Overview - high rise buildings in Kent and Medway

As a result of the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017, the government’s Building Safety Programme was launched within the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.  All buildings in the UK that were clad with Aluminium Composite Material were visited by Fire and Rescue Services and interim safety measures put in place while problems are addressed. In Kent and Medway only a very small number of buildings with such cladding were found.

In 2019 the Building Risk Review Programme commenced to ensure all high rise buildings in the UK are inspected or reviewed. During 2021, as part of the government’s Building Risk Review Programme, Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) carried out on-site fire safety inspections for every high rise building in Kent and Medway. The results of these inspections were reported to the FPB (Fire Protection Board) and will help to inform the government of the various problems that may exist in high rise residential buildings. Owners and responsible persons were advised of the result of the inspection and provided with a schedule of required works or notice where appropriate.

A new Building Safety Bill (see below) is currently under consideration by the government.

Important advice for owners of high rise residential buildings

From January 2022, a new Code of Practice PAS9980:2022 'Fire risk appraisal of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats - Code of practice' (the Code of Practice) comes into existence. 

Please note the document ‘Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings’ published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has been withdrawn and is only available as an historical reference document.

The new Code of Practice PAS9980:2022 is available for download from the website of the British Standards Institution. It is intended for use by ‘... competent fire engineers and other competent building professionals tasked with advising on the fire risk of external wall construction of existing blocks of flats'.

Who else will this Code of Practice be useful for?

The Code of Practice also states: ‘... it is expected that the key outputs of this appraisal will also be useful to those for whom such appraisals are carried out and those who make decisions based upon the outcome of the appraisal. Typically, this will include:

• advice agencies
• architects
• architectural technologists
• building owners/landlords (and others with legal or functional responsibilities for management of external walls and cladding)
• building surveyors
• contractors
• façade engineers
• fire and rescue authorities
• fire risk assessors
• insurers
• local housing authorities
• managing agents or facility managers
• project managers;
• valuers and mortgage lenders '

Kent Fire and Rescue Service advise all high rise residential building owners or responsible persons to read and be aware of this Code of Conduct.

Guidance for temporary change to simultaneous evacuation strategy

After the Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017, guidance was published regarding initial and temporary changes to evacuation strategy for high rise buildings to ensure all residents could be alerted and evacuated. 

This guidance was reviewed and updated in October 2020 (the updated Guidance 2020): ‘Simultaneous Evacuation Guidance - Guidance to support a temporary change to a simultaneous evacuation strategy in purpose-built blocks of flats’.

Summary of the changes in the guidance

The main edits and new definitions contained in the 2020 updated guidance have been summarised by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) as follows:

Edits

  • advises consultation with residents and leaseholders to explore cost/benefit options
  • emphasises the need to consider the installation of common fire alarms where measures are now, or are likely to be in place for the longer term. 
  • provides a clear distinction between waking watch and evacuation management as separate roles.
  • emphasises that residents can carry out waking watches and/or evacuation management duties so long as they are appropriately trained 

Definitions

  • short-term: the time required to formulate a longer-term remediation plan, as soon as practically possible and no longer than 12 months; and
  • temporary: non-permanent measures implemented to mitigate an unacceptable risk in a building, as an interim measure, adopted for the safety of residents while works to rectify the identified fire safety failings are carried out. ‘

In addition to the updated guidance, a draft Addendum was issued on the 30 July 2021 directing responsible persons to additional information and resources in relation to their duties, along with an open letter to responsible persons regarding their responsibilities.  

A brief overview of the updated guidance can be found below. However, responsible persons, owners and managers of and for high rise buildings must bear in mind that this is only an overview, and should read in full and apply the guidance, Addendum and open letter. Failure to apply these may have legal consequences.  

The purpose of the guidance is to ‘ensure life safety’ and it is ‘not intended to provide a long-term or permanent solution to the issue of significant risk’

Overview

The guidance has been introduced to support a change in evacuation strategy due to risk of rapid fire spread from combustible external wall systems (EWS) and/ or other serious building defects that have a serious impact on residents, and has been written to ensure life safety is paramount. This change is likely to be in place till the failings have been rectified.

The guidance is: 

  • for temporary or interim use only until risks on high-rise residential buildings( such as those arising from combustible external wall systems) are removed
  • for buildings under 18 metres, where appropriate and necessary to support a change in evacuation

It is not:

  • for long-term use or a permanent solution. 
  • or alternative to removing such systems. 

