Fire safety information for residents following the Grenfell Tower tragedy
Frequently Asked Questions
How many residential tower blocks are owned by Southwark?
There are 174 tower blocks of seven storey and over owned by Southwark.
What are the arrangements for checking fire safety?
The council has a dedicated fire safety team of 15, including former firefighters, that is responsible for carrying out a rolling programme of fire risk assessments and identifying any work which needs to be carried out.
How many Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs) are responsible for the management of the council’s stock?
The council has 15 TMOs but the council retains responsibility for the refurbishment and major works of all TMO managed properties with the exception of Leathermarket JMB.
How does the council ensure that the TMO that does have responsibility for repairs complies with fire safety issues?
The council reviews all major works on completion and the fire safety team does a new Fire Risk Assessment (FRA). The council’s fire safety team also carries out the FRAs for all TMOs including Leathermarket JMB.
What is included in our Council House Design Guide on fire safety and cladding systems?
The actual wording in the design guide is:
For external façades, brickwork is preferable to less durable, higher maintenance materials such as timber or render, but it must be of high quality and well detailed. Material choices and arrangement of external elements should form a coherent composition rather than appear as ‘bolt-ons’ and non-material amendments.
Our Employers Requirements detail the fire safety requirements and are issued to our consultants at the start of the development process. Also, during the design development stage of each scheme, a joint meeting is held with Building Control and the Fire Safety team to ensure any issues are noted and the design adapted accordingly.
What is in our general planning policy for fire safety for tall buildings?
Fire safety is not covered by planning policy so this does not come into the consideration of applications for planning permission for tall buildings. This is entirely covered by the Building Regulations.
Do any of Southwark’s high rise blocks have the same cladding system used at Grenfell Tower?
Most of the cladding systems installed to Southwark’s blocks have been carried out via a programme with British Gas to improve the thermal efficiency of homes. This cladding is the External Wall Insulation type (EWI). EWI meets all required standards and is very different to the product used at Grenfell Tower. The insulation is applied to the external wall, fire stopped horizontally and vertically and then render applied over the top. This is a solid insulation to the façade with no air gaps.
We do not have the same cladding system anywhere on our council tower blocks but we do have some aluminium or similar facing that we are investigating on some of our lower blocks and we are arranging urgent checks to see whether any further action should be taken. These low-rise buildings fully comply with the current building regulations and these checks are being carried out purely as a precaution. We have written directly to all residents of these blocks.
Towers like Lakanal are not clad at all, but the appearance of some buildings can lead to confusion and concern.
Are there sprinkler systems in Southwark’s tower blocks?
There are no sprinkler systems in the council’s tower blocks. The coroner who conducted the Lakanal inquiry recommended that the council consider the retrofitting of sprinkler systems in our high rise blocks. The council engaged the services of an independent consultant to look at this. Their recommendations were that we should focus the installation of sprinkler systems where we have our most vulnerable residents and we have installed sprinkler systems at our sheltered housing units and hostels.
They also acknowledged the work that the council had done, and had planned to do, to its blocks, and recommended smoke detection be installed – see LD2 information below.
Clearly, the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower means that we need to take stock and review our current fire safety strategy and this is something which we have already started to do.
The Cabinet Member for Housing has ordered a full review into ascertaining the need for and the cost of fitting sprinkler systems and any other fire safety measures.
Can you tell us about the smoke and fire alarms installed in tower blocks in Southwark?
As part of our fire safety programme and in response to the coroner’s recommendations following the Lakanal fire, LD2 smoke detection has been installed in the dwellings of all our tower blocks and was also offered free of charge to leaseholders. The alarms are interlinked and consist of smoke detectors in all rooms and a heat detector in the kitchen. When one sounds they all sound in the dwelling, thus giving the resident the earliest possible warning of a problem.
The same systems are being rolled out to all other dwellings as part of the ongoing major works programme.
Why doesn’t my block have alarms in the common areas?
Southwark does not have any communal smoke alarm systems installed in the common areas of our blocks for the reasons given below.
