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Drop in fire safety audits ‘concerning’, says FBU chief

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Fire safety audits by fire and rescue services (FRSs) have fallen by 18% in the past six years, data released this week by the Home Office shows.


The statistical release ‘Fires in purpose-built flats, England, April 2009 to March 2017', published on Tuesday, shows there were 63,201 safety audits of all dwellings in 2015/16. This compares with 77,532 such audits in 2009/10.

Fire audits of purpose-built flats over four storeys were down 12% from 2010/11 (4,023) to 2015/16 (3,534), but up compared with the previous year (2,872 in 2014/15).

A fire safety audit is a scheduled or planned visit by a fire safety officer. Fire safety officers check the fire risk assessment and fire prevention measures are appropriate, including checking that the risk that lives will be lost in the event of a fire in or on the premises is removed or reduced to as low as reasonably practicable.

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “These reductions in fire safety audits and inspections are the result of declining standards over 30 years. They’re very concerning for us, especially in light of the dreadful events in west London.

“With so many fire and rescue service jobs having gone since 2010 as a result of cuts, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that critical safety issues are affected. We desperately need to see this worrying trend reversed.”

Howwever, the same set of data shows that although a quarter of all dwelling fires in 2016/17 occurred in purpose built flats (7,456), approximately 2% occurred in purpose-built high rise flats of 10 storeys or more (714 fires). This represents a drop from 1,261 fires in such buildings in 2009/10.

Non-fatal casualties due to fires in purpose-built high-rise flats have also dropped from 87 to 63 between 2009/10 and 2016/17 (not including recent events). For fire-related fatalities, again the statistics show a decrease from 12 to three over the same period.

The report (click here to read) was released as a direct response to the exceptional circumstances of the Grenfell fire and the need for timely and appropriate statistics.

It is the first time data has been specifically released on fires in high-rise flats, as these were previously subsumed into an all dwelling category. Future publications will include it as a new subcategory.

Two-thirds of all of England’s purpose-built high rise flats are in London.

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