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10 May 2023 < Back

Fire risk in basements

Last week news broke of a landlord who was jailed for breaching health and safety regulations following a fire in a cellar flat, which resulted in the tragic death of a man. The court was told that “Philip Sheridan died of injuries suffered in a blaze in the unofficially converted basement where he lived in Leeds.” The flat was considered unsuitable for human habitation, due in part, to fire detection and escape measures.

In this instance “The cellar had only had one entrance – through an inward-opening door that did not have a proper handle on it. That door was partially blocked by the cooker, which was the source of the fire". According to the article, the court also heard that there was no smoke or fire alarm fitted in the property at the time.

Whilst Mr Sheridan had managed to escape from the property, unfortunately he later died in hospital as a result of the injuries he sustained trying to escape. Further details of this tragic event can be found here.

Guidance and best practice

Following the tragic events in Grenfell, many in the construction sector did a lot of soul searching. The Property Care Association actively sought guidance on the fire risk within basements and back in 2018, I wrote about our quest to find answers:

"To see if there is any cause for concern I have attended a number of events and spoken to numerous building engineers about the subject of fire risk in below ground structures. On the whole I seemed to be met with blank looks and shrugged shoulders, although, somewhat reassuringly, Merlyn Forrer from the Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service quite openly said on stage at the LABC Controlling the Spread of Fire in High Risk Buildings conference, that there was not a problem with basements. This in itself seams hugely encouraging. Whilst many would argue that there isn’t a problem, this time 12 months ago most would have said that there wasn’t an issue with high rise buildings.'' 

Whilst this is probably very easy to blame on a rogue landlord, unfortunately this goes to show there is always a risk. Whilst we might, in the main, be one small part of underground structures, we cannot afford to live in silos and blinkered to other aspects within the world of subterranean structures... but we must know our limitations too. 

Over a year ago, the PCA delivered a webinar on the building regulations for basement conversions, which is still available to view on our website. We very briefly touched on Approved Document B – Fire Safety guidance document, on how to comply with the building regulations. However this session also reflected on other areas within building regulations which need to be considered. 

Final thoughts..

We must always look to develop and evolve. This is part of the reason we hold sector steering group (Structural Waterproofing Group) meetings and hold annual conferences to ensure we always push for higher standards. Some of the focus for this years International Structural Waterproofing Conference will be looking at this issue and discussing the Building Safety Act, how PCA members and other professionals within the industry can implement the Act and what this means for the safety of occupants.



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