Multi-occupancy social housing accommodates some of the most vulnerable in society, with 43% of people living with a long-term disability. There is also a large proportion of tenants who are elderly, or living with illnesses such as dementia. As a result, social housing tenants can be at a higher risk of fire as they may be more likely to forget about fire hazards (e.g. leaving food on the hob), be less able to detect fire alarms (e.g hearing disabilities) or may find it difficult to escape in the event of fire.
For registered providers that own and manage social housing (often known as social landlords), it is important that they are aware of fire hazards in the premises -both before a tenant a moves in, and throughout their tenancy - and do their best to educate tenants about them.
With this in mind, the following post aims to outline the top fire hazards to watch out for in social housing, both in a tenant’s day-to-day and in a landlord’s fire risk assessment.
Top fire hazards for tenants in social housing
According to research by Fire Statistics England, the most common causes of accidental fires in the home between 2014/15 were as follows:
As 62% of all home fires start in the kitchen, this is a vital area tenants need to be careful in. There are a large number of electrical appliances in the kitchen, as well as the presence of flammable oils, naked flames, and other heat sources. It is important tenants need to be careful when cooking, e.g. never leave cooking unattended, never wearing loose clothing whilst cooking with open flames, keeping hobs/cookers clean.
Candles and careless disposal of cigarettes is one of the biggest causes of fire starting in the home - most notably, smoking near flammable materials such as curtains, upholstery furniture and bedding. It is therefore vital that tenants are educated about the importance of fully extinguishing candles/cigarettes. Have you considered introducing a smoking policy? Or considered installing ashtrays outside the social housing premises?
Electrical appliances need to comply with legislation, and tenants need to follow fire safety advice. For instance, preventing fire hazards by avoiding overloading sockets, keeping electrical appliances clean and away from water, not covering heats/electric heaters, and never leaving a washing machine, dishwasher or tumble dryer on overnight.
As with all domestic premises, there are a whole host of fire hazards for tenants to watch out for that may not necessarily fall into the above categories. For instance, children playing with matches, mirrors left near windows, hair straighteners left on, or unsupervised barbeques on balconies which can all be fire starting points.
In order to ensure tenants are aware of, remember and work to reduce the risk of fire, we would recommend downloading our free Fire Safety In the Kitchen eBook, which can be given as a handout to tenants in social housing.
Identifying fire hazards in the landlord’s fire risk assessment
Whilst there will always be some unavoidable fire hazards in the home, landlords can do a great deal to ensure their property is safe by conducting a thorough fire risk assessment before a tenant moves in.
In order to do this, it is recommended landlords utilise online resources such as BS 5839-6 - a key standard for fire detection in domestic premises outlining best practice for the installation and maintenance of fire detection and alarm systems in domestic premises and LACORS The Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) guidance (2008) which offers guidance for landlords and fire safety enforcement officers in both local housing authorities (LHAs) and fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) on how to ensure adequate fire safety in different types of residential accommodation.
As outlined in the LACORS document, for a fire to start there needs to be three things present: a source of ignition, fuel and oxygen. You should identify fire hazards in the fire risk assessment within these categories, focusing on ignition & fuel (Oxygen will be in the air).
Fire hazard ignition examples: naked flames, electric, gas or oil-fired heaters, cookers and toasters, electric blankets, computers, TVs, washing machines and dryers, lighting equipment
Fire hazard fuel examples (a.k.a anything that burns): furniture, furnishings, textiles, bedding, clothing and curtains, accumulations of unwanted mail, waste paper, newspapers etc, waste storage
Evaluate, remove or reduce risk, and protect against remaining risk
Fire hazards should be removed where it is practicable to do so, and where they cannot be removed they should be reduced as far as possible. What is considered reasonable in a particular case will depend on an evaluation of the potential to cause harm and the chance of that harm occurring.
These can range from installing fire prevention measures such as fire alarms, fire extinguishers and fire resistant doors, to installing fire escape notices (and educating tenants about them), or taking action to replace a situation/appliance with a better alternative e.g. replace portable heating appliances with fixed convector heaters or a central heating system.
People at risk
Along with identifying fire hazards in social housing, it is necessary to identify those who will be at risk if there is a fire and where they are likely to be found. This is fundamental in the landlord’s risk assessment.
Alongside vulnerable tenants mentioned previously, landlords need to consider other tenants who will likely be at greater risk in the event of fire. For instance; people asleep, people who are unfamiliar to building (guests), young or unaccompanied children, people who may be sensorially impaired due to medication, alcohol, or drugs, or tenants who have difficulty speaking English.
For more information on providing fire safety products for people at risk - such as interlinking fire alarms, strobes and low frequency sounders - see our blog post on providing Fire Safety Measures For Adults At Risk or any of our information on Vulnerable Tenants In Social Housing.
There are a variety of fire hazards in all domestic premises, but it vital that social housing tenants are aware of those that apply to them, how to reduce the risk of fire, and what to in the event there is one. If you are a registered housing provider, and want to ensure you have covered all the important areas of fire safety in your accommodation, please download our Fire Safety Checklist For Landlords (which can also be filled in by tenants).