Out-Law News 2 min. read

New Scottish high-rise safety guidance ‘attempts to address gap in law’

New non-mandatory fire safety guidance for existing high-rise buildings in Scotland leaves open a gap in the current law, according to one legal expert.

Katie Peoples of Pinsent Masons said owners, managers and landlords would be able “to make more informed decisions” after the Scottish government published updated practical fire safety measures for various premises including non-residential, sleeping accommodation, care homes, and specialised housing.

But Peoples said the guide for high-rise domestic buildings was “of particular interest” because it “tries to address a gap” in current Scottish fire safety legislation by “focusing on the communal areas of domestic buildings and on aspects of building design in private accommodation which could affect the safety of others.”

She added that the 2005 Fire (Scotland) Act “does not currently apply to the common parts of multi-occupied residential buildings,” and that the new guide: “although not mandatory, does at least indicate what the Scottish government expects in relation to fire safety in these areas. The status of the guides as non-mandatory, however, does leave open the current gap in the law.”

The guidance reiterates the 'stay put' policy used by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) since the 1960s and which is the basis for high rise domestic building design. Each flat is built as a fire-resisting enclosure using non-combustible materials in walls and floors that will prevent the spread of the fire for a period of time. Non-combustible separating walls and floors are also built between flats and nearby common areas as well as those that enclose stairs and lift wells.

According to the new guidance, when a fire occurs within a flat, the occupants should alert others in the flat, make their way out of the building and summon the SFRS. Alternatively, if a fire starts in the common areas, anyone in these areas should make their way out of the building and summons the SFRS. The ‘stay put’ policy states that people in flats who are not affected by a fire or smoke are normally safe to remain where they are - and may be at greater risk if they do leave their flat. They should remain in their flat unless directed to leave by firefighters or the police.

In rare occasions where the SFRS decides a full or partial evacuation of a high-rise is required, the guidance states: “Once out of the flat, escape for residents depends on the common areas being suitable for use in an emergency.” It says adequate levels of fire protection are required along communal escape routes so that “smoke and heat from a fire in a flat or ancillary room will not prevent the corridors, lobbies, external balconies or stairways being used.”

The guide says communal means of escape in high-rise blocks of flats should be designed using materials that “resist external fire spread” and constructed in a way that any fire originating in these areas “should not spread beyond the immediate vicinity.” Corridors leading to stairways should be enclosed in fire-resisting material and supplied with emergency lighting. When residents can only travel in one direction along a corridor to escape, the distance should be as short as possible.

The guide states that fire extinguishers and other fire-fighting equipment “should only be used by people trained in its use”, adding that it is “not normally appropriate” for residents to be expected to use them – although they can buy their own fire extinguishers and fire blankets for their flats if they wish. It said that it is normally inappropriate to place fire extinguishers in common areas in high-rise buildings. If a fire breaks out inside a flat, its occupants might be encouraged to enter the common area to take the extinguisher and then return to their flat to fight the fire.

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