Following the inquest into the deaths of two firefighters in a fire on the ninth floor of a high-rise tower block owned by Southampton City Council, Keith Wisemen, Southampton Coroner, has stated in his letter that "obvious precautions to prevent fire occurring were not taken" and "operating conditions for all firefighters involved became extremely difficult and dangerous" and "significantly contributed" to their deaths.

As a result of these findings, Mr Wisemen has made numerous recommendations to prevent the recurrence of similar fatalities in the future. His main recommendations are that:

1. Social Landlords should consider retro-fitting sprinklers in all existing high rise buildings in excess of 30 metres in height, particularly to those identified by Fire and Rescue Services as having complex designs that make fire-fighting more hazardous and/or difficult.

2. Social Landlords should be obliged to:

  • provide signage to indicate floor levels both in stairwells and lift lobbies in high rise premises, to assist the emergency services; and
  • ensure that signage indicating flat numbers and emergency exits in high-rise premises are placed at a low level to increase visibility in smoke conditions.

3. Building Regulations should be amended to ensure that all cables, not just fire alarm cables, are supported by fire-resistant cable supports.

These recommendations echo the calls of many others in the sector following similar tragic events, such as the fire at Lakanal House in London which claimed the lives of six people, and increased focus on Social Landlords’ duties regarding fire safety. Retrofitting existing high-rise properties with sprinklers (and complying with the other recommendations) could cost significant sums, part of which may be recoverable by reductions in insurance costs.

Despite criticism in relation to a cost benefit analysis, similar safety concerns have led the Welsh Government to announce that all new and converted residential properties in Wales will be fitted with sprinkler systems from September 2013 and fire experts in England are now calling for the UK government to make a similar move.

Both the Housing Minister and the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government have until the 1 April to respond in writing including details of any action that has been taken or which it proposed will be taken whether in response to Mr Wisemen's letter or otherwise, or give an explanation as to why no action is proposed.

For more information

For more information on the impact of these potential developments to your organisation, please do contact Richard Brooks on 0121 214 3633, richard.brooks@anthonycollins.com or Cynyr Rhys on 0121 214 3619, cynyr.rhys@anthonycollins.com.

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