MY VIEW - Fire poses an increasing danger to housing providers

Monday 2 March 2020

The high-profile media subject of domestic fires has put buildings under scrutiny, as well as raise risk awareness. 

Fire doesn’t just carry a financial and organisational cost; it also impacts people’s lives.  

Registered providers of social housing should continue to put fire safety at the heart of all new builds, refurbishments and maintenance programmes.  

Fire has always been one of the most significant risks facing social landlords, but a combination of factors has led to a marked increase in the risk of fire in recent years.  

One important change is a shift in the way buildings are constructed, and the materials used to build them.  

Developers and housing providers are increasingly using modern methods of construction (MMC). Used appropriately, MMC can help organisations reduce waste and build times, and cut costs.  

However, MMC can also introduce new risks, both during construction and throughout the lifecycle of a property. For example, voids between modules can allow fire, smoke and water to spread quickly through a building.  

A number of recent fires in timber framed constructions have been exacerbated by issues with fire stopping, hidden fire spread in voids, and inappropriate use of combustible cladding. 

Arson and hot works 

But MMC is not the only fire risk - other longstanding concerns remain. Arson is the most common cause of fire in the UK, accounting for more than half of all fires to which firefighters were called in 2017/2018.  

Hot works is another leading cause of serious building fires, accounting for around 15% of all fires in industrial and commercial properties.  

Quality and education 

Beyond these specific risks, a key concern is that many public and private sector organisations are focusing on simply complying with building regulations, rather than viewing them as the bare minimum to achieve. Development quality is paramount. 

More consideration also needs to be given to how properties will actually be used – for example, how tenants will live in homes being built. In some timber properties, an act as simple as a tenant drilling a hole in a wall could undermine the compartmentation designed to minimise fire spread. Tenant education is critical.  

Zurich Municipal’s new white paper, The human impact of fire discusses how public and third sector organisations can improve fire safety in communities. 

Richard Wood, ALARM Coopted Board Director (richard.1.wood@uk.zurich.com)

 

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