Working together to educate residents on fire safety

Two years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, uncertainty remains over fire safety best practice for social homes.

BV_Managing fire risk

The housing communities and local government committee has already criticised the government’s slow speed of reform.

Maintaining pace on updates to Building Regulations is crucial to providing clarity for registered providers, their supply chain partners and for residents.

Alongside a new regulatory framework, there needs to be a widespread cultural shift across the housing design and construction communities.

Embracing best practice is about a change of mindset as well as a change of rules.

A concept developed by the trade body for the fit-out industry, the Finishes and Interiors Sector, called ‘Product, People, Process’ provides clear and workable guidance that all can follow: whether for new homes or retrofit works, only accredited fire safety products should be used, with installation carried out safely by competent people and processes documented to provide clear evidence for third-party inspection.

We also need a conversation about what happens once projects are handed over to local authority and housing association landlords.

How can we ensure that fire safety systems are not just installed correctly and are fit for purpose, but are also maintained and preserved in the long term?

Partly this responsibility lies with facilities management and building maintenance teams.

Residents also have a key role to play in maintaining their own safety.

Once people move into their homes, it is hard for landlords and building managers to monitor any changes or improvement works residents might make and how these could impact a building’s fire protection strategy.

Despite often acting in good faith, residents can compromise building safety due to ignorance of how fire safety measures are built into a structure.

Permissions should always be sought before alterations are made, but in reality this is difficult to enforce and once concealed any potential breaches cannot be easily discovered.

Social housing providers and their construction partners should work together to tackle these challenges.

Contractors and materials manufacturers who are taking the lead on fire safety reform are now developing robust handover packs for landlords and facilities management teams, logging details of building products used and relevant warranties.

This is vital to inform ongoing maintenance.

These packs can also be used to help educate residents on their joint responsibility for their own safety and that of their neighbours.

By including accessible, customer-facing information, the supply chain can equip registered providers with the tools they need to raise fire safety awareness and improve understanding of how alterations can affect passive and active protection systems.

As part of their regular communication with tenants, housing associations and local authorities can use this easy-to-understand guidance to empower residents to make safe, informed decisions about their property.

Collaboration between landlords and their construction partners doesn’t need to stop with a building handover.

Working together to support the end-user’s involvement in ongoing fire safety will not only help to maintain the integrity of systems, but instill confidence in residents that their property is safe and well managed.

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