There are two words which will haunt multiple occupancy and high-rise housing for years to come; Grenfell Tower. Block managers need to reconsider what they do and how they do it.
It is this decade’s Aberfan, or Hillsborough, or Herald of Free Enterprise.
Preliminary investigations indicate the unimaginable tragedy was caused by a mixture of poor external structural material decisions and shoddy building management. The loss suffered by families will never be healed, by time or money. It is this decade’s Aberfan, or Hillsborough, or Herald of Free Enterprise. What links them is they are all disasters where different decisions might have made a significant difference and avoided loss of life.
Whilst the enquiry takes place, there are lessons to be learned. Immediate internal recommendations could improve safety and peace of mind for leaseholders, tenants and block managers alike. Whether the property is a house of multiple occupancy, a conversion, or a tower block, implementing even some recommendations will dramatically reduce the chances of a similar occurrence.
Five Safety Tips For Block Managers
- Functioning smoke and fire alarms – these are of the utmost importance in any household. Where there are multiple kitchens, multiple fireplaces and sources of flammable materials functioning smoke alarms are critical. They should be checked regularly, and batteries should be diary-dated for replacement rather than waiting for them to run out. Thankfully, units are available simple enough for tenants and leaseholders to install. Therefore this isn’t something that has to wait. However, it should be impressed upon block managers and landlords that fire alarms in communal areas and corridors are a pressing responsibility. If they are not already installed or regularly maintained, do this immediately. As cleaners of communal areas we do provide a second pair of eyes and ears to monitor damage or anything that doesn't seem right.
- Sourcing fire-retardant furniture, wall coverings, and flooring – for communal areas, this is the responsibility of the property or block management company rather than individual leaseholders. However, requesting proof is down to the tenant. Fire retardant paint should be used in corridors, and on internal front doors to provide additional protection. If fire doors are not already fitted, they should be installed where appropriate. They must never be locked shut in communal escape areas. We can check these on our rounds to add another layer of regular surveillance. Additionally, ensuring that exits are never blocked by bulky items is essential – the place for bicycles is not obstructing common areas. This is especially so where visibility might be compromised in terms of escape routes.
- Fire risk assessment certificate – the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005 requires an assessment to be carried out in buildings of two or more separate occupied areas. It's a legal requirement for houses of multiple occupation, converted flats, or blocks of flats. The management of the common areas is on someone nominated as the ‘responsible person’. This will be the freeholder, a block management company or managing agent, or a residents' management organisation. The certificate must be kept up to date, and as a general rule, the more numerous the dwellings, the more frequently this must happen. Local fire authorities can carry out inspections to ensure compliance, and will serve enforcement notices in the event of failure to do so.
- Signage, safety exits, fire equipment – perhaps the most important consideration the responsible person (or organisation acting as the responsible person) has to undertake is making sure that in the event of fire, residents are clear what to do. In multi-floor buildings, each floor should be clearly indicated, along with fire exits and staircases. Where buildings contain residents whose first language is not English, every effort must be made to either provide instructions in other languages, or where other languages spoken are numerous, to provide clear written instructions and to make sure they are understood. Fire extinguishers and fire blankets should also be available in common areas, as well as within flats. We have often reported notices that have been damaged, defaced or have gone missing as we clean communal areas.
- Contract cleaners – this might seem like a strange addition to safety recommendations for leaseholders and property managers, but an extra set of experienced, professional eyes over communal areas on a regular basis can be, quite literally, a lifesaver. Contract cleaners can make sure that signs and safety equipment stay in place, and that residents don’t block vital fire exits with furniture or bicycles. They can also, by virtue of being regular visitors, keep property management companies informed. They can report on deterioration in essential fire-retardant paintwork or flooring, and report on other matters, such as whether fire doors are propped open, or otherwise compromised. They keep areas clear of obstruction and demonstrate the management company values the occupants. Rather than an expense, cleaners could be a valuable safeguard. They can help keep an eye out for anomalies and also help protect the structure itself. It's better to clean often then rely on an annual deep clean for example.
If you are a tenant, landlord, leaseholder, block management company, or any combination of these – the measures you take to make the interior of the building safe will contribute to the overall fire safety. A combination of common sense, a safety checklist, and the regular independent pair of eyes that a contract cleaning company will provide will all improve living conditions within a communal building.
The investigations surrounding the causes of the extent of the Grenfell Tower fire, and the reasons why it spread so rapidly and in such a deadly fashion will continue for months, if not years to come. Whilst some factors with regard to building safety may be beyond your direct control, following the five recommendations above will ensure responsible management of those factors that are.
We must prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again as much as we can.
Do leave a comment or drop us a line if you have any concern at your block regarding Communal area Maintenance and Safety.