In ‘general needs’ blocks designed to support a ‘stay put’ strategy, it is unnecessary and undesirable for a fire alarm system to be provided. A communal fire detection and alarm system will inevitably lead to a proliferation of false alarms. This will impose a burden on fire and rescue services and lead to residents ignoring warnings of genuine fires.
There is a concern that where communal alarms systems are installed and in the event that they were activated, this would be an indicator of fire or smoke in the escape route and residents evacuating their properties could potentially be entering an unsafe escape route and impede the emergency services.
We would not usually fit communal smoke detection in a purpose built block of flats unless it was there to operate Automatic Smoke Control (AOV) but these smoke heads would not have sounders to warn anyone. Normally these would be activated on the arrival of the emergency services when they have to knock down a door or at the least open it to address the fire, hence allowing smoke to enter an escape route the AOV would then activate to remove any such smoke.
As we have already said above, the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower means that we need to take stock and review our current fire safety strategy and this is something which we have already started to do.
What is the stay put strategy and what should we do now?
This continues to be the current advice from the London Fire Brigade:
A ‘stay put’ policy involves the following approach:
- when a fire occurs in a flat, the occupants alert others in the flat, they all make their way out of the building and call the fire service.
- if a fire starts in the common parts of block, those in those areas must make their way out of the building and summon the fire and rescue service
- all those not directly affected by the fire would be expected to ‘stay put’ and remain in their flat unless directed to leave by the fire and rescue service
It is not implied that those not directly affected who wish to leave the building should be prevented from doing so. Nor does this preclude those evacuating a flat that is on fire from alerting their neighbours so that they can also escape if they feel threatened.
This policy has been used by all housing providers since the 1960s, it supports current and previous building regulations which require these blocks to have high levels of vertical and horizontal compartmentation. It is the recommended method for residential buildings as defined in the guidance ‘Fire Safety in Purpose Built Blocks of Flats’ and by the fire service.
For more information about this guidance and other fire safety advice go to http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/staying-in-or-going-out.asp
Why does my block only have one staircase?
Blocks of flats are not required to have more than one staircase for means of escape. This is due to the high level of compartmentation in those buildings. Stairs in these buildings are protected from the effects of fire and smoke for a long period of time, usually between one and two hours. These stairs are designed to accommodate residents who need to escape from the block and for firefighting purposes.
Can BBQs be used safely on balconies in blocks of flats?
No, BBQs present a serious fire risk and should not be used on balconies.
The council prohibits barbecues on balconies or common parts in our tenancy agreement because of the potential risk of fire. If you are aware of any of your neighbours holding barbecues on balconies or in any part of the building which is unsuitable then please do not hesitate to report this to the council.
Can people smoke in the common areas of blocks?
No, this is against the law Smoking is not permitted in any communal area of our blocks including shared stairways, enclosed and partly enclosed halls, lobbies and walkways and open balconies and it is an offence to do so. If you are aware of any of your neighbours smoking in any part of the building which is unsuitable then please do not hesitate to report this to the council.
No smoking signage had previously been fitted in our blocks but we are revisiting all of them to make sure this and other signage, such as Fire Action Notices and directional, is up to date. Where it is not we will be installing them.
Why are there no fire extinguishers in our blocks?
Because we do not expect residents to fight fires in our blocks. If a fire breaks out in your property or block, call the fire brigade immediately.
How can I help keep my block safe from fire?
Don’t dump rubbish and make sure that escape routes are free from both obstructions and flammable materials.
Remove hazards that can cause and obstruction such as washing lines, bikes, pot plants and furniture as well as flammable materials from the common parts of our estates - eg balconies, walkways or stairs.
Do not attach security grilles across front doors. As these gates prevent easy access by the fire brigade or could obstruct yourself or your neighbours we will be asking residents who have fitted such gates to remove them and we will take action to make sure that happens.
Advice about how to dispose of larger items of rubbish can be found on the council’s website at http://www.southwark.gov.uk/bins-and-recycling
What can I do if I am concerned about fire safety?
We have a dedicated email inbox - firstname.lastname@example.org for residents with concerns. It generates an automated acknowledgement message, and fuller responses from the fire safety team and others will follow.
Page last updated: 23 June 2017