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Managing Fire Risk - Heating and ventilation systems in blocks of flats

Posted: 09/07/2014 11:33

In recently constructed blocks of flats, heating and ventilation systems are installed with common areas and each flat having completely separate systems. In older buildings, however, it can be the case that a communal ducted heating system may still be in place, or there may be shared extract systems in bathrooms or kitchens. This type of shared facility compromises the effective compartmentation of each flat and between the flats and the common areas and therefore poses an increased risk of fire spread.

This blog will look at the potential hazards of such a system and of other threats posed by heating and ventilation systems and examine how to mitigate those issues.

Maintenance and regular checks are important

Maintenance is an important element of ensuring fire safety in heating and ventilation systems. It is essential that regular, preventative maintenance takes place to reduce the likelihood that a boiler will malfunction or a fire within the ductwork, for example, might spread throughout the flats.

Portable heaters can be another increased hazard in communal areas. Portable gas heaters, (those with canisters inside) should not be used and electrical heaters should be fit for purpose and intended use and checked regularly for safety.

The potential for electrical fires

When inspections of electrical fittings and equipment are made, they should be examined for signs of damage. Equally, there should be no crossover between individual flats and common areas in terms of electrical equipment use. For example, residents powering decorative lights at Christmas from their flats for use in the common areas, and conversely, residents using common areas power points to charge or run items within the flats.

The use of an extension lead between individual flats and common areas compromises the effective compartmentation of the two and could potentially cause fire spread between those areas.

Electrical distribution boards should be kept secure, in a locked area or room, and that area should contain no storage materials or rubbish, which may ignite or fuel a fire.

Heating System Servicing

Landlords are required by law to have annual gas safety checks for rental properties, however, when leasehold flats are involved, the landlords should encourage the residents to have their appliances checked annually too. It may, indeed, be worth it to the landlord to pay for this check to be completed or to contribute towards the cost.

Is lightning a risk that needs addressing?

Although lightning is a rare source of ignition for fire, the risk is one that should be calculated and lightning protection provided in higher risk cases.

The likelihood of your block of flats being hit by lightning can be ascertained by a specialist who would refer to the risk assessment tool found in BS EN 62305-2. Consideration will be given to such factors as location, size and construction, proximity to other structures and the local topography.

Retrospective installation of lightning protection is rarely likely to be considered
essential for compliance with legislation in existing blocks of flats. However, any
existing lightning protection systems should be subject to regular inspection and testing.
Guidance on this is available in BS EN 62305-3.

This series of blogs about fire safety in blocks of flats will continue next week, when we will look in more detail at fire protection. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own premises, or wish to learn more about CFSM’s online fire risk assessment tools, please contact Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663
Our aim, at Complete Fire Safety Management, is to make the process of becoming fire safe, straightforward and, to use our expertise in fire risk assessment and fire safety management to guide you through each step, resulting in your premises meeting all legal, insurance and ethical fire safety considerations.


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