Part 3: Interim Measures
Interim measures are likely to be required where it has been confirmed that an external wall system (EWS) is unsafe and poses a risk to life. Where required, they should be implemented without delay. Once in place, the removal or remediation of unsafe EWS should be carried out as soon as possible.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) must be notified where unsafe EWS have been identified. Failure to do so may put fire-fighters and residents at risk. SFRS will work with the building owner or manager to ensure that proposed short-term interim measures are appropriate and may re-visit once they are in place.
The fire safety risk assessment for the building should have been reviewed by a competent risk assessor when the problem was first identified and will need to be reviewed again once an EWS appraisal has been carried out. It should set out both interim and longer term remedial actions, where required, in an improvement plan (also known as the action plan) and include timescales for completion. If no fire safety risk assessment has been carried out, or material changes have taken place since it was last reviewed, the services of a competent risk assessor should be sought as soon as possible.
For domestic buildings, such as high rise blocks of flats, a competent risk assessor will advise whether a ‘stay put’ strategy is still appropriate for the building or if the risk is such that a temporary simultaneous evacuation strategy should be adopted. Building owners/managers should discuss this further with the SFRS. They can offer advice and will, where necessary, update their operational procedures. In making a determination, the competent assessor will need to take into account a number of factors, including (but not necessarily limited to) the following:
- The fire and rescue service attendance time.
- The general fire precautions in the building.
- The height of the building.
- Provision of sprinklers or other automatic fire suppression systems.
- The number of flats.
- The ability of residents to evacuate the building without assistance.
- The type of cladding system (e.g. Category 1, 2 or 3 MCM and type of insulation).
- The extent of the cladding system.
- The number of means of escape stairways.
- The proximity of the cladding system to windows or vents within common parts, particularly the stairway(s).
- Risk of external ignition of the cladding system (e.g. taking into account the height at which the cladding starts, proximity of cars etc. to the cladding).
- Risk of internal ignition of the cladding system (e.g. from fires inside the building via unprotected window reveals and the proximity of ignition sources such as domestic appliances).
- The collective effect of the fire safety measures considered holistically, as opposed to each measure in isolation.
Where a simultaneous evacuation strategy is adopted, it will need to be properly managed. This may require a “waking watch” on a 24/7 basis. Even where a ‘stay put’ policy is to continue, a “waking watch” might still be appropriate. A simultaneous evacuation policy is also likely to necessitate a fire alarm system to alert residents of the need to evacuate, unless there are sufficient staff in the “waking watch” to detect fire and initiate an evacuation at an early stage of a fire in the building. SFRS can provide further guidance, based on ‘Guidance to support a temporary change to a simultaneous evacuation strategy in purpose-built block of flats (2018)’ published by the National Fire Chiefs Council. Contact SFRS for further details.
In cases of extreme risk, consideration may be given to moving some or all residents out of the block until satisfactory remedial work is completed. Where some residents remain, access to the building will require careful management while works are ongoing.
Engagement with occupants/residents will ensure that they fully understand the emergency fire procedures in the building, and fire procedure notices may need to be updated. This is particularly important where a ‘stay put’ strategy is temporarily being changed to simultaneous evacuation, pending replacement of the cladding.
3.2 Recommended Interim Actions
- Any potential routes for fire spread from the interior of the building out onto, or into, the cladding system should be checked. This would include, for example, the presence and integrity of cavity barriers, and the risk of ignition to the external wall system via window surrounds and fitting details.
- Checks should be made to ensure that there are no combustible materials (e.g. storage of refuse) in the vicinity of the cladding system and that steps are taken to prevent accumulation e.g. temporary barriers or instructions to residents.
- Balconies should be free from any ignition risks: the use of electrical appliances or heaters within affected balconies should be avoided. Residents should be advised not to smoke or have barbecues on balconies.
- Car parks in which a vehicle fire could impinge on cladding should be closed.
- Flat entrance doors, and doors that open onto escape corridors and stairways, should be checked to ensure they are fire-resisting and effectively self-closing. Further guidance on fire doors can be found in Scottish government fire safety guidance.
- Bin rooms, plant rooms and electrical cupboards should be kept locked shut at all times. Plant rooms and electrical cupboards should not be used to store combustible items. Larger unwanted items left in bin rooms should be uplifted as soon as possible or removed to secure, dedicated storage areas.
- There should be a clear policy in place to ensure common parts and escape routes are maintained as sterile. This policy should be enforced by regular walk rounds by caretakers or members of the resident committee.
- Walls that separate flats, plant and store rooms, etc. from escape routes should be checked to ensure there are no obvious routes for fire or smoke spread (e.g. holes where services, such as pipes and cables, pass through walls).
- Where provided, smoke control systems and associated fire detection systems, should be tested and maintained in good working order. More information can be found in Scottish Government fire safety guidance.
- Facilities provided for fire-fighters, including fire-fighting lifts and dry or wet rising mains should be checked and any concerns reported to SFRS who will, if they have not already done so, carry out an inspection to ensure functionality.
- Sufficient roadway access and hardstanding for firefighting vehicles should be maintained.
- Residents must be advised to check that smoke and heat alarms are present and working in their flat and advised to report any fire safety concerns to the building owner/manager e.g. the presence of combustible materials in escape routes. They should understand the purpose and importance of any short-term interim measures being taken.
- It will be necessary for those responsible for domestic premises to co-operate with any commercial premises within the building to ensure they do not impose any significant risk.
- Residents in domestic premises should be encouraged to request a Home Fire Safety Visit (HFSV) as soon as is practically possible.
- In premises where appropriate and practicable, an up to date list should be held of any occupants who may require additional assistance in the event of a full evacuation. This should be made available to SFRS in the event of an incident.
- Maintaining existing fire safety measures should be a priority and repairs carried out as a matter of urgency.
- The external perimeter of the building should be checked for any potential fire risks which are in close proximity that may be vulnerable to wilful fire raising.
- It should be ensured that appropriate security measures (e.g. electronic access control) are in place and maintained to mitigate the risk of wilful fire raising. Effective lighting should be provided internally and externally and, where appropriate, CCTV may be considered particularly on entrances and external facades. This may reduce loitering or disorder and identify at an early stage, any potential for external fire spread prior to an FRS arrival.
- Fixed electrical installations should be subject to periodic inspection and test every five years in the case of the common parts, and every ten years for the installations in the flats. Where homeowners have any concerns, they should seek advice from a qualified electrician.
- Portable appliance testing should take place to reduce the risk of fire from electrical appliances, where appropriate.
- Any lightning protection systems should be subject to regular maintenance.