Letter: Government advice for fire-risk towers

The government is writing to all local authority and housing association chief executives to advise them on steps to take if tower blocks in their area are found to be clad in combustible panels.

Here is an edited list of the interim measures which they are being told to take immediately, while the cladding is being replaced:

  • Inform your local fire and rescue service fire safety/protection department. Failure to do so may put firefighters and residents at risk. The fire and rescue service will carry out an urgent inspection with the "responsible person" to ensure that they are identifying and introducing appropriate interim measures. The fire service will carry out a further inspection once the interim measures have been completed
  • Check that the fire risk assessment has been carried out within the previous 12 months and that the recommendations within the action plan of the assessment have been completed
  • Engage with residents to ensure they fully understand the emergency fire procedures in the building, particularly the meaning of "stay put"
  • Check that, at ground level, or on any balconies, there are no combustible materials (for example, storage of refuse) in the vicinity of the cladding. Instruct residents that they must not have any barbecues on any balcony
  • Check that all flat entrance doors, and doors that open onto escape corridors and stairways, are fire-resisting and effectively self-closing
  • Check all walls that separate flats, plant and store rooms from escape routes to ensure there are no obvious routes for fire or smoke spread (for example, holes where services, such as pipes and cables, pass through walls)
  • Check that any smoke control systems, including associated fire detection systems, are operating correctly
  • Check all facilities provided for firefighters, including firefighting lifts and dry or wet rising mains
  • Ensure there is sufficient road access and hardstanding for firefighting vehicles to attend incidents
  • Check that insulation or other materials that form the fa├žade meet all relevant standards

If the building is protected by an automatic sprinkler system (or equivalent fire suppression system) you might not need to take any further interim measures before replacement of the cladding.

If the building is not protected by a suitable suppression system, you must consider the need for interim measures.

The measures adopted need to be based on an assessment of the risk by a competent person, but the following must, at least, be considered:

  • Residents to be advised to ensure all smoke alarms are present and working in their flat
  • Closure of car parks in which a vehicle fire could impinge on cladding
  • Provision of a temporary communal fire alarm system, comprising smoke detectors in circulation areas and plant rooms, and fire detectors in conjunction with fire alarm sounders in each flat. This will enable the entire block to be evacuated simultaneously in the event of fire. This option is unlikely to be suitable for tall blocks, in which a large number of people would need to use escape routes at the same time. The system may comprise a wireless system, using radio to link devices
  • Provision of a fire watch by appropriately trained patrolling security officers or wardens

In the case of the most serious risk, consideration must be given to moving all residents out of the block until satisfactory remedial work has been done.

The letter is signed from Melanie Dawes, permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government

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