In the same week that the fire service reported that a worrying number of smoke alarms in rental properties don’t work, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has told the government that sprinklers shouldn’t be seen as the answer to all fire safety problems in blocks of flats.
The architects’ body supports the use of sprinklers in high-rise flats, describing them as a “highly effective means of life protection”. But they also point out that installing sprinklers “should not be used as a means to compensate for other essential life safety measures or to justify reducing minimum standards.”
As well as sprinklers, RIBA says centrally addressable fire alarm systems should be required in new and converted multiple occupancy residential buildings.
We wholeheartedly agree with Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group for Fire Safety, when she says “It is over two years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, yet far too little has changed”.
The English fire regulations are not fit for purpose, she says. It’s not right that we should lag behind both Scotland (where sprinklers will soon be required in all multiple occupancy residential buildings) and Wales, where sprinklers have been required in all new and converted residential buildings since 2013.
So we join RIBA in calling on the next government to maintain a strong focus on fire safety and give absolute priority to the radical overhaul of the building regulations that is so badly needed.
To that, we would add a plea to all landlords, property managers and residents to check their smoke and fire alarms regularly. This is as important for BTL landlords and their tenants as it is for leaseholders.
And it’s especially important at this time of year when we are all plugging in our Christmas lights and using more candles and open fires. So if you have battery-operated alarms, check and change the batteries regularly. No matter how annoying it is when they go off by mistake when you’re making toast, don’t ever be tempted to remove the batteries – that alarm could save your life.