Fire Safety in Blocks of Flats - Blocks of flats not meeting current design benchmarks for means of escape Â– Pt 12
Many of the blogs we have produced so far on the subject of ‘Fire Safety in Blocks of Flats’ have concentrated on current guidelines and how they should be met. However, it is the case that in many older blocks of flats, they do not meet the terms of current fire safety guidance.
Fire Safety benchmarking has changed over the years and in many cases, blocks will be assessed upon the guidance and standards at the time of building. However, in these cases, it is important that fire safety is considered as an overall risk, it may be impractical either in terms of cost or construction to make alterations which would ensure it adhered to current standards.
While assessing the risk, it may be sufficient to restore aspects of the block back to the standards in the time it was built, or it may be that certain compensatory measures are required to ensure life safety.
Although, in these circumstances, a fire engineering assessment is likely to be necessary, there are some scenarios which are encountered regularly enough for them to be discussed in general terms. The first of these scenarios is that of increased travel distance within a block of flats.
The current benchmark guidance on travel distances is considered to be the safe, however, it was always anticipated that there would be variations on this dependent upon the design of the block of flats and any other fire measures taken. Increased travel distances were more commonplace in the past and small increases in travel distance in older blocks are often acceptable, as it would be impractical to shorten those distances or provide an additional exit in an existing building.
In those buildings where an extended travel distance is found to be an unacceptable risk, additional smoke control measures could be a practical solution. This may include the addition of cross-corridor doors to restrict smoke spread, general improvements to the smoke control arrangements in terms of ventilation or in some cases, automatic fire detection.
Another scenario commonly found in older blocks of flats is where the stairway opens directly onto the lobby where flat front doors are situated, above the heights where this is considered acceptable.
It is generally accepted that this scenario is acceptable up to four storeys in height, but not beyond that level, unless further precautions are taken. Up to six storeys in height, it can be accepted only if stairway walls have 60 minute fire resistant construction, flat doors are upgraded FD30S or better and that ventilation or open-able windows are provided in the stairway. Within the lobby of each flat, fire resistant doors should be provided between kitchen and living room and the individual entrance hall.
In blocks of flats over six storeys where the stairway opens directly onto the flat doors lobby, it is unlikely to be acceptable without substantial compensatory measures being taken and specialist advice must be taken.
Next week’s blog will look at unsatisfactory smoke control and fire resisting doors in older blocks of flats. In the meantime, if you have any queries about a project or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.
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