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Fire Risk: It's Not Just About the Building

Whilst certain types of buildings present unique fire challenges, and recent failures in building and fire safety practices have been brought centre stage, fire safety is not just about the construction and fabric of a building.

Risk profiles

A report by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) titled “Fire fatalities in Scotland and recommendations to help reduce them” is a significant and helpful piece of research in highlighting the characteristics of those who are most vulnerable and at risk of injury or fatality in the event of a fire.

Using this research and our experience in the fire safety sector, we’ve created seven risk profiles to demonstrate the personas of vulnerable individuals who may need further preventative solutions in place.

  • Electra buys electrical goods from online marketplaces, not realising that the selling of these products is unregulated. According to Electric Safety First, faulty electrical goods account for 25% of electrical fires.
  • Sous enjoys cooking but doesn’t always keep their eyes on the stove. Cooking appliances are the ignition source for almost half of all accidental fires and casualties.
  • Bones has a medical condition, illness, temporary or lack of physical mobility that prevents them from responding appropriately or being able to escape easily from a fire.
  • Indie lives alone with no one observing behaviour changes such as waking up in the middle of the night to cook, which could signify the onset of dementia.
  • Snooze is likely to not hear a smoke alarm when they are in a deep sleep because of their lifestyle habits. In the event of a fire, this means they could inhale damaging or lethal amounts of toxic smoke and gases whilst asleep.
  • Vapor uses smoking materials in the home in rooms like the bedroom or living room, where careless disposal of the smoking materials can result in upholstered furniture, bedding or rubbish catching fire.
  • Moli is bedbound, lives alone and is visited three times a day by carers. To reduce the likelihood of bed sores, emollient creams are applied to Moli’s skin. The residue – from both paraffin and paraffin-free emollients – have been found to soak into clothing, dressings and bedding leaving a flammable residue.

Being overcome by gas or smoke

The most common cause of death for fire-related fatalities (where the cause of death was known) is 'being overcome by gas or smoke'. No matter a person’s ability to escape from fire, there are three ways that smoke can significantly impact someone’s escape time:

  1. Firstly, smoke can reduce visibility, making it difficult to see the escape route or exit.
  2. Smoke will irritate a person’s eyes, nose and throat – making them cough, gasp for air and their eyes water – impacting someone’s ability to easily escape.
  3. The most dangerous part of smoke is the asphyxiant gases, which can cause someone, following exposure, to initially lose consciousness (sometimes extremely rapidly – in less than three breaths) followed by death unless rescue occurs in time.

One of the key findings from a BRE report 204505, the Effectiveness of sprinklers in residential premises in 2006 was that ‘Sprinkler protection was not found to be a complete panacea, slow-growing and shielded fires can be a problem.

We invented Automist with the aim of increasing the time available for people to escape by maintaining survivable conditions and suppressing the fire early, to slow fire growth and to limit the amount of smoke and toxic gases.

What can housing providers do?

To reduce fire risk for vulnerable individuals social housing providers should use person-centred fire risk assessments (PCFRAs) to identify those at higher risk and gain an understanding of their risk profile, so appropriate measures can be put in place.

Used in conjunction with an assessment and measures based on the type and structure of a building, PCFRAs, can help to save lives as they consider the needs of the individual and recognise that one person may need something completely different from another.

Many housing providers and local authorities are acknowledging that It’s Not Just About the Building and considering the risk profile of their residents to improve fire safety. This was the case at:

  • Two of Swindon Borough Council’s pathway homes, where the residents living in both homes had mobility difficulties. Full case study can be read, here.
  • One of the UK’s largest social housing providers needed a safeguarding solution for a vulnerable resident identified as being at risk of fire or causing a fire. Full case study can be read, here.
  • A housing developer needed to explore fire safety solutions that could further improve support for residents living in specialist supported housing. Full case study can be read, here.
  • A London Borough Council needed to easily retrofit a fire suppression system across 11 of its sheltered housing schemes. Full case study can be read, here.

We’ll be launching the initiative at 1.30 on Wednesday 8th September in the Knowledge Theatre – we’d be delighted if you would join us.

If you’re working on a project that involves tailoring a solution for any of the risk personas, we’ve identified get in touch with Will Goodwin (07973 704 251) to see how our specialist technology could improve fire protection for your residents.