5. Fire safety in buildings
Whilst it is not the purpose of this report to provide guidance on fire safety in buildings a range of guidance is available to designers, contractors and building managers for new and existing buildings. The Scottish Building Standards give the requirements for fire safety as set out in the building regulations. Guidance is given in the Technical Handbooks (Section 2) in order to meet the regulations. Building standards are updated regularly and there is routinely, no retrospective application of standards.
The approach to fire safety in buildings varies by the type of building involved as well as factors such as use and height. The risk to occupants is greater if they are asleep during the outbreak of fire as their ability to detect a fire and to escape will be impaired.
Recent changes to the building standards apply to all domestic and non-domestic buildings over 11 m. Since 1 October 2019 cladding systems should have been designed and built from materials with a classification of A1 (non-combustible) or A2 (will not significantly contribute to fire load and fire growth). An alternative route to compliance has been allowed via the large-scale fire test BS 8414 and the assessment in BRE Report BR135. European classifications were introduced into the Scottish Technical Standards in 2002, prior to that reference was made only to British Standards of which Class 0 was one of the highest reaction to fire classifications.
Other measures introduced on or since October 2019 for new build blocks of flats include the following:
- Fire service activated sounders, 18 m plus.
- Minimum of two escape stairs, 18 m plus.
- Automatic fire suppression systems in all flats regardless of height.
The Scottish Advice Note (2021) gives guidance on the fire performance of cladding systems on existing residential buildings.
Guidance on fire safety in high rise domestic buildings in Scotland is given in guidance by the Scottish Government (updated March 2021). The guidance covers fire resistant construction, escape routes, fire detection and warning, evacuation strategies and facilities for use by SFRS. A principle of fire safety is that escape from a fire should not rely on external rescue by the fire service. Fire detection and alarm systems give early warning of fire, although high rise blocks do not normally require a communal fire alarm system. Facilities are available for firefighters to allow them to fight fires in high rise blocks where necessary and alert the building occupants in the unlikely event of a partial of full evacuation.
Other building types use simultaneous or phased evacuation rather than stay put. This is where building occupants react to the alarm and follow the designated means of escape to the place of safety away from the building. Some buildings may be designed so that evacuation is initially limited to those nearest the hazard, before being extended if necessary to others.
The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006, are the key elements of fire safety legislation building owners in Scotland must follow. They set out the important responsibilities the duty holder (e.g. employer/premises manager) must fulfil and continue to maintain. The regulations focus on non-domestic buildings as opposed to domestic blocks of flats.