Practical fire safety for existing specialised housing and similar premises: guidance

Guidance for those who are responsible for specialised housing and for those who provide care and support in such premises.

Chapter 4: Risk Management – Fire Prevention

Key Points

  • Preventing fires and implementing measures to protect people when fire occurs are equally important.
  • The most likely place for fire to start is within a flat 
  • Fires in common areas can be particularly dangerous but effective housekeeping reduces fire risk.
  • There should be a clear policy on whether common areas remain free from combustibles with a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, or are subject to ‘managed use’.


169. Preventing fire is fundamental to good fire safety management and reduces risk. It is particularly important where residents have difficulty evacuating in the event of fire or where the likelihood of a fire starting is high.  In sheltered and extra care housing, it can be challenging for housing providers, management or landlords to influence the behaviour and safety of people living in their own self-contained accommodation.  In such cases, care / support workers or family members may be able to help with fire prevention as part of the person-centred approach set out in Part 1 of the Guidance.

170. This Chapter offers guidance mainly on fire prevention in communal and other areas under management / landlord control.  Common causes of fire and possible measures to control or eliminate them are set out below.  Risk assessors should consider these but also be alert to other hazards or new hazards that might emerge in the future.

Kitchen and Cooking Facilities

171. Communal facilities can include kitchens, restaurants and cafes.  For these, separate fire safety risk assessments by external companies may be required. 

172. Communal facilities may also be provided for the use of residents, volunteer groups, friends or relatives.  There should be policies and procedures for the safe use of equipment and for cooking in general.

173. In supported housing, the use of kitchens by vulnerable residents may be an integral part of any care package, or part of day to day living.  Staff may be available on site to assist or supervise residents.  Shared kitchens and the type of equipment provided must be considered in fire safety risk assessments.  Automatic isolation devices can improve safety; for example, isolation switches can control the use of cookers during periods where supervision is not available.  Gas or electricity cut-off switches (linked to timers or sensors) and portable firefighting equipment, including fire blankets may be necessary.  Replacing gas cookers with safer alternatives such as induction hobs might be appropriate in some supported housing.

174. Regular inspection, cleaning and maintenance of appliances and extract systems is important, particularly if deep fat frying occurs.  


175. Smoking in workplaces and common areas presents a fire risk and should be avoided.  Even where prohibited, residents may try to smoke in secret, resulting in increased risk.  “No Smoking” signage should be provided in common areas.  Engagement with residents to reaffirm the no-smoking policy may be necessary.

176. In designated smoking areas, receptacles should be emptied regularly.  Fires have been known to occur as a result of a build-up of discarded cigarette ends.

177. Smoking policies should also take account of e-cigarettes and charging facilities.  Defective and non-regulated charging devices have been known to cause fires.


178. Faults in wiring or appliances can result in overheating or arcing. These faults are often evident before a fire occurs. Periodic testing should be undertaken by suitably competent persons and the inspection, test and remedial work undertaken in accordance with current IET Wiring Regulations (BS 7671).  Arc Fault Detection Devices can mitigate the risk of fire in sleeping accommodation and are designed to operate (trip) when a dangerous arc is detected.  They can be installed in distribution boards and consumer units to protect final circuits.  BS 7671 contains further information, including details on exclusions for medical locations.

179. Fixed wiring in workplaces, supported housing and in the common parts of sheltered and extra care housing should be subject to periodic inspection and test at periods not exceeding 5 years.

180. Housing providers should have the fixed mains electrical installations in private accommodation inspected and tested regularly.  Where providers have limited control, residents should be encouraged to make arrangements.  The frequency of inspections will depend on the age of the property and installation, the duration of the tenancy and the nature of the tenant.  As a guide, an interval of 10 years may be appropriate for privately owned accommodation; an interval of 5 years for rented accommodation.

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

182. Portable electrical appliances used in areas under management control should be subject to inspection and test on a regular basis. Further guidance can be found in the IET Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment.

183. Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations and any others outwith management control, should be encouraged to have suitable inspection and testing regimes for their portable electrical appliances.

184. Residents should not be permitted to use their extension leads and adaptors in common areas. Extension leads are often used inappropriately, for example, to charge mobility scooters or power Christmas lights in common areas using adapters which power other items, including portable heaters.  

185. Where possible, additional electrical sockets should be provided to avoid the use of extension cables and adaptors.  If used, they should comply with industry approved standards, be subject to portable appliance testing and be fixed securely to prevent trip hazards.

186. Part 1 has guidance on Electric Profiling Beds (EPBs) and electric blankets.

187. Some additional measures to reduce the likelihood of an electrical fire are:

  • Electrical distribution boards in secure cupboards or rooms, with no combustible storage.
  • Key-operated socket outlets in common areas, including lounges and kitchens, to restrict access to cleaners and other legitimate users.

188. Photovoltaic (solar) panels may be in place above the roof covering or form part of the roof covering. Panels which form part of the roof covering should be fire-stopped on the line of any separating wall. Further information is available online RC62: Recommendations for fire safety with photovoltaic panel installations.

189. The Electrical Safety First website hosts a portal to register electrical appliances and provides information on product recalls.  Registration is recommended to receive the latest safety and recall information.

Heating Systems

190. Communal heating and ventilation systems can be a potential source of ignition and provide a route for fire spread through common ducts and risers.  Planned preventive maintenance will reduce risk.  Gas-fired systems should be subject to annual inspections and tested in accordance with gas safety regulations.

191. Where responsibility rests with residents, they 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.

192. The use of portable heaters in common areas should only ever be a temporary arrangement.  They should be suitable for their intended use and, ideally, fixed to the walls to prevent them from being moved or knocked over. All portable heaters should be inspected regularly and electrical heaters tested as part of the portable appliance testing (PAT) regime. Oil-filled radiator heaters are safer than convector or fan heaters, which should be avoided where possible. Portable LPG gas heaters or open bar heaters should never be used.


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

194. Common areas are sometimes viewed by residents as amenity areas where they can store personal items, furniture and seasonal decorations. Housing providers may add items such as door mats, pot plants, pictures and seating to promote the image of a homely environment.  

195. Unwanted belongings and rubbish are sometimes dumped in common areas.  This should never be tolerated and management policies and controls should be in place to prevent this.

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

197. Controlling the presence of combustible materials and ignition sources reduces the potential for accidental fires.  It also reduces the potential for deliberate fires.  

198. Keeping escape routes clear of obstructions ensures evacuation 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 Part 4 of the Guidance).

199. Fire risk can vary significantly depending on the inherent properties of the items.  Not all items are either easily ignitable or likely to give rise to a serious risk if ignited in isolation.  Whilst this suggests that some items can be present in common areas without unduly exposing residents to risk, it can be difficult for housing providers to manage common areas appropriately where some items may be permitted and some not.  Unrestricted use of the common areas will not be acceptable. 

200. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt either a ‘zero tolerance’ policy or a ‘managed use’ policy.  With a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, residents are not permitted to keep 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.  This is not an approach that could be applied to most supported housing or small care homes.  However, in sheltered or extra care housing, benefits include:

  • It is a simple policy to adopt.
  • It reduces the risk of accidental and deliberate fires in the common areas.
  • There is no ambiguity so residents know where they stand.
  • It is easier to ‘police’ when carrying out inspections.

201. There are, however, disadvantages:

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

202. A ‘zero tolerance’ policy should always apply:

  • When there is doubt about the ability of residents to follow a ‘managed use’ policy.
  • In an escape stairway that is of timber construction.
  • Where the standard of fire protection does not support a “stay put” policy.
  • Where deliberate ignition is a concern.

203. The alternative is a ‘managed use’ approach.  This places restrictions on the items allowed in the common areas to limit fire loading and ease of ignition. 

204. In supported housing, a “zero tolerance” approach is not realistic and so a “managed use” policy is normally adopted.  To maintain a homely environment, pictures, plants, tables and other small items of furniture are normally acceptable. Pot plants and door mats may be allowed outside front doors.   Protected routes and stairways should be kept free of obstructions and significant fire risks, such as portable heaters or cooking facilities. Storage cupboards in protected stairways should be kept locked shut.

205. When adopting a ‘managed use’ policy:

  • Ensure there are clearly defined ‘do’s and don’ts’ for residents. 
  • There should be a suitable standard of fire protection throughout.
  • Particular care should be taken when applying it to situations such as single stairway buildings and “dead end” corridors, where it may not be appropriate.
  • Limit it to buildings in which the main elements of structure are non-combustible. 
  • Only apply it to buildings which have effective security, such as access control.
  • Reduce the potential for inappropriate storage by providing communal storage facilities, preferably close to residents’ accommodation.
  • Never allow combustible waste or recycling storage in common areas since even short term storage poses a risk.
  • Manage the type and location of furniture/seating.
  • Never allow charging of mobility scooters, batteries or other electrical equipment in common areas.  Consider providing dedicated rooms for mobility scooter charging, suitably fire separated from the rest of the building (see Annex 7 for more information).

206. The ‘zero tolerance’ approach may appear more straightforward to apply but if residents are inconvenienced, they may not abide by the policy.  Engaging with residents and encouraging them to follow the policy can be effective.

207. Regular inspection is key to maintaining good housekeeping.  Landlords should monitor the situation to check compliance with the policy.

208. Higher risk ancillary rooms that adjoin escape routes, such as communal boiler rooms and electrical switch rooms, should be kept free of combustible material as there is a risk that a fire could eventually impede escape.  Storerooms in common areas should not contain LPG cylinders, propane or flammable liquids.

209. Policies and procedures should control the use of equipment in community and store rooms.  Sheltered schemes often store discarded furniture and old electrical goods which may be overlooked for inspection and testing.

210. In shared laundries, filters fitted to tumble dryers should be cleared regularly.  Gas-fired tumble dryers should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Checklists, incorporating other routine tasks, can be useful and records should be kept.  To reduce the potential for spontaneous combustion, laundry should not be over-dried in a tumble drier.  It should be removed immediately, separated and then folded.  This is particularly important if laundry has previously been impregnated with emollient cream or other flammable oils.  

Mobility Scooters

211. There has been a marked increase in the use of mobility scooters, particularly in sheltered and extra care housing schemes.  They can improve quality of life and, for some people, they may be the only way to travel beyond their accommodation.

212. Storing mobility scooters in common areas should be avoided, wherever possible.  Charging them in the common areas should never be allowed.  Fires involving mobility scooters can produce a lot of smoke and heat.  Escape routes may be compromised, placing residents at significant risk.  Fires involving mobility scooters have resulted deaths and injuries. 

213. The most common causes of fires are:

  • Faults in electrical equipment/wiring. 
  • Faults in the charging equipment (which is more likely during the charging process itself). 
  • Wilful fire raising. 

214. Facilities for storing and charging mobility scooters should be considered at the design stage for new premises.  A lack of facilities can present a real challenge for existing premises. In sheltered complexes, scooters are often left next to flat entrance doors on protected escape routes or within protected stairways.  The situation can be even more difficult in supported housing. If it is not possible to provide adequate facilities, it may be more appropriate to hire vehicles. Schemes such as ‘Shopmobility,’ provide for delivery of vehicles to hirers’ homes.

215. The storage and charging of mobility scooters must be risk assessed and the likelihood and consequence of a fire evaluated.  This Guidance considers a range of possible options and risk reduction measures (see Annex 7).  

Policies and Procedures

216. Housing providers should have clear policies and procedures for mobility scooters which should cover:

  • Any adaptations made to the premises. 
  • Storage and charging facilities provided. 
  • Maintenance requirements. 
  • Ongoing management and control.

217. Residents should be made aware of the policy and any restrictions that apply.  For example, they may need permission to use, store and charge mobility scooters on the premises.

Furniture and Furnishings

218. Easily ignitable upholstered furniture, furnishings and textiles should be avoided in the common areas. In general, furniture should be resistant to Ignition Source 5 of BS 5852BS 7176 offers further guidance for upholstered seating.  

219. Domestic furniture and beds should comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, as amended. The ignitability and flammability of bedding, mattresses and curtains should be considered in supported housing and as part of a person-centred approach in other forms of specialised housing (see Part 1 of the Guidance).

Fire Raising

220. Measures to reduce fire raising include:

  • Good physical security and access control.
  • Effective lighting (externally and in the common areas).
  • CCTV on entrances and external facades.
  • Keeping common areas free from combustible material.
  • Vigilance by residents, staff and contractors.

221. There can be conflict between security and fire safety. 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.

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

223. If a resident has a history of fire raising, measures may be needed to restrict access to materials that can be used to start fires.

Medical Gases

224. Medical gases, including oxygen, may be stored or used in private accommodation or in the common areas.

225. These gases are not inherently flammable but cylinders will present an explosion risk if exposed to extremes of heat and fire. Medical oxygen can present an additional risk; if leaks occur, it can create an oxygen rich atmosphere that will increase the intensity of a fire. In confined, unventilated rooms, it can increase the combustibility of materials which is a risk near potential ignition sources, such as smoking and cooking.

226. Where possible, cylinders should be stored outside in a well-ventilated, secure location.  If stored inside, the numbers should be kept to the minimum required for normal day-to-day use. Rooms/cupboards used for storage should be well ventilated, kept secure and have appropriate signage.

227. Cylinders should not be stored in combination with combustible or flammable materials, for example, alcohol hand gels, or materials containing, or contaminated with, oils or grease. Empty cylinders should be stored separately from full cylinders.

228. A premises information box should be provided near the main entrance for SFRS use.  It should be easily accessible and hold information on where cylinders are stored or used.  Risk information may also be held by SFRS on data systems within fire appliances. 

229. The information should be kept current.  Details on who uses medical gases can change frequently. Warning signs on residents’ accommodation also needs to be closely managed.

Other Causes of Fire

230. An external fire, near a building could affect its external façade.  Therefore, vehicles, temporary structures, and materials should not be sited close to the exterior of the building. Waste skips and combustible materials associated with building works should be at least 6m away.  Building works and contractors operations are considered further in Part 3 of the Guidance.

231. Retrospective installation of a lightning protection system is unlikely to be required in existing specialised housing. Existing systems should be subject to regular inspection and testing in line with BS EN 62305.



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