Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, tower block fire regulations have come under increased scrutiny. Aside from questions around the safety of different types of cladding, all aspects of fire regulation have been re-assessed to ensure that similar events don’t occur in the future. In this post, therefore, we outline the current rules regarding fire safety in tower blocks, and provide an overview of passive fireproofing measures now required for full compliance.
Tower block regulations in high rise buildings
Effective tower block fire safety needs both active and passive fireproofing systems. Active systems respond to fires by detecting and fighting flames; water sprinklers and smoke detectors are considered examples of active fireproofing. Passive fireproofing, on the other hand, works to contain and stop the spread of fire in a building. These measures are more ‘structural’, and includes measures such as compartmentation.
With regards to tower blocks, the most relevant regulation is contained within The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Although this regulation deals mostly with commercial buildings, it also covers the common areas of residential blocks. The Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 was also brought into force to ban the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise buildings.
Fire risk assessments
Fire risk assessment is required by legislation to be carried out once a year, or more if the material, layout or purpose of the building has recently changed substantially. The assessment allows the designated responsible person to determine what fire safety measures may be required.
Any recommendations made during the assessment should be carried out. Because high rise flats are residential, usually only the common areas (i.e. stairways) need to be assessed.
Some of the things to be assessed:
- Electrical equipment on site
- Smoking areas and how ignition is mitigated
- Defence system against arson
- The nature and number of occupants
- The escape routes
- Fire hazards introduced from construction
- Emergency lighting
- Damage to existing passive and active fire protection systems
- Newly-installed cabling and services penetrating compartment lines
- Storage of items in high risks areas (such as stairways, escape paths, electrical risers)
Communication of policies and procedures
There’s no point in having a robust set of fire safety policies if none of the residents and maintenance workers know about them. The responsible person is in charge of communicating these fire safety procedures to residents. This is recommended to be once a year, and should also be communicated through Fire Action Notices in the common areas.
There are specific regulations for tower blocks concerning fireproofing, which will be briefly summarised in the next section.
Required fire protection systems in high rise buildings
Here are four core techniques for passive fire protection in high rise buildings:
Fire doors must have cold smoke seals and intumescent seals to prevent fire and smoke passing through. In addition, fire doors should be self-closing and clearly labelled.
A fire door will protect you for around 30 to 120 minutes depending on the grade. The materials required for a fire door are somewhat flexible, including timber, steel, aluminium and gypsum. Windows are allowed, but must have shatter-proof mesh.
In January 2023, new legislation came into effect regarding the responsibilities of landlords and building owners. They are now required by law to check all fire doors (and self-closing devices) in common areas on a quarterly basis. As a minimum, this must include ensuring door closers, hinges and seals are working as intended, as well as noting any visible signs of damage or wear and tear that need to be rectified.
Domestic smoke detectors should be fitted in all flats. The most important area for a smoke detector is in the escape route, because this is the absolute priority when it comes to fire safety. These should be checked during the annual risk assessment.
Whilst not required, applying fines to residents for covering or neglecting their own domestic smoke detector could be an effective policy in ensuring fires are quickly detected.
Escape stairways and corridors should be kept free of gas canisters, flammable materials and objects blocking the path.
Escape routes should be designed so that a protected lobby/corridor separates each flat from the common escape stairway. Smoke control should also be provided by either a mechanical or natural ventilation in the protected lobby/corridor. Escape paths and stairways must have effective fireproofing measures in place to ensure they remain safe for the expected duration of an evacuation.
Maintain dry risers
Dry risers are required in any building between 18m and 60m tall. Dry risers are essentially empty pipes that the fire brigade can pump water through to extinguish a fire. If a high rise building is required to have one, they must also appropriately maintain them via a 6-month visual check, and a 12-month water test.
CLM Fireproofing are the UK’s leading experts in passive fire protection. Our operatives are fully compliant with the latest industry regulations, so our clients can feel confident that their building is protected from fire. To speak to one of our passive fire protection specialists, contact CLM Fireproofing today.
(Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes only, and does not constitute official fire safety recommendations. We always advise enlisting a qualified fire safety professional in order to get accurate recommendations).