In England and Wales there are two principal pieces of legislation which cover fire safety in housing. These are the Housing Act 2004 (including the Housing Health and Safety Rating System) and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Under these legislations, registered providers/ social landlords (be they Local Authorities or Housing Associations) have a responsibility to ensure their tenants and properties are safe. Whilst social landlords may face criminal prosecution if they fail to meet these legislations, it is also important that their duty of care extends to educating their tenants about fire safety to ensure they act and feel safe in the home.
In many circumstances, tenants in social housing may form a ‘tenant’s panel’ to work with registered providers on the topic of fire safety. These panels may also be involved in decision-making, monitoring, complaints, and developing community policies - to name a few.
Regardless of whether social housing tenants are in a tenant’s panel or not though, it is important that both they and landlords are aware of their fire safety responsibilities and have a good level of communication. With this in mind, here is a brief fire safety guide for social housing tenants for your reference.
Know your social landlord’s responsibilities
As outlined in fire safety standards and regulations for existing social housing, your registered provider needs to address a number of areas when it comes to fire safety in social housing. Primarily, before a tenant moves in, social landlords should conduct a thorough risk assessment which will identify and remove/reduce fire hazards in the home, alongside identifying people at risk. As social housing has a high percentage of vulnerable tenants - including children, the elderly, disabled or those living with illnesses such as dementia - these will need to be carefully considered in the fire risk assessment (see (3)).
Beyond this, it is best practice if registered providers provide fire safety information to tenants to make them aware of their responsibilities in the home, and how best to independently maintain and mitigate their own fire risk.
What are your fire safety responsibilities as a tenant?
As a social housing tenant, your primary responsibility is to ensure you know about the fire hazards in your home, and work to reduce the risk of fire. Primarily this includes testing smoke alarms weekly (and cleaning every 3 months), using the kitchen safely, and avoiding smoking in the premises - or doing so responsibly. A few other lesser-known risks also include keeping children away from matches, not using large electrical appliances overnight (e.g. washing machine or dishwasher), not leaving mirrors near windows and not overloading sockets or using using counterfeit electronic chargers.
It is also paramount that you are aware of what to do when a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, or a gas alarm sounds, and know about escape routes and evacuation procedures. These topics are covered in FireAngel’s Fire Safety In The Kitchen eBook below:
Make sure you and other tenants can answer all questions below:
- If a fire occurs, will everyone be able to hear the fire alarms sounding?
- What is my planned escape route? What do I do if my primary escape route is unavailable?
- What do I do if smoke alarm, gas alarm or carbon monoxide alarm sounds?
- What are the fire hazards I should be aware of in social housing?
What fire safety technology is the best for social housing?
As a housing association tenant, you need to feel confident knowing that your registered provider is giving you the best fire protection possible, so it is important you know what fire safety products/measures are available. This is particularly significant if you are, live with, or know of someone who is vulnerable. This includes elderly tenants, those with a disability or illness, those under the influence of alcohol or medication/drugs, and young children.
As social housing has a high proportion of vulnerable tenants, registered providers need to make sure these individuals a priority when implementing fire safety systems. In light of the fact that some of the best technology now also reduces costs, there really is no excuse for landlords not to provide the highest standard of protection in the properties under their care.
Top 6 technologies to be aware of:
1. Multi-sensor technology
Thermoptek multi-sensor technology smoke alarms provide rapid detection of both fast flaming and slow smouldering fires in a single alarm. This eliminates the need to choose between an optical or ionisation alarm. This technology has become more affordable with SONA by FireAngel; it is now a standard part of the range and the same price as some optical alarms. The competitive price also means that social landlords can afford to fit more of these alarms, and therefore offer enhanced protection for tenants.
2. Interlinking alarms
Interlinking alarms operate via a wireless radio interlink connection: each unit can communicate with any other alarm in the network. Alarms are constantly transmitting and receiving messages via radio frequency signals. Therefore if one detects a problem, all alarms will sound simultaneously. Not only will this alert tenants to the problem - wherever they are in the home - but it will also reflect the type of problem, as all the alarms will mimic the original alarm’s sound pattern. Therefore if it is a carbon monoxide alarm, or smoke alarm, tenants will be able to respond accordingly.
3. Carbon monoxide alarms
The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 require private landlords to fit a CO alarm in any room with a solid fuel appliance. Whilst social housing is exempt from this legislation, it is recommended to implement the same level of protection to ensure tenants are protected from this potentially deadly gas. You can find out more about carbon monoxide in our Project SHOUT blog, or you can download our free CO eBook below.
4. Low frequency sounders, strobes and vibrating pads
As seen in 2017 research, a lower frequency alarm is more likely to wake up sleeping children. It has also been proven to more effective at waking up those under the influence of alcohol, in addition to those with mild to moderate hearing loss. For those with severe hearing loss/are deaf, then it is recommended to use strobes - to provide a visual warning during the day - and vibrating pads under the pillow to provide a physical warning during the night. A variety of these fire safety products can be wirelessly interlinked throughout the home, specific to the individual's needs.
5. Stove Guard
A stove guard is an intelligent device that will automatically shut-off the power to an electric cooker before a fire can reach the point of ignition. Particularly useful for tenants who are at particular risk when cooking for example with dementia, you can find out more about this device in our 7 Benefits Of The Stove Guard - An Automatic Stove Shut Off Device blog post.
6. Gas Alarm
As with all senses, our ability to smell decreases with age. Therefore, the older the social housing tenant (particularly in the 55+ category), the greater the risk of them being unable to detect combustible gas in the home without the aid of a gas detector. Please see our gas detector post for more information.
Fire safety technology is continually advancing to become better and quicker at detecting fires in the home, alongside reducing in price. To find out more about fire safety products available, please see ourfire safety measures for adults at risk blog post, or our vulnerable tenants round-up.
Working with your local Fire And Rescue Service
Alongside working with your social landlord, it may be advisable to contact your local Fire And Rescue Service if you would like a 'Home Fire Safety Check' or 'Safe and Well Visits' to your accommodation. These can offer insights into fire hazards, fire prevention, security and health care advice and support.
For further information about requesting a home safety visit for yourself, or on behalf of a vulnerable friend or family member, please contact your local Fire and Rescue Service - which can be found on the Chief Fire Officers (CFOA) postcode finder.
It is important that social housing tenants- nor their registered providers - are presumptuous when it comes to fire safety. Thinking a fire alarm is working and knowing a fire alarm is working are totally different things! Make sure everyone in the property knows the fire hazards, how best to prevent fire, and what to do in the event of an alarm sounding and escape route.
An additional social housing tenant guide to fire safety (that can also be used by landlords) can be found in our Fire Safety Checklist.
We would also recommend downloading our Fire Evacuation And Procedures eBook for a detailed look at what to do in the event of fire in different types of accommodation.