According to Fire statistics Great Britain 2012/13, 62% of accidental fires in the home start in the kitchen, making it the most hazardous room in the home. As landlords have a legal responsibility to provide fire safety in their rental premises, it is therefore vital that they pay particular attention to this room.
At a fundamental level, landlords and property-related professionals must ensure they are compliant with legislation. This includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) - introduced by the Housing Act (2004) - the Regulatory Reform Order 2005, and relevant Building Regulations.
A key standard that outlines the code of practice for fire detection and installation of fire alarm systems in domestic premises is BS 5839-6: 2013. It provides recommendations for all housing providers and dwelling types, with a focus on grades and category of system. It is important to note that, whilst Building Regulations in England and Wales specify a Category LD3 system as the basic requirement in new builds, this only offers a minimum level of protection in circulation spaces, so it is best practice to install to Category LD2. For more information on fire safety regulations and best practice guidelines, we'd recommend downloading the following eBook:
With consideration of the fire safety standards and regulations, there are a number of questions for landlords to consider when providing fire safety in the home, with a particular focus in the kitchen. Primarily, these include the following:
Is my tenant vulnerable?
Tenants who are vulnerable may not be as safe in their homes as other tenants, especially in life-threatening situations such as a fire starting in the kitchen. Furthermore, vulnerable tenants may be more likely to forget about pans on the hob, be unable to hear a traditional fire alarm due to hearing loss, or are unable to escape unassisted. As defined in BS 5839-6, a vulnerable tenant is:
“A person who is, or may be, in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness, and who is or may unable to take care of himself or herself against significant harm or exploitation.”
Vulnerable and high risk tenants include the elderly, disabled, children, those living with an illness such as dementia, or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Therefore, where possible, fire safety products and procedures need to be be carefully planned and specific to a vulnerable tenant’s needs. For instance, Fire Risk Assessments may need to consider the tenant’s mobility limitations, or a specialised product/system may need to be installed. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, for instance, a low-frequency sounder, strobe or vibrating pad system may be the best indicators of fire. Alternatively, interlinking alarms, stove guards or gas alarms can also be installed for an extra level of safety. Gas alarms are particularly important for elderly tenants because, as with all senses, our ability to smell reduces with age. Therefore tenants over the age of 55 may struggle to notice dangerous concentrations of combustible natural gas (methane) in domestic properties without the help of an alarm.
Is my tenant aware of hazards in the kitchen?
There are a variety of fire hazards in the kitchen, ranging from electrical appliances to the presence of flammable oils, naked flames, and other heat sources. Yet this doesn't mean landlords can’t take several steps to protect tenants in the most dangerous room in the home. Heat and carbon monoxide alarms can be installed and regularly checked, alongside gas and electrical safety checks on appliances. Furthermore, landlords can educate tenants on the potential hazards of the kitchen, and how they can mitigate the risk of fire, e.g. by cleaning hobs and not wearing loose clothing whilst cooking.
If you would like to provide tenants with a free handout outlining fire safety in the home, we would recommend distributing Section 1 of our Fire Safety in the kitchen eBook:
For landlord information about implementing CO and fire safety, we would recommend seeing Section 2 - a guidance for landlords for protecting tenants in the kitchen.
Are the electrical kitchen appliances safe to use?
At the start of a tenancy, it is vital that landlords provide a record of electrical inspections to tenants, and will continue to check that all appliances are safe at least every 5 years (this is by law in HMOs).
Electrical devices must have a CE mark or BSI kitemark - the manufacturer’s declaration that the product meets European or British law - and there needs to be good communication between the housing provider and tenant, especially in circumstances where there is an accident or appliance fault.
Has a gas safety certificate been provided?
Legally, landlords must record having a gas safety inspection each year if there’s a gas supply. Appliances, installations, pipework, and air vents must be checked by a Gas Safe-registered engineer to ensure they’re safe to use , and a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate should be provided to tenants. It is also recommended to install a natural gas alarm in the property, especially if the tenant is above the age of 55 (see above)
Have I installed the best type of fire alarm for the kitchen?
Nuisance alarms can occur if an alarm is installed in an inappropriate location. For instance, ionisation alarms, optical, & multi-sensor alarms are not appropriate for installation in the kitchen as they are sensitive to smoke from cooking fumes.
Nuisance alarms can be dangerous if they persist, as tenants may decide to remove batteries and/or the alarm, and so removing their primary source of fire detection. False alarms are also costly in terms of FRS time, as seen in 2012/13, when the service attended 295,000 false alarms.
Heat alarms and carbon monoxide alarms (if there is a fuel burning appliance) are best installed in the kitchen, with appropriate multi-sensor smoke alarms installed in the hallway and landing. For more information on fitting the best type of fire alarm, please see our article on the different types of fire alarm and where to install them .
Does my tenant know what to do in the event of a fire?
As outlined in the Fire Safety Order - discussed in our interview with Ceri Flavell, Watch Manager for the Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service - a Fire Risk Assessment must be undertaken by a competent person in a rental premises, and must be undertaken yearly as a minimum. This Risk Assessment identifies fire hazards and considers all of those at risk, ensuring that they have access to escape routes at all times and know the evacuation procedure in the event of a fire. It is therefore recommended to print a map of escape route/exits for tenants to refer to.
As a landlord/housing provider, it is your responsibility to install a range of measures to ensure your tenant is safe in the kitchen, and educate your tenants so that they are aware of how to prevent a fire, and what to if the situation should arise. For more information about fire safety in the kitchen - the causes of fire, prevention, cooking safely, and vulnerable tenants - you can download our free kitchen safety eBook!