Utilising Automist as a cost-effective method of conforming with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and achieving the desired safety standard after a fire risk assessment
Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) are an integral part of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. They are carried out to highlight fire hazards and often result in upgrades to occupied dwellings. Sometimes issues can be addressed by refitting walls, installing doors with improved fire resistance for compartmentation, or even fitting specialist alarm systems.
In cases where the fire risk is either localised (e.g. a high risk kitchen, inner room or occupant) or the means of escape must be improved by protecting a specific area (e.g. fire escape route or landing), Automist should be considered, especially where original features (ceiling cornices, panelled doors and walls) of an old property need to be retained.
Ranch-style layouts with open plan living areas are relatively common in rented accommodation, including social housing; these layouts often include “inner” bedrooms whose fire escape route is through the open area. This is clearly against the guidance under two pieces of major recent legislation, the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which introduced new responsibilities for landlords and housing organisations. Some ambiguities in these laws have since been addressed by the LACoRS guide, published by the Local Government Association and endorsed by Central Government and the Chief Fire Officers’ Association; this document outlines how safe layouts must be achieved.
Some key facts:
The LACoRS guide defines an inner room as one for which the only escape route is through another “access” room; this poses a risk to the occupier if a fire starts unnoticed in the access room.
Inner bedrooms are particularly dangerous as an inhabitant may be deeply asleep and perhaps also intoxicated when a fire starts in the outer room. A closed bedroom door is a mixed blessing – although it may hold back smoke for a time, it also reduces the sound level of any alarm sounding in the outer room. Slow to rouse, the sleeper may awaken to discover a major fire and thick smoke on the exit route.
Section 12.2 of the LACoRS guide makes it quite clear that inner bedrooms and even living rooms are no longer allowed above first floor level:
[Inner rooms] should be avoided wherever possible. However, where unavoidable it may be accepted where the inner room is a kitchen, laundry or utility room, a dressing room, bathroom, WC or shower room.
Where the inner room is any other type of habitable room (for example a living room, sleeping room, workroom or study) it should only be accepted if:
Provision of automatic fire suppression is allowable as a compensatory feature against such layout shortcomings. The LACoRS guide states:
… provision of a suitable water suppression system can, in some circumstances, allow for relaxed provision of certain other fire safety measures [such as] relaxed requirements for inner rooms.
In the immediate years following the introduction of the new legislation, the cost of retrofitting sprinklers to properties with dangerous layouts was prohibitive. Not only would housing associations face huge installation costs; disruption to families could also be enormous. It was therefore straightforward to argue that there was no reasonably practicable solution available to address poor layout. This is no longer the case.
Inner rooms can now be protected by installing innovative water suppression devices in the access room. Several such devices are now available, designed to provide effective, retrofittable fire protection within the frameworks both of the new legislation and building regulations. Plumis’s Automist is one such solution and is the first active fire protection system that combines low cost and ease of retrofit with excellent aesthetics.
To determine whether retrofittable fire suppression is suitable for a specific application, standards are available; notably, PD7974 (Application of fire safety engineering principles to the design of buildings) provides a framework for analysis of where the fire risks are, how fire and smoke will spread, and how passive and active fire protection and detection/alarm systems will function in a given layout.
Automist aims to control and suppress fires, significantly reducing the risk of injury, loss of life and property damage by maintaining tenable conditions for as long as possible while occupants evacuate. This is achieved by:
Trevor Hargreaves, Deputy Director of The Almhouse Association, said "I have little doubt in my mind that this product will have a major influence in enhancing safety within the home for many years to come....I have no hesitation in recommending this innovative product across the entire almshouse movement."
As part of the Government's commitment to reduce death, injury and damage caused by fire, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reviewed existing fire safety law; and made a number of changes through the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRFSO). The Order finally received parliamentary approval on 7th June 2005, and came into force on 1st October 2006. The three main objectives were:
To simplify, rationalise and consolidate the existing fire safety legislation into one set of regulations, reducing the burden on business and the overlap of enforcing authorities
To align fire safety legislation with health & safety law and reduce prescriptive requirements e.g. abolishing Fire Certificates
To firmly put the onus for fire safety for people on the owner/occupier/employer/landlord that is, the ‘Responsible Person'
The focus of the RRFSO is on fire prevention and protection measures, and its greatest emphasis is on the Fire Risk Assessment.
In Scotland fire safety is governed by the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 which encompass the same regulatory approach as in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland there has been consultation on the changes and legislation is expected in 2010. The regulations are expected to be known as the Fire Safety (Northern Ireland) Regulations.
The ‘Responsible Person’ has a duty to carry out fire risk assessments of each property with the objective of implementing appropriate control measures. Assessments should be carried out by competent persons and should include consideration of the following areas:
Information can be downloaded from the Communities and Local Government website: