Our recent series of articles about smoke vent system maintenance has been heavily focused on the importance of carrying out thorough assessments of system compliance and performance as part of a maintenance regime.
Under the Building Safety Act, it is a requirement to register all high-rise residential buildings with the Building Safety Regulator and produce a Building Safety Case for each building. Registration started in April 2023 and the final October deadline is approaching fast. If you are the ‘Accountable Person’ within a building, we recommend that you engage with an expert as soon as possible. They will assist you in compiling your Building Safety Case Report before the fire service inspections begin next year.
Beechmere Retirement Village is a cautionary tale for ‘Accountable Persons’
The fallout from the Beechmere Retirement Village incident should be taken as a warning by those responsible for buildings within the scope of the Building Safety Act. ‘Accountable Persons’ should take urgent steps to ensure their fire safety systems are not only maintained but also certified compliant with the appropriate regulations and standards by a competent expert.
For smoke control systems, Beechmere highlighted what we believe is a huge problem that remains under the radar of many construction professionals.
The code of practice for smoke control systems BS 7346-8 recommends that a special inspection is undertaken when a new company takes on the maintenance of a system. This includes checking performance against the design parameters and confirming compliance with the appropriate regulations and standards. Where design information is not available, a detailed design check is required which may include CFD modelling.
In our experience, systems are not routinely assessed or performance checked which could result in smoke-logged escape routes in the event of a fire.
What happened at Beechmere Retirement Village?
On the 8th of August 2019, the Beechmere Retirement Village was destroyed by a blaze, leaving more than 150 residents without a home. Eight fire engines from around Cheshire and 70 firefighters were needed to put out the dangerous blaze. While there were no casualties, the impact on residents’ lives has been significant.
Now, almost 4 years later, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has revealed it is to prosecute six companies for failing to comply with the Fire Safety (Regulatory Reform) Order 2005.
The charges include:
- Failure to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons were exposed for the purpose of identifying general fire precautions necessary. This includes failure to identify timber framed construction, and failure to assess atria, smoke control, evacuation procedures, and protection of escape routes (charges 2, 3 and 4)
- Failure to ensure that in the event of danger, it is possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and as safely as possible
- Failure to co-operate and co-ordinate with other responsible persons, Your Housing Group Limited and/or Morgan Sindall Property Services Limited and/or Total Fire group limited, so far as was necessary to enable Avantage to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons were exposed for the purpose of identifying general fire precautions necessary
- Failure to maintain facilities for firefighters (inadequate protection of dry riser shafts as indicated in firefighter statements and thermal image camera footage)
Moreover, throughout the investigation, breaches of the Order were discovered in another retirement village in Winsford – Hazelmere. The Hazelmere breaches have been added as charges to the ones found in the Beechmere investigation.
Implications for smoke control maintenance providers
Unfortunately, we believe this is far from an isolated incident. Maintenance of smoke control systems is rarely carried out thoroughly and by suitably competent personnel. It is often undertaken by fire alarm specialists who may lack the in-depth knowledge required to complete performance tests and compliance assessments of complex smoke control systems.
The deadline for registration of high-rise residential buildings is approaching fast. If you are the ‘Responsible Person’ within a building, we recommend that you engage with an expert as soon as possible. They will assist you in compiling your Building Safety Case Report before the fire service inspections begin next year.
In our experience, there are many non-compliant smoke control systems in the field that require urgent attention. A high degree of design and engineering expertise is required to complete a special inspection of a smoke control system to BS 7346-8 and the minimum competence requirement would be level 4 certification under the IFC SDI 19 scheme. This is the only third-party certification scheme for smoke control system providers and level 4 covers the complete range of systems that may be included in buildings.
Finding a competent smoke control specialist
If you are not sure where to start, our network of Approved Contractors is a great place to find competent personnel. All members of the network have undergone smoke control training and are held to a high standard of compliance and expertise. Moreover, we have a dedicated support team that assists approved contractors with complex projects and scenarios.
Early action is essential to securing your buildings and avoiding the risk of being prosecuted if an accident does occur.