7th May 2019
Fire Safety Inspections – What’s going on?
As many of our clients have discovered recently, when the Fire & Rescue Service inspects premises, particular attention is now being given to the compartmentation of the building. Historically issues that have never been raised before are now being brought to the table for those in charge of the buildings to address. Why is this under heightened scrutiny; and what should be in place to prevent you falling foul of an inspection?
Quite simply – fire compartmentation provides passive fire protection, and gaps allow fire to spread.
Fire compartmentation is generally achieved through the use of 30 or 60-minute rated fire doors, floors and walls of fire-resisting construction, and cavity barriers within roof voids, and plant rooms etc. This means those in the building could be safe for a certain amount of time because fire, smoke and toxic gases are prevented from spreading.
Recent experiences from working with numerous clients has highlighted the fact that the Fire & Rescue Service inspectors are now much more interested in the compartmentation of a premises than previously.
Inspectors are paying close attention to the smallest holes in walls, e.g. gaps around pipes or cables, the condition of self-closing devices on fire doors, and even checking the intumescent strips running down the door rebates. If non-conformances are discovered then the inspectors are forcing duty holders to take action to close them up.
After Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, and subsequent Hackett Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, it comes as no surprise that those who provide any form of sleeping accommodation are being scrutinised to a far greater degree than in previous year’s inspections by the Fire and Rescue Service.
For example, many clients have found themselves on the wrong side of inspectors recently as they have failed to consider the separation between floors.
Plant rooms, service risers and above ceiling tiles are commonly littered with holes for mains services to run. As many of these buildings are can be fairly dated or not completed to a satisfactory standard based on today’s requirements we have been finding that the construction of the floors/ ceilings in some cases don’t provide much, if any, separation. This means that many clients have to undertake extra work in boarding out ceiling, filling in gaps and bringing the site in line with the inspectors requirements.
What to do?
Firstly, check your fire risk assessment. It should identify whether there is an issue with compartmentation. If it states that there are gaps, take action to fill them. Be aware however that a fire risk assessment will not have picked up every single compartmentation breach – the only way to do this thoroughly is to arrange for a specialist ‘Compartmentation Survey
The material used to plug the holes should be ‘suitable and sufficient’ to provide a fire break. For example, standard expanding foam products are unlikely to work and are only suitable for the smallest of holes generally. Always check that the product/ system you use is suitably fire rated.
Warning. If you can see gaps around pipes, holes in walls etc. yet your fire risk assessment states that everything is fine, update your assessment accordingly. If you don’t, you run the risk of an inspector stating that your assessment is inaccurate and therefore not ‘suitable and sufficient’.
Check your fire doors regularly. Make sure that they close properly (without being forced), the that the seals are in good condition and the self-closing device is affixed and operating properly.
Your primary focus should be on escape routes thought your premises to the final exits. So if you have a number of holes, prioritise those which may compromise these routes first. Ideally, formalise your priority list to show what works are to be completed/are already done so that there is evidence of the works undertaken.