Fire safety in high rise domestic buildings: analysis of consultation responses

Analysis and key findings from our consultation on strengthening fire safety in high rise domestic buildings.

4. Part 1: Fire safety information for high-rise domestic buildings

In this section of the consultation the aim was to understand what information to provide to people that live in high rise domestic buildings, and the best way to get it them. An example of fire safety information was provided for respondents.

4.1 Fire safety information

Question 1. Please indicate from 1 to 5 what would be your most and least preferred way to get fire safety information

The options presented were: Printed leaflet; Written information on a website; Video/ animation on a website; Notice board / poster in the building and Mobile Device App.

Figure 1. Options for receiving fire safety information

Figure 1. Options for receiving fire safety information

Bases: Leaflet (51), Website written (50), Website video (48), Mobile (48), Notice board (48)

Table 1. Preferred method of receiving fire safety information

Most preferred option Number of respondents answering open follow-up
Printed leaflet 19
Written information on website 0
Video/animation on website 1
Notice board/poster in building 4
Mobile device app 2

The most preferred option was for respondents to receive fire safety information as a printed leaflet.

The options of presenting information on websites or by mobile device app were the least preferred options. This was because of concerns around the accessibility of these options. There were suggestions that some households cannot afford internet access, or they do not have the ability to use the internet effectively.

The importance of accessible communication due to potential literacy, language skills and visual impairment was highlighted as being important. Solutions proposed include: using graphics, translating guidance into appropriate languages and using large type.

Individuals raised the fact that certain media wouldn't be applicable/accessible for all. Organisations suggested that a mix of media to communicate fire safety information, most commonly notice boards and printed leaflets would be the best approach. It was thought that printed leaflets are most effective when hand delivered.

Several respondents highlighted the value of giving information face to face, with some proposing that this should be repeated at six-month intervals.

Other means of communication suggested were: local radio, TV, social media, email, fridge magnets, and a 'folder instruction pack' provided to each current/new tenant.

"There is an assumption that everyone can either use or afford the internet. Printed information is the only guaranteed way to genuinely reach out to everyone."
Owner occupier respondent

"Noticeboard and posters must be displayed in a prominent place where all tenants are able to see them, and might need to be supplemented with alternative method for tenants who aren't often out and about or housebound."
Tenant Association respondent

Question 2. Does the fire safety information provide good advice on how to stop fires happening?

Figure 2. Fire safety information providing good advice on stopping fires from happening

Figure 2. Fire safety information providing good advice on stopping fires from happening

Base: 59

Just under two thirds of respondents (61%) agreed that the fire safety information provided good advice on how to stop fires from happening. Only 5% disagreed.

Table 2. Fire safety information -Follow-up responses

Response option Number answering open follow-up
Yes 3
No 1
In part 18

Those responding stated that advice was good 'in part' generally had concerns that the advice was either incomplete or that impact and accessibility could be improved.

The majority of comments where advice was judged to be incomplete centred on safety of electrical appliances. Respondents would like to see more specific information regarding: maintaining appliances; awareness of product recall notices, and ensuring sufficient airflow around appliances.

Several respondents had concerns that the term 'overloading sockets' could be difficult to understand, and required more explanation.

Respondents called for specific warning regarding: Christmas tree lights, patio heaters and barbecues on balconies, loose wiring, use of multiple extension leads, the requirement to keep combustible materials safe, disposing of cigarette ends in rubbish chutes, checking expiry dates on smoke alarms and charging mobile phones overnight.

Individuals and organisations suggested that the advice might be ignored, and that it should be made more impactful by including graphics and providing examples of the consequences of ignoring advice.

A perceived need for guidance to be bespoke for individual premises was highlighted by two organisations; with one suggesting that information should cover combustible facades.

"The advice is good, but we recognise that some people will read and follow the advice, and some won't, so would like to see advice and examples which will have an impact, to really make people think."
Tenant organisation

"It would be useful to include additional advice on electrical equipment, including heaters and other appliances. Also, multi-lingual versions of the advice or infographics to communicate advice to people whose first language is not English should be provided."
National organisation

Question 3. Does the fire safety information provide good advice on what to do if a fire starts?

Figure 3. Fire safety information providing good advice on what to do if a fire starts

Figure 3. Fire safety information providing good advice on what to do if a fire starts

Base: 58

Nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents felt that the fire safety information provides good advice on what to do if a fire starts. Nearly a tenth disagreed (9%).

Table 3. Good advice on what to do if a fire starts - Follow up responses

Response option Number answering open follow-up
Yes 7
No 2
In part 10

The overwhelming concern expressed by organisations and individuals responding that advice is good 'in part' or simply agreeing that it is good, was around 'stay put' advice. This work applies to buildings that have a 'stay put' procedure in the event of fire. This is when a fire occurs within one flat (or, less likely, in the common areas), it is normally safe for other residents to remain within their own flat.

The advice 'you need not leave your home if there is a fire elsewhere in the building. Though, if in doubt, get out' is seen to be inconsistent with that given by Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) 'only leave the safety of your flat if you're affected by heat or smoke, or if you're told to leave by firefighters or the police'.

The phrase 'stay put but if in doubt get out' is seen as being confusing and to contradict the reassurance that fire in high rise flats shouldn't spread.

One organisation responding regarded the advice that flats are designed to be fire resisting and that fire should not spread from one flat to another as misleading, stating that 'a number of cases in Scotland have highlighted errors in the compliance of buildings during their construction'.

A tenant organisation and The Fire Protection Association suggested that the information needs to take into account occupants who are elderly, disabled or have mobility issues, including what they need to do in the event of a fire and what support is available to them.

A possible omission highlighted is advice covering what to do if a fire occurs in your flat i.e. use of fire blankets and extinguishers.

There was a suggestion that, it would be beneficial to add images illustrating bad practice e.g. wedging fire doors open.

"If the official advice is for residents to stay in their home if possible, a clear rationale should be given to help people understand why this is important. Residents should also feel confident that they will not be prevented from evacuating their flat should they wish to do so, even if they are not affected by heat or smoke, and both the fire safety information and the information provided by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service should make this clear."
Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland

"In terms of the advice in this document concerning "Stay-Put", we feel that the message needs to be strengthened to promote good advice for customers located common areas out with the immediate vicinity of their own flats when a fire is detected."
Wheatley Group

Question 4. Does the fire safety information help you to understand the reasons behind fire safety?

Figure 4. Fire safety information helping respondents understand the reasons behind fire safety

Figure 4. Fire safety information helping respondents understand the reasons behind fire safety

Base: 56

The majority of respondents (82%) felt that the fire safety information was helpful for understanding the reasons behind fire safety. Nearly a tenth (9%) disagreed.

Table 4. The reasons behind fire safety - Follow-up responses

Response option Number answering open follow-up
Yes 3
No 4
In part 3

Those answering 'No' to this question suggested that individuals as opposed to organisations might not fully understand the reasons behind the advice. They proposed that this may be remedied by providing examples of not following the advice such as 'leaving equipment in common areas of blocks' and the consequences of this.

Those answering 'No' reiterated concerns regarding literacy, clarification of 'stay put' policy and combustible cladding.

The three individuals answering 'Yes' thought the advice 'clear and direct', 'reasonable' and that 'safety is paramount'.

Question 5. Is the fire safety information easy to understand?

Figure 5. Fire safety information being easy to understand

Figure 5. Fire safety information being easy to understand

Base: 57

Close to three quarters (72%) of respondents felt that the fire safety information was easy to understand.

Table 5. Easy to understand - Follow-up responses

Response option Number answering open follow-up
Yes 9
No 2
In part 10

The main concern among those answering 'In part' was around perceived problems that could be encountered by those with literacy issues or for whom English was not their first language. Suggestion included: providing a simpler 'easy read', 'plain English' and foreign language versions alongside using simpler language generally, highlighting information and the inclusion of infographics.

One organisation answering, 'In part' and another answering 'Yes' suggested augmenting the information with 'in-person' advice, at least for those with 'learning and understanding needs'.

One of those answering 'No' thought the information would be less confusing if it was more closely aligned to advice from SFRS. It should be noted that the information provided for the consultaiton was agreed with SFRS.

Those answering 'Yes' had similar concerns to those answering, 'In part', alongside concerns that although the information might be understood, it would not necessarily be followed.

"However, we believe the terminology in fire safety information is not suitable for people with little knowledge of fire safety and would encourage using less jargon and more simplistic language to ensure everyone is able to understand the information"

4.2 Raising concerns

Question 6. Does your high-rise domestic building have a way people can raise concerns about fire safety?

