The research by British Woodworking Federation, which organises Fire Door Safety Week, also found that more than 1 in 10 (12%) renters wouldn’t report a fire-related issue because they thought their landlord was unlikely to fix the issue, based on previous experience.
This correlated with the fact that the same proportion of renters (12%) had not had their most recent fire safety-related issue resolved within three months of reporting it.
Fire Door Safety Week was first launched in 2013, in response to a legacy of fire door neglect, and is managed by the British Woodworking Federation, with support from partners including London Fire Brigade (LFB), The National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) and the Home Office’s National Fire Safety campaign. This year’s campaign ran from September 20-26.
Helen Hewitt, chief executive officer of the British Woodworking Federation, comments: “Renters need to feel as though their voices are being heard and that any problems they raise will be fixed, otherwise it discourages the reporting of issues and the whole system breaks down, putting lives at serious risk. The fact that people feel anxious about reporting issues is a major cause for concern.”
“The theme of this year’s Fire Door Safety Week campaign was Make Time to Save Lives, and we see this as a vital message. It’s crucial that both landlords and tenants take time to identify, report and resolve fire safety issues to ensure that lives are not needlessly lost to fires.”
What are the fire safety issues facing renters?
The seriousness of underreporting is underlined by the fact that fire safety issues are prevalent in all forms of rented accommodation.
A third (33%) of all renters have experienced fire doors being damaged or propped open in the last 12 months, a quarter (25%) have been living with a broken or missing fire extinguisher, and just under a quarter (23%) were aware of a smoke alarm that wasn’t working.
More than one in 10 renters (14%) have had concerns over their building’s cladding in the past year and the same proportion has noticed a fire exit in their property being blocked.
Exploring these issues in more detail, the research found that people living in privately rented housing are more likely to be living with fire safety-related issues in their homes than social housing tenants. Twice as many private renters had experienced a smoke alarm not working in the last 12 months and three times as many had experienced fire doors being damaged or propped open in the same period, compared to those living in social housing.
Hewitt goes on to say: “Fire safety measures such as fire doors play a vital role in containing the spread of smoke and fire, allowing building occupants to safely exit a building in the event of a fire while emergency services respond.”
“It’s shocking that despite the government’s focus on improving fire safety across the UK, those in rental properties continue to be put at risk through inadequate fire safety measures including damaged fire doors.”
She says in England alone there were 176 fire-related fatalities in dwelling fires and more than 6,500 non-fatal casualties in 2020.
“Private and social housing landlords have a duty of care to ensure that their tenants live in safe properties, and we urge them to act without delay so that those people are protected,” she adds.
Gavin Tomlinson, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council’s Protection Committee, comments: “Fire doors that are damaged, poorly fitted or wedged open are not fire doors, they are just doors – they will not save lives or protect property.”
“We encourage tenants to report any fire safety concerns to their landlord and if these are not resolved contact your local authority or seek advice from your fire and rescue service. It’s important that the minority of landlords who do not comply with the law should not be allowed to ignore fire safety and put the lives of tenants at risk.”
Making time for fire safety
The research also highlighted that among both renters and homeowners, fire safety is a lower priority when it comes to fixing or reporting broader household problems.
Overall, only 5% of people would report a fire door being damaged, compared to 32% who would report or fix their front door not locking properly, 17% who would report appliances not working and 11% who would report a porch light not working.
Hewitt concludes: “It only takes one fire for the importance of fire doors to become very apparent, very quickly. Together we can all play a part in ensuring they remain fit for purpose and ready to help save lives, and we urge people not to wait to check their fire doors.”
Landlords must focus on fire door safety, says compliance firm
With fire safety on the agenda now more than ever before, compliance firm Bureau Veritas is encouraging landlords and local authorities to use Fire Door Safety Week as a stark reminder of the importance of this life-saving equipment.
This year’s initiative has highlighted some concerning statistics on fire safety in rented properties.
However, with the recent Fire Safety Act enacted into law this year, fire safety has never been more critical for landlords. The Fire Safety Act 2021 means landlords responsible for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire posed by the building’s structure, and most notably external wall systems, including windows and balconies, and individual occupants’ entrance doors.
Lee Perry, business unit manager – fire & life safety consultancy at Bureau Veritas, comments: “Properly fitted and maintained fire doors are critical to the safe evacuation of a building in the event of a fire, forming part of the compartmentation of the building and helping to retain the fire in its area of origin.”
“Poorly fitted and damaged fire doors allow smoke and heat into the escape routes within the building, which makes it much more difficult to evacuate and puts lives needlessly at risk.”
“This Fire Door Safety Week offers a timely reminder to landlords and local authorities of the importance of fire doors in the safe evacuation of a building,” he adds. “However, this year it has identified widespread fear of ‘revenge eviction’ amongst tenants who raise fire safety concerns, as well as a lack of urgency when it comes to resolving fire safety issues and misuse of fire safety equipment and fire doors.”
Fire door checks form part of a building’s Fire Risk Assessment and include a checklist of 42 items to check on each door, including hinges, damage to the frame or door, checks for gaps and the door’s original certification label. If the door and its unit is found to have defects, it will need to be repaired or replaced, and re-certified.
Perry continues: “Whilst awareness of fire risk in multi-storey buildings has really come to the fore in recent years, following the Grenfell Tower fire and subsequent Hackitt Review, it is clear from the research that too many landlords and local authorities are still not doing all they can to comply with UK Fire Legislation.”
“Third-party compliance specialists, like Bureau Veritas, are able to support duty holders in achieving and maintaining compliance, knowing they’ve done all they can to keep their residents safe.”