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 4: Risk Management – Fire prevention

82. Chapter 4 focuses on preventing fires and reducing their impact. It sets out the common causes and measures to control or eliminate them. There is consideration to different approaches to fire safety measures in communal areas, stairways and landings.

Key points

  • Preventing fires and measures to protect people when fire occurs are equally important.
  • The most likely place for fire to start is in a flat and most are caused by cooking.
  • Fires in common areas can be particularly dangerous but the risk is reduced by effective housekeeping.
  • Good security can reduce the incidence of deliberate fire raising.
  • There should be a clear policy on whether common areas remain free from combustibles (known as 'zero tolerance') or are subject to 'managed use'.
  • Electrical faults can be a cause of fire so installations should be regularly tested and inspected.

Fire Prevention

83. Prevention of fires happening is fundamental to good fire safety management. This Chapter gives guidance on fire prevention in the common areas of high rise domestic buildings.

84. It is important to note that the most likely place for a fire to start is inside a flat. Whilst the scope for landlords or factors to prevent fires in flats is limited, there are opportunities in rented flats. For example, ensuring regular gas safety checks and periodic inspections of electrical installations can reduce the potential for certain types of fires starting in flats.

85. SFRS through its community safety engagement activities, can offer advice to residents on preventing fires in their home.

86. The common causes of fire and possible measures to control or eliminate them are set out below. This is not an exhaustive list, and those managing fire safety should be vigilant for other or new hazards that might be present.


87. Smoking in common areas presents a fire risk and should be avoided. With surreptitious smoking, people's efforts to conceal their actions can result in increased risk. Providing suitable receptacles for smokers' materials outside entrances may encourage people to put out their cigarettes before entering.

Fire raising

88. Deliberate ignition was the cause of 21% of fires in high rise buildings (of 10 or more floors) attended by the SFRS in 2017/18.

89. There are measures that can be used to reduce fire raising, including, for example:

  • Good physical security and access control.
  • Effective lighting, both externally and internally in the common areas.
  • CCTV on entrances and external facades where appropriate.
  • Maintaining common areas free from combustible material.
  • A caretaker or concierge present where possible.

90. There can be conflict between security and fire safety. Any measures taken to restrict access for security must not prevent people from escaping easily in a fire or interfere with the operation of fire safety measures. Equally, home security measures should not hinder evacuation or access by SFRS.

91. Advice on crime prevention in the home is available from the police.


92. Good housekeeping is fundamental to reducing risk in common areas.

93. Common areas are sometimes used to dry clothes or store items such as bicycles, furniture and seasonal decorations. In addition, unwanted belongings and rubbish are sometimes dumped in common areas.

94. The ignition of combustible material in the common corridors, stairways and landings will give rise to smoke in escape routes and the possibility of fire-spread into flats.

95. Controlling the presence of combustible materials and ignition sources reduces the potential for accidental fires. It also reduces the potential for deliberate fires. Keeping escape routes clear of obstructions ensures evacuation of residents or access for firefighters is not impeded. This is particularly important for single stairway buildings or 'dead end' corridors which offer no alternative means of escape. Residents have a duty to keep common areas free from dangerously combustible items and obstructions under The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (see Chapter 7). A framework to aid in the management of combustible items left in common areas can be found at Annex 3

96. Ancillary rooms that adjoin escape routes should be kept free of combustible material as there is a risk that any resultant fire could eventually threaten the escape of occupants.

97. The potential for significant smoke production and fire development when combustible materials are ignited varies enormously, depending on the inherent properties of the material. This includes its ease of ignition, the quantity present and its configuration. Not all of the items commonly found in common areas are either easily ignitable or likely to give rise to a serious risk if ignited in isolation.

98. This may suggest that some items can be present in common areas without unduly increasing fire risk. It can be difficult for landlords and others responsible for the common areas to manage use of the common areas where some types of items may be permitted and some not. To deal with this it is necessary to adopt either 'zero tolerance' policy or a 'managed use' policy.

99. In a 'zero tolerance' approach, residents are not permitted to keep any personal items, in the common areas. No exceptions apply. The common areas are sterile areas, kept free of combustible material, ignition sources and obstructions at all times. The benefits of a zero tolerance approach are:

  • It is a simple policy to adopt.
  • It removes the risk from accidental fires, involving items in the common areas, and fuel for fire raising.
  • There is no ambiguity on items allowed and therefore residents know exactly what to do.
  • It is easier to 'police' when carrying out inspections.

100. There are disadvantages to the Zero Tolerance, including:

  • It does not take into account the specific circumstances of residents so may not be risk proportionate.
  • It unduly penalises people that manage their common areas effectively
  • It prevents residents from personalising their living environment.

101. A 'zero tolerance' policy should:

  • Apply when there is doubt about the ability of residents to apply a 'managed use' policy.
  • Be adopted where flats open directly onto stairways and/or where deliberate ignition is a significant concern.

102. The alternative is a 'managed use' approach. This allows strictly defined use of common areas with limited items allowed to control fire risk and ease of ignition. There are strict conditions on where permitted items can be kept, for example, pot plants and door mats outside front doors or framed pictures and notice boards on walls may be acceptable.

103. The 'managed use' approach benefits include:

  • More homely common areas can foster a sense of pride and value in the building, which can impact positively on resident's behaviour.
  • Benefits for older and disabled people able to store mobility aids at the point of access.
  • The specific risk factors can be taken into account.

104. The main disadvantage is that it is more difficult to apply and requires a clearly defined policy with clear 'dos and don'ts'.

105. When adopting a 'managed use' policy:

  • Ensure there are clearly defined 'dos and don'ts' that residents can follow.
  • Communicate and educate residents on the policy given there is more scope for misunderstanding.
  • Recognise it is likely to require more frequent inspections to ensure compliance.
  • Apply it to buildings which have effective access control.
  • Never allow items to be left awaiting disposal, even short term (including in chute rooms).
  • Do not allow upholstered seating.
  • Never allow motorcycles and other equipment containing petrol and other fuels.
  • Never allow charging of mobility scooters, batteries or other electrical equipment in common areas. There should be consideration to providing dedicated rooms for storage and charging, suitably fire separated from the rest of the block. Further guidance on mobility scooters can be found in the Scottish Government publication, "Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing Specialised Housing" (available online).
  • Only allow scooters, bicycles and prams, if there are suitable storage areas, where they will not pose an obstruction.
  • Ensure the legal requirement to keep common areas clear of combustibles and obstruction is achieved (see Chapter 7)

106. The 'zero tolerance' approach may appear more straightforward but where residents are inconvenienced, they may not abide by the policy. Engaging with residents and encouraging them to follow the policy can be worthwhile. Regular inspection is key to maintaining good housekeeping. Landlords should monitor the situation to check compliance with the policy.


107. Recycling initiatives encourage residents to avoid waste and use resources sustainably. Collection schemes might involve materials being set out in corridors, lobbies and stairways, giving rise to a potentially serious fire risk and being in contravention of the duty to keep common areas clear.

108. Bags of clothes for charity and boxes and bags of newspapers and plastic containers represent a significant fire risk. The material is in a form in which it can be easily ignited and lead to fire-spread and smoke production.

109. Landlords should put in place alternative arrangements for recycling that do not rely on collection from the common areas.


110. Faults develop in wiring or in appliances resulting in ignition of combustible materials through overheating or arcing. These faults are often evident before a fire occurs and risk of fires can be prevented so those responsible for buildings can take action.

111. Landlords should have the electrical installations in the flats inspected and tested regularly. This should happen every 10 years where there is a long term tenant. Inspections every five years might be more appropriate for shorter tenancies. For private rented flats, it may be more appropriate to have a requirement for electrical installations to be inspected and tested every 5 years.

112. Where tenant turnover is high, it is advisable to have a visual inspection of the accessible parts of the electrical installations after each tenancy.

113. The electrical installations supplying the flats and the common areas of the block should also be inspected and tested every five years. Portable electrical appliances in the areas under the control of the management should be inspected and tested on a regular basis. The Institution of Engineering and Technology Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment provides guidance on the nature and frequency.

114. The following are measures to reduce the likelihood of an electrical fire:

  • Electrical distribution boards are located in secure cupboards or rooms, with no items of rubbish stored.
  • Prevent residents from wiring decorative lights or other equipment in the common areas from their flat.
  • Prevent residents using sockets in the common areas to charge their appliances or equipment in their flats

115. The White Goods Campaign aims to increase public awareness of the dangers from unsafe use of white goods to reduce the number and impact of fires. The advice is to not use washing machines, tumble driers and dishwashers when sleeping or out of the house; register white goods online to be contacted if safety issues are discovered and check the electrical safety first website for product recalls (

Solar Panels

116. Photovoltaic (solar) panels that are above the roof covering or form part of the roof covering can be a source of fire. Panels which form part of the roof covering should be fire-stopped on the line of any separating wall or compartment wall.

Heating systems

117. Residents should be encouraged to have their heating systems serviced regularly and gas heating checked every year. Landlords are required to arrange annual gas safety checks for rented properties.


118. Lightning is a source of ignition in only a small proportion of fires. The risk depends on factors such as the location, size and construction of the building; the proximity of the building to other structures; and the local topography. A risk assessment tool for determining the need for lightning protection on a block of flats can be found in BS EN 62305-2, but normally needs a specialist to apply it.

119. Retrospective installation of lightning protection is rarely likely to be essential. Any existing lightning protection systems should be subject to regular inspection and testing. Guidance on this is available in BS EN 62305-3.

Other causes of fire

120. Vehicles, temporary structures, and materials should not be sited close to the exterior of the building to prevent a fire affecting the building's external facade.

121. Building works and contractors operations can be a source of fire. This is considered in Chapter 6.



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