Figure 6. Whether way for people to raise concerns about fire safety

Figure 6. Whether way for people to raise concerns about fire safety

Base: 52

Almost two thirds (60%) of respondents agreed there was a way for people to raise concerns about fire safety. Nearly one fifth (17%) didn't know and nearly a quarter (23%) responded 'no'.

Table 6. Way for people to raise concerns about fire safety - follow up

Response option Number answering open follow-up
Yes 13
No 2
Don't know 1

Individuals answering 'Yes' stated ways in which they would raise concerns; among Owner occupiers these were, residents' meetings, and caretakers and landlords. Those in local authority rented accommodation stated they would contact tenant groups, landlords, SFRS, letting agents and their local authority.

Organisations answering 'Yes', each listed several ways in which their tenants might raise concerns about safety, these included: on site staff - caretakers and concierges; housing officers; maintenance officers; tenant representatives; customer contact centre by telephone or email; fire safety officers and to SFRS during home visits.

Question 7. If you answered yes to Question 6; does the process work?

Figure 7. Whether the process for raising concerns works

Figure 7. Whether the process for raising concerns works

Base: 34

Over two thirds (68%) of respondents felt that that process for raising concerns works. The remainder felt it worked 'in part' or didn't work.

Table 7. Process for raising concerns - Follow up

Response option Number answering open follow-up
Yes 13
No 4
Don't know 4

Those answering, 'In part' and commenting were all individuals - a mix of owner occupiers and tenants - while they acknowledge there is a system in place for reporting concerns, they state that concerns take a long time to be actioned.

The general comment among those answering 'No' was that concerns are reported but they are not actioned.

Those answering 'Yes', and commenting were primarily either tenant organisations or landlords.

Organisations representing tenants qualified their responses by stating for example: where there is no caretaker or concierge provision then actioning concerns is an issue; that contacting SFRS is more effective than contacting the Local Authority; and resources are likely to be stretched, particularly at the weekends. Landlords tended to reiterate that they have policies in place.

"Sometimes landlords (both social and private) can take considerable amounts of time to react."
Owner occupier

"Repairs are being reported but not actioned e.g. fire doors on landings not closing"
Littleholm MSF Tenants and Residents Association

4.3 Other useful information and comments

Question 8. Please let us know if you think there is any other useful fire safety advice and information that could be included for people who live in high-rise domestic buildings

There were 33 responses around other useful fire safety advice information that could be included for people who live in high rise domestic buildings; 15 individuals and 18 organisations. Organisations included Local Authorities, Tenants and Residents Associations and a mix of Insurers, Fire Safety and Housing Associations.

Individuals and organisations stressed the potential gains to be made from engaging with schools and communities - it was stated that engagement with young people in schools could be helpful in overcoming language barriers in for people where English is not the first language.

Several individuals and organisations stressed the risks posed by fly tipping flammable items - particularly furniture; and similar problems caused by residents leaving combustibles in common areas.

Individuals raised concerns around the difficulty of communicating safety advice in buildings where there is a high density of short-term lets. Landlords appeared to absent and even though Residents Associations are in place they aren't very adept at communicating information to residents.

There were general concerns about a perceived lack of information about action residents should take if there is a fire in their property, there was a suggestion that there should be fire extinguishers in each property.

There was a feeling that there should be more promotion around home fire safety checks from SFRS and more sharing of information among landlords and local authorities to develop best practice.

Two organisations stressed the importance of communicating the potential dangers from building alterations, and the requirement to meet building regulations.

There were suggestions that more information is required about: the dangers of smoke inhalation and the need to check smoke alarms.

There was a call for designated fire representatives.

"Information on alterations to building should be included i.e. if the tenant wishes to change a partition or fire door, they should seek appropriate approvals"
Fire Protection Association

"Everyone should have an extinguisher in their flat. You cannot prevent people from being careless, but you can prevent the fire getting out of control"

Question 9. Do you think more information on the 'stay put' policy (this is explained on page 5) would be helpful?

Figure 8. Whether more information on 'stay put' policy would be helpful

Figure 8. Whether more information on 'stay put' policy would be helpful

Base: 59

Three quarters (75%) of respondents agreed that having more information on the 'stay put policy would be helpful. A minority (15%) felt that this wouldn't be helpful.

