Housing Associations predict over £1.2 billion needs to be spent on fire safety in the next five years
It is a truly shocking number; a recent survey carried out by Inside Housing has revealed that leading housing associations believe the required spend on implementing fire safety measures could reach £1.2 billion over the next five years.
Even for those of us already heavily entrenched in the fire safety sector these numbers are a real wake up call, a reminder that the job of upgrading the UK’s social housing stock to an acceptable safety standard is a long way from being complete.
The survey findings come just a short time after an analysis by the same publication of phase one of the post-Grenfell inquiry report by Sir Martin Moore-Bick which reveals there is yet to be a truly cohesive response to the actions he recommended.
The first phase of his report covered two main areas, one of which, the installation of fire doors is where Mila Maintenance and Installation has significant involvement. His recommendation was that all installed doors should be inspected every three months to ensure they remain technically compliant and fully functioning to offer residents protection in the event of a fire.
Of particular concern to him was the operation of door closers, which if not working correctly have the potential to be a weak point in the event of a fire, allowing smoke or flames to penetrate into a resident’s home.
We know from our own experience that closers, as well as a number of other key component parts can ‘move’ over a period of time during everyday use but are critical to the performance of the door, and Sir Martin’s report is right to highlight these as a key area of concern.
The issue however is not so simple. As most housing associations would testify, trying to guarantee access to a resident’s home with such frequency is hard to achieve, and the success of the proposed inspection programme would stand or fall accordingly.
Whilst the sector waits for his recommendations to be passed into legislation, further discussions as a part of a Home Office consultation have suggested that only fire doors in communal areas should be subject to the three month inspection review, and individual front doors to be reviewed either six monthly if in high rise blocks, or 12 monthly in other building types.
We recently commented on the findings of a Fire Door Inspection Scheme report that said over 76% of fire doors inspected during 2019 were not fit for purpose, and a key part of this was the performance of component parts after the initial installation. The extraordinarily high numbers highlighted in this report would be reduced in future reports by having less time between inspections and more regular maintenance cycles, but the practical process of carrying them out, and the resource required to do so present multiple challenges that the sector has not yet been able to address.
It appears to me that there are actually challenges on many levels where fire safety is concerned, not the least of which is the financial one. If the social housing sector has to find £1.2 billion over the next five years to implement fire safety measures then it is likely that money is going to have to be found at the expense of other projects and potentially equally important measures where housing is concerned.
Similarly, the pressure on the supply chain to provide consistently fit for purpose, fully accredited fire doors is a further challenge. Fire Doors are highly technical products and corners cannot be cut in terms of allowing suppliers whose products potentially do not match the standards of those already in the fire safety sector to enter the market easily.
Finally, and in my opinion most critical to the process is the installation of fire doors. Only fully trained and accredited site managers, supervisors and installers should be engaged to install these specialist products, and anything less is a dereliction of their duty of care by those engaging them.
It remains to be seen which elements of Sir Martin’s report become law, but the government has repeatedly stated that the lessons of Grenfell will be learnt and legislation brought to bear to ensure that a repeat of the disaster cannot happen again.
For those of us so committed to the fire safety sector, we hope that legislation is implemented to ensure residents whose properties are most at risk of fire can remain safe, secure and warm in their homes.