of the regulations may result in prosecution.
Building Regulations 2000 (As amended 2002)
It should be noted that any complete new window replacement should be of double glazed construction with suitable insulating properties such as “ K “ marked glass.There is again a update on the above with the introcduction of the Building Regulations 2009
Any replacement central heating boiler should be of adequate size and energy efficient for the property and that All external heating controls will need to be upgraded as well.
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
From 1st October 2008 all residential rental properties, including HMOs, will need to have an Energy Performance Certificate or EPC for new lettings. Existing lets will, at present remain unchanged. However the EPC will be required if that property is re-let. This is the same report as required for the Home Information Packs (HIPS) when selling a property.
Where there is one tenancy, and the property is shared, the landlord must ensure that the property has an EPC prior to marketing.However, if the property is split into bedsits and each room has its own amenities, and the tenants are on individual tenancies, there is NO requirement, at present for the provision of an EPC
As part of protecting the property against fire and the safety of the occupants, there must be a provision of a “Protected Route” , and the provision of other fire precautions. Together, these provisions aim to help minimise the risk to occupiers from fire and smoke inhalation,
Most local authorities will ask landlords to provide suitable fire precautions to the property. To acheive this, there may be extensive works required.
These will include, upgrading of ceilings, floors, provision of fire doors with self-closing mechanisms, fire alrms and fighting equipment.
City & County of Swansea have provided a document on-line wich can be downloaded. Please click on the link for HMO information, City & County of Swansea, this will take you to their page (opens new window), Here you can obtain further information on their licensing policy, fire precautions, and amenity standards.
The Protected Route
In most cases this is done within the building rather than an external fire escape and will usually utilise the main stairway and internal hallways. This will provide safe passage out of the building. In the event of a fire the purpose is to be able to have an area free of flame and smoke for at least 30 minutes, to allow safe evacuation of the building.
All doors leading on to the Protected Route must be fire resistant and fitted with self closing mechanisms which can be overhead type or a new type of self closing hinge. These Fire Doors must be fitted to a high standard in order to maintain their effectiveness. Typically, bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens have direct access onto the hallway within the Protected Route.
Also there must be Vertical and horizontal fire resistant separation between individual rooms again meeting half hour fire rating. Depending on the construction of the property, there may be need to upgrade partitions to achieve this rating.
Other Fire Precautions
By providing fire fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire blankets, a small fire can be dealt with quickly by the occupants. So best practice and again the local authority standard may require you to provide an extingusher on each level, a powder extinguisher along with a fire blanket in each kitchen.
The provision of a smoke detection system will be required, in two storey properties the local authority will certainly ask for mains interlinked smoke and heat detectors to be installed (L3). Where as in three or more storey properties, the installation of a fully automated fire alarm system (L2 type) will be required. This must be installed by a qualified person and commissioned – a certificate will be required for licensing. This system will need to be maintained by a qualified person and a fire test should be completed once a month.
The installation of emergency lighting in areas such as the Protected Route, giving illumination should the main power fail during an incident.
Fire escape direction signs should be fitted to indicate the direction one should follow to exit the property safely.
Items should not be stored within the Protected Route as this could negate the effects of the fire precautions made. Gas meters should also be re-sited from the Protected Route. ELectric meters sited in under stair cupboards will also have to be re-sited.