Table 8. More information on the 'stay put' policy - Follow up

Response option Number answering open follow-up
Yes 24
No 2
In part 5

The responses suggested that 'stay put' advice can seem counter-intuitive and needs to be much more convincing especially in the light of the events at the Grenfell Tower fire; several respondents also find 'if in doubt get out' advice confusing, stating that they believed it contradicts SFRS advice.

Suggestions for improving 'stay put' information include: showing diagrams of building compartmentalisation; drawing attention to fire door specifications; reassurances about any external cladding; and a better explanation of the science behind fire protection.

Some respondents see a danger that 'if in doubt get out' advice is included in the stay put advice, this may be seen as a default position and will be everyones initial response to a fire.

Organisations suggested ways information could be disseminated including: tenancy sign-up, settling in visits, tenancy handbooks, and housing officer visits.

One respondent noted that the guidance states the number of fatalities from fires in multi storey blocks is small, and suggests that it is important to emphasise the safe and secure nature of living in a multi-storey flat.

Respondents suggested that there should be more information for older people, disabled people or occupants with mobility issues, how they should exit the building safely and what support is available to them.

"We understand amongst tenants that there can be concern about abiding by a 'Stay Put' policy in a fire situation. In our view, many tenants could benefit from more information on the reasons behind a 'Stay Put' policy for reassurance. Suggest it can be put in the Tenants Handbook. We appreciate however that each tenant is different, and a multi-faceted approach to education and raising awareness about 'Stay Put' will help too."
Maxwellton Court Tenant Association (Secretary)

Question 10. Please provide any further comments on the information and advice in this section on the consultation in the box below.

Twenty-two respondents left further comments on the information and advice in this section of the consultation.

Several respondents used this section to reiterate views expressed in answers to earlier questions; including: use of plain English in advice; the effect of Grenfell on adherence to 'stay put' advice; testing smoke alarms; the importance of keeping common areas clear; and the perceived effectiveness of face to face engagement to impart information.

One respondent called for all high-rise properties to have break glass alarms and sprinklers retro fitted.

A tenant group highlighted a need for social landlords to ensure that allocations to high rise buildings are appropriate and that tenants and residents are given appropriate support around fire safety to enable them to live safely and protect those who live alongside them; going on to state that for instance, tenants or residents with specific educational needs, chaotic lifestyles and specific medical conditions e.g. dementia might need extra help.

One local authority tenant would like to see local authorities given more powers to enforce fire safety regulation with private landlords.

There was a suggestion that more information on what measures to expect in the event of a fire e.g. emergency lighting will be activated, and the self-closure of doors will take place to help prevent the spread of the fire, as well as existing advice on not using the lifts.

An owner occupier responded that many householders are unaware of defects in their properties that might allow fire to spread e.g. insufficient fire stopping material between floors, ducts and ventilation shafts that might allow fire to spread.

There was a request that Scottish Government publish statistics on the number of fires within multi-storey blocks and their causes; in the belief that this would help landlords, property managers and staff to deliver more targeted messaging to residents.

"Regular themed awareness campaigns to maintain /improve fire safety awareness would be useful with particular reference to smoke/heat alarm testing, maintaining unobstructed escape routes, the function of fire doors and fire safety self-assessments by residents of their dwellings."
Fire Protection Association

Conclusions/Main findings

  • There was a preference for information to be given to residents in leaflet form but there was also support for a mix media approach when distributing information. It was felt that it was important to ensure that the information is accessible to all.
  • Respondents also felt that the information needed to be easy to understand by people with a range of language skills. It should be made available in other languages and formats.
  • The majority of respondents were supportive of the guidance; agreeing that it provides good information on stopping fires from happening, provides good information on what to do if a fire starts and aids understanding of fire safety.
  • Clarity was required around safety of electrical appliances and around making specific warnings impactful so that they are adhered to.
  • Clarity was also required when it came to 'stay put' advice. Respondents had major concerns that they were receiving conflicting advice on 'stay put'. Information needs to be clearer on when to evacuate the building.
  • With regards to processes to report fire safety concern some respondents did not know if there was a process in place or if it worked. They were also unsure whose responsibility it should be to monitor the process.
  • Respondents would like more information on action they should take in general. There seemed to be a lack of information provided to tenants by Residents Associations and also due to absentee landlords.



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