Student housing Q&A; fire safety essentials for commercial buildings

Commercial landlords have a legal obligation to ensure their properties adhere to fire safety laws, just like employers do, but many are being hit with huge fines because they’re relying on insufficient information when it comes to complying with the law. With a new university year just around the corner, S2 Fire Solutions, a fire safety firm based in the Midlands, are hoping to help commercial landlords, including those who own halls of residences, avoid fire safety issues.

In January 2017, a Nottingham based student lettings company was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000 after pleading guilty to five breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The company’s director was also handed a 3 month prison sentence, and was suspended for 12 months.

Simon Millward, director at S2 Fire Solutions said, “Fire safety legislation can be very difficult to navigate – especially if you are unsure as to what applies to you from a commercial landlord’s perspective. When it comes to ensuring you are compliant it’s always best to get advice from the experts. In our simple Q&A of things that commercial student landlords should be taking note of, we’re hoping to give landlords a head start”.

The following Q&A from S2 Fire Solutions is aimed directly at commercial landlords and aims to assist those who are looking to ensure that they are adhering to the law:

  • Why do commercial properties have different rules to domestic housing?
    If a property has multiple inhabitants, fire risks are significantly increased compared to a single family home. There are many reasons for this; portable heating appliances, electrical circuit overload, multiple users of kitchen areas, and the fact that more people living independently with no control over each other’s activities.
  • What does the law state about commercial buildings and fire safety? BS5839-1:2013 states “automatic fire detection is usually required by legislation to supplement the manual system in premises in which people sleep”. It also advises “Iettings which may have more than 10 persons sleeping must have transmission of fire alarm signals to an alarm receiving centre from where the fire and rescue service will be summoned” – e.g. if there are 5 people on an agreement, but the building contains 5 double beds, a landlord must comply as if there were 10 occupants. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) order 2005 requires any person with control over HMO’s (houses with multiple occupancy) to take responsibility of reducing the risk of fire in a premises and ensure that any persons inside the property can escape in the occurrence of a fire.
  • How do I meet the legislative requirements? In order to keep within the law with regards to commercial accommodation, the first step a business owner/responsible person should take is to carry out a fire risk assessment. This can be done without the help of an expert, and there are many online forms that can help assess a property. However S2 Fire Solutions recommend calling in a qualified Risk Assessor, at least in the first instance, to ensure all fire risks are considered.
  • What considerations should be taken? There are many steps a commercial landlord can take to ensure that their building is fire safety compliant, a few of them are:
  • Smoke detectors – all properties need to have sufficient smoke/fire detection alarm systems fitted, and regularly maintained.
  • Outside doors – all outside doors need to be easily opened from the inside at all times for means of escape.
  • Smoking policies – consider introducing a strict smoking area outside the building, away from windows and doors.
  • Clear passage – all passages, corridors and stairwells need to be kept clear. These will often be the most obvious escape routes within a building, and are the first things checked by fire safety officials.
  • Fire doors – all doors that lead to an escape route is required to be a 30 minute fire door (FD30)
  • When to call the experts As a commercial landlord, it can be easy to get confused by UK Fire Safety Legislation terminology. It’s best to call in the experts at this point. It’s worth keeping in mind that whilst a landlord can seek advice from their local Fire and Rescue Service, they are unable to complete a fire risk assessment.

Simon Millward continues, “Regrettably, many commercial landlords are un-knowingly putting lives at risk along with their properties. With the correct procedures outlined in clear, concise information packs, this could be avoided. We are hoping to see a decrease in landlords being fined, and an increase in well maintained commercial properties”.

The firm are independent fire alarm specialists with extensive knowledge of obsolescent & fibre networking systems. With over 20 years in the fire alarm industry, S2 Fire Solutions’ team pride themselves on their comprehensive knowledge of fire alarm systems.