Who does the guidance support:

  • private sector housing providers (landlords)
  • social housing providers 
  • residents’ management companies 
  • ‘Right to Manage’ companies 
  • managing agents or facility managers 
  • enforcement officers in local housing authorities 14 Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats 
  • enforcement officers in fire and rescue authorities 
  • advice agencies 
  • consultants and contractors carrying out fire risk assessments *

It also includes fire risk assessors of buildings fitted with non-compliant wall systems.

(* list as set out in the Home Office guide 'Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats

What buildings is the guidance for: 

The guidance is specifically for ‘high rise residential premises that require a change to the evacuation strategy to be adopted until fire safety defects are rectified...’

While it has been intended for buildings over 18 metres high, this guidance is to be used where appropriate and necessary to support a change in evacuation. The principles set out may apply to other buildings as per section 1.10 of the guidance as follows: 

‘Although not intended for use for buildings less than 18m in height, a competent person may be able to use the principles contained within this guidance in order to make an assessment of the risk of other buildings where there are issues with combustible external wall systems’ 

Fire Risk Assessment

The Fire Risk Assessment and evacuation plan must be reviewed and updated immediately to reflect these changes and advice must be provided by a competent person. See Section 3 of the updated guidance for further details. 

Changing the evacuation strategy

A competent person should be appointed to assist and advise the Responsible Person to review the assessment and consider:

  • the external wall system
  • general fire precautions in the building
  • the height of the building
  • occupancy and factors that influence risk eg people with restricted mobility
  • provision of automatic fire suppression system and sprinklers
  • the number of flats and escape stairways
  • how long fire and rescue services will take to attend
  • the risk of external and internal ignition of cladding

For further details of how to review the above factors see Section 4 of the updated Guidance and consideration of the combined effect of fire safety measures. The guidance points out that these should be viewed holistically, not each one in isolation.  In some circumstances ‘...there may be sufficient mitigating features within the existing general fire precautions for a building which may mean a waking watch is not necessary.’ 

If a change in simultaneous evacuation strategy is considered necessary

If a change in simultaneous evacuation strategy is considered necessary and will be required beyond a short period of time (12 months) a temporary common fire alarm and detection system should be installed as a more cost-effective and reliable way to provide early warning instead of the reliance on a waking watch.

However, because a waking watch can be implemented immediately, it is likely to be required in the first instance until other arrangements can be put in place. 

If a waking watch is procured immediately, the guidance states: ‘the Responsible Person for the building should consult with residents and especially leaseholders about the options available to mitigate the building’s deficiencies. Cost options should be provided to leaseholders, who should be involved in the choice of interim measures. Section 5 of the October 2020 guidance states: 

‘A change to evacuation relies on 2 key essential principals:

  • early detection 
  • management of the evacuation

 ... Flats that do not have their own detection should be fitted with them regardless of the other fire safety provisions in the building. For best practice, installed smoke alarms should be mains wired with a tamper-proof battery back-up. These are independent of any communal fire alarm and detection system specified as an interim measure.’ 

Information sharing

Information must be provided to Kent Fire and Rescue Service to enable us to update tactical plan and operational information

It is essential that the residents are informed as soon as practicable. The Guidance advises.... ‘It is unlikely that relying on a simple mail drop or information on communal notice boards will be sufficient. Resident meetings supported with written advice are more appropriate.’ 

Removal of Temporary Measures 

These should only be removed once the remedial works have been completed, a competent fire safety specialist has been consulted and the Kent Fire and Rescue Service has been notified.

Common alarm

Where a common alarm system is installed, there will be additional matters that the management may still need to consider to support the adoption of a temporary simultaneous evacuation strategy.

These are set out in Section 6 of the Guidance and include:

  • the common alarm system should be designed by a competent person and in liaison with the fire engineer. This should not rely on a ‘double knock’ system.
  • there should be additional measure implemented for those that require it e.g. flashing beacons, vibrating pillows. This will be determined by completing Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP’s) on the residents within the building. 

Section 6 of the Guidance also recommends ‘... that every building with a temporary simultaneous evacuation strategy should be provided with 24/7 on-site trained personnel. The number of persons required will be dependent upon whether there is a waking watch, or alternatively, a common fire alarm system, in conjunction with evacuation personnel. The level of personnel required should be outlined by a review of the premises fire risk assessment by the Responsible Person, in conjunction with advice from a competent person, to ensure that the functions of Appendix 4 and 5 [of the Guidance] are fulfilled, where necessary.'

