Protecting the most vulnerable from fire risk
With an estimated 43% of social housing residents living with a long-term disability, greater safeguards are needed to ensure this vulnerable group feels better protected from fire risk. Real-time, remote safety monitoring, AI technology and future-proofing properties to manage and mitigate emerging risks can provide an important safety net, says Nick Rutter, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at FireAngel.
Both the Equality Act (2010) and the Regulatory Reform Order (2005) require social housing providers to ensure residents with disabilities are not placed under unfair disadvantage and can safely leave their home in the event of a fire.euq
According to the London Fire Brigade, a third of people who die in fires every year are looked after by a carer. Cognitive and/or physical abilities that may arise in ageing populations are factors that can influence the probability of a fire, fire detection and the ability to extinguish it or evacuate the property. Therefore, the monitoring of individual residents’ home environments is critical to mitigating risk and fire prevention.
The charter for social housing residents: social housing whitepaper, published in November 2020, sets out the actions that the UK Government will take ‘to ensure residents in social housing are safe, are listened to, live in good quality homes, and have access to redress when things go wrong’.
Brought about by the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, the whitepaper provides an opportunity to raise the bar on standards in the sector, which is home to four million households.
By using connected safety technology, social housing providers and the fire services can deliver an increased level of protection against fire. A quick and easy to install safeguard can be achieved by interlinking alarms with wireless technology, so that if one is triggered, all the other alarms and ancillary devices are activated, alerting a person with impaired hearing to a fire more quickly. This enhanced fire safety system provides the earliest possible warning to a tenant and is much more effective than a stand-alone alarm.
The use of more advanced connected technology provides an even higher level of protection by connecting remote alarm monitoring, IoT and predictive data analysis, potentially identifying a fire risk before it becomes a 999 call. Data monitored in real-time is sent to a platform that alerts social landlords to the status of alarms in a property not only if they are triggered but also if they are in need of maintenance.
Connection to the IoT enables social landlords to monitor important features such as the building’s age and condition as well as the wear and tear of electrical appliances. This information can be combined with critical data on individuals’ physical or mental status. If a person has dementia, is partially-sighted or uses a wheelchair, they will be slow to respond in the event of a fire and may struggle to escape from the property unaided.
Through continuous analysis of the entire environment and by using predictive AI to identify trends and patterns, connected technology provides landlords with an accurate and up-to-date risk assessment delivered to one platform.
UK Home Office statistics indicate that older people, classified as those aged 60 and over, are the most over‐represented age group in terms of deaths in fire dwellings. In addition, Government statistics for new supported social housing lettings, reveal that over a quarter (27%) were to the over 65 years in 2018/2019.
With a growing trend towards an ageing population in which these individuals are also likely to be managing underlying health conditions, this raises important questions for social housing providers, not least around meeting the expectations and requirements outlined in the social housing whitepaper.
The shadow of Grenfell means fire safety remains the most prominent issue. According to the Fire Protection Association, which cited a recent survey of social housing landlords by Inside Housing magazine, half of respondents reported that fire safety “would be their biggest housing management concern over the next 12 months”.
To comply with UK legislation, social landlords are required to undertake a sufficient and thorough assessment to identify and evaluate the risks, which should also take into consideration any adaptations that could be made to the property and/or any technological devices that could be installed to enhance safety.
Connected technology can be used to glean critical information relating to an individual’s status, which can help inform a social landlord, so they can act responsibly and promptly rectify any issues in the home environment before they escalate into anything more serious.
As the social housing whitepaper’s intention is to make landlords more accountable and to give residents a greater voice in the decisions that influence their home environment, there is a real opportunity to apply technological innovations to raise the safety bar and support this process.
The introduction of connected systems also has the potential to increase resident engagement, not least in terms of keeping them better informed about the safety system in their own homes. Being able to report concerns quickly and easily and to see prompt action from the social landlord when required provides residents with greater reassurance and enables them to feel safer in their own homes.
From a protection and prevent perspective, this critical capture of relevant building information should enable fire and rescue services to target their activities more effectively, for instance, by identifying the need for a home fire safety check in a property housing vulnerable tenants.
Importantly, in light of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, the ability to remotely monitor the building’s conditions means social landlords can reduce physical checks and only respond to issues when they are required
Using connected technology, a person-centred approach can be applied to fire safety procedures and systems. Adopting this approach means safeguards can be implemented, managed and maintained according to a vulnerable resident’s individual needs, helping to support many of the requirements set out in the charter for social housing residents.
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