Fire safety - existing high rise domestic buildings: practical guidance

This guidance provides practical fire safety advice on how to prevent fires and reduce the risks from fires in high rise domestic buildings.

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Chapter 1

Introduction: Purpose and Scope of the Guidance

What is this Guidance about?

1. This Guidance provides practical fire safety advice on how to prevent fires and reduce the risks from fires in high rise domestic buildings. It aims to assist the assessment of fire risk and the adequacy of existing fire safety measures. The focus is on communal areas and aspects of building design in private accommodation which could affect the safety of others. This Guidance applies only to Scotland and is not mandatory. Given building design varies no single guidance can provide specific solutions for all possible circumstances.

2. The Guidance aims to reduce the risk to life from fire. As such, the focus is on life safety rather than the protection of property.

Who is it for?

3. This Guidance is for those responsible for fire safety in high rise domestic buildings. This includes owners, managers, property factors, property advisors and landlords, managing agents, enforcing authorities and those assessing fire risk in high rise domestic buildings.

4. This Guidance is not specifically for residents, although it may be of interest, and Fire Safety Law does not generally apply to their individual dwellings. Building managers should engage with residents and encourage a positive fire safety culture (See Chapter 6). A leaflet containing fire safety information for residents of high rise buildings ("Keeping yourself and others safe from fire in your high rise buildings") can be found on the SFRS website.

5. 'Residents' is used when referring to the occupants of the flats in the high rise building. This is intended to cover all those who live in the building, whether owner or tenant. Tenant is used when not referring to other residents.

What buildings are included?

6. This Guidance is for existing multi-storey high rise blocks and tenemental buildings with a storey in excess of 18 m above the ground – generally more than 6 floors – but no storey above 60 m – generally more than 20 floors. Specialist advice should be sought for buildings above this height. The Guidance applies to high rise domestic buildings of all tenures; owner-occupied, social housing and private rented sector.

7. The term 'flat' is used for a self-contained domestic dwelling in the high-rise building. It includes those on more than one storey, such as maisonettes (duplex apartments).

8. Premises put to specific uses that can be in high rise domestic buildings, and where fire safety law applies, are not considered further in this Guidance. Please refer to the relevant sector specific guidance (available at for;

  • any flat within a block that is a house in multiple occupation[1]
  • any flat used as a holiday let
  • any flat used for registered childminding
  • offices and similar ancillary accommodation that form part of the building.

9. Practical Fire Safety Guidance for existing specialised housing and similar premises has advice on how to reduce the fire risk to people who receive care or support. It explains how a person-centred approach can be effective and contains information on the use of PEEPs in appropriate settings. Although it applies principally to specialised housing, the person-centred approach will also be useful for those who provide care or support for people living in owned or rented dwellings (often referred to as "general needs" housing).

What is the fire risk in high rise domestic buildings?

10. The vast majority of fires are contained in the room or flat in which the fire occurs. In Scotland, there have been no fire deaths beyond the dwelling of fire origin and no fatalities as a result of fires originating in a common area since 2009 (as at the date of publication).

11. Fires are usually contained because each individual flat is enclosed in fire resisting construction. The main risk from a fire is to the residents in the flat where it originated. There have been occasions where fire has spread and there can be significant loss of life in extreme cases, as two tragic fires in England show. In 2017, 72 people died in Grenfell Tower, London; and in 2009, six people died in Lakanal House, London.

Using this Guidance

12. This Guidance includes criteria for determining the level of safety; these are benchmarks to make comparisons against. These are more useful than prescriptive standards setting, which has been avoided where possible. Similarly, the methodology outlined for assessing risk is intended to assist in making comparisons. Alternative approaches to benchmarking and risk assessment may be appropriate in individual situations if an equivalent level of safety is achieved.

13. Particular knowledge and skills may be required to assess risk and determine an appropriate package of fire safety provisions in some buildings. Users should consider whether they have the necessary competence before applying this Guidance to a particular building. In some cases, it may be necessary to seek specialist help. The Scottish Government and the SFRS recommend selecting an assessor or company that is third party certificated by a United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accredited Certification Body or an assessor registered by a Professional Registration Scheme. SFRS maintains a list of UKAS and other recommended schemes on its website.

14. Fire safety design in blocks of flats is governed by the Building (Scotland) Regulations in place at the time of construction.

"Stay Put"

This Guidance applies to buildings that have a 'stay put' policy 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 flats if unaffected by fire or smoke.



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