Waking watch person specification

For full details of the specification, recommendations and definitions please see Appendix 4 of the updated 2020 Guidance 

In summary, a waking watch should consist of suitable trained and equipped individuals who will provide the function of detecting a fire, raising the alarm, assisting in coordinating the evacuation of the building in which the waking watch is set up and liaising with the FRS on arrival. Training should be provided to those that are there to manage the evacuation management and waking watch members and should follow the guidance on what is required for this training.

Evacuation Management Role

‘The role of evacuation management in a building that has temporarily changed to a simultaneous evacuation strategy is to facilitate a rapid, effective and coordinated evacuation, and to liaise with the FRS to provide an essential link with them during operations. Management of evacuation are still likely to be required where a common alarm system has been installed...’  

For full details of the role of evacuation management, please see Appendix 5 of the updated Guidance 2020

Please note the evacuation manager should receive the same training as the waking watch in addition to the further requirements set out in the guidance 

Quality Assurance 

The updated Guidance 2020 requires that: 

‘ Where a building has moved to a temporary simultaneous evacuation strategy which will require a waking watch or a common fire alarm, and additional evacuation management, it will also be necessary for the Responsible Person to implement a suitable quality assurance process. 

These processes will serve three main purposes:

  • to ensure that measures in their building are fit for purpose and address the risks identified, 
  • to identify gaps which may have been overlooked in the initial assessment of the building, and 
  • to refine systems that have been implemented.’

The full details of the Quality Assurance requirements will be found in Appendix 6 of the updated Guidance 2020. The Responsible Person must ensure that the quality assurance process meets the purposes set out in that appendix. The best way to complete this is through fire drills. There should also be routine monitoring. 

Building Safety Regulator

What is the Building Safety Regulator?

In January 2020 the government announced the establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator. This is a new regulatory body that is to be set up under the Health and Safety Executive and will be responsible for regulatory decisions regarding the design, build and occupation of buildings including high rise. You can find further information on the Health and Safety Executive website.

What is the Building Safety Bill?

A draft Building Safety Bill has been proposed by the government to improve building and fire safety. This Bill is currently in draft and due to be examined by the parliamentary committee before finalisation and presentation to the House of Commons or Lords.

Where should residents in my high rise building go for information?

Useful information for residents can be found on the websites of:

Waking Watch Fund

Waking Watch

As a result of the Grenfell Tower Disaster, the Building Safety Fund was established in 2020 to provide funding for the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings. 

Following this in December 2020, the government announced the introduction of the Waking Watch Relief Fund in addition to, but not a substitute for, the Building Safety Fund. 

What is the Waking Watch Relief Fund

The Waking Watch Relief Fund is a £30 million fund to meet the costs of installing fire alarm systems in residential buildings over 18m high awaiting the removal of unsafe cladding systems. These fire alarm systems are intended to replace existing Waking Watch measures currently in use. This reflects the October 2020 National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) updated guidance for buildings whose evacuation procedures have changed from ‘Stay Put’ to ‘Simultaneous Evacuation’ fire safety. (Please note the NFCC guidance is only available in PDF format.)

Guidance has been issued by the government on eligibility criteria and time limits for applying. Prospective applicants are urged to read this guidance as soon as possible.

Time period

The fund opened to applications on 31 January 2021. The government guidance contains details of how to apply. 

Applications for London must be made no later than 22 March 2021. £22m (73.3%) of the fund is allocated to eight metropolitan areas which are believed to have the largest number of eligible building. The other £8 million will be administered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

The fund will cover costs for the installation of alarms from the 17 December 2020.

Applying

Details of how to apply and the application process can be found in the government guidance. 
The responsibility for applying for the fund rests with the Responsible Person for the building. Responsible Persons in Kent wishing to apply are encouraged to liaise with Kent Fire and Rescue Service in order to make sure they understand the implications of installing such an alarm. They should also ensure leaseholders are kept informed.

Need help?

Contact our Business Safety Helpline, where you can obtain free, friendly advice and help. 

Call us now on:  01622 212 442 (lines open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday), or email us on: businessfiresafety@kent.fire-uk.org