Council housing handbook
Your safety at home
Chapter 5: Your safety at home
In this section:
Fire safety: Keeping yourself and others safe from fire in your home
In 2019 Swindon Borough Council set up a dedicated fire safety team, which exists solely to ensure that we take all reasonably practicable steps to assure we regularly inspect and maintain all fire safety systems. This includes ensuring we carry out a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment for all buildings, and address any shortfalls we identify without delay.
The team is also keen to improve fire safety communication with residents. If you have any concerns regarding the fire safety of your housing, especially within the communal areas, you can e-mail email@example.com. Or, you can discuss an issue directly with your Neighbourhood Housing Officer or Neighbourhood Warden, who will pass the message on.
If you have a fire in your home:
- A working smoke alarm will alert you to the fire. If you have any impairment that may affect you being able to hear or respond to an audible alarm, you should inform your Tenant Liaison Officer.
- Don't open doors looking for the source of the fire.
- Alert everyone else inside and leave the flat, closing the front door behind you.
- Don't try to save personal items, your life is more important.
- Use only designated escape routes and not lifts. If you have mobility problems that may affect you using the stairs, you should inform your Tenant Liaison Officer.
- Once you are out of the building and in a safe location, dial 999 and ask for the fire service.
- Never go back into the building until you have been told it is safe to do so.
If there is a fire somewhere else in a block of flats or apartments:
Know your evacuation policy
You need to know your evacuation policy within your block. ‘Fire action’ notices throughout the building explain what to do in the event of hearing the fire alarm. If you can't see this or have any doubts about what it says, you email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to your Neighbourhood Warden.
Plan together as a family, making sure the children in the household know the evacuation plan and what they should do in the unlikely event of a fire.
If any infirm or disabled people live in a property, please consider whether any special arrangements need to be made to assist their escape.
The 'stay put' policy
The ‘stay put’ policy follows simple guidelines:
- Occupants of a flat that's on fire must evacuate the premises and summon the fire service by dialling 999.
- If a fire occurs in a communal area, anyone in that area should leave the building and summon the fire service by dialling 999.
- Everyone else in the building are safe to 'stay put'. They should remain in their flats unless it is affected by smoke, or they are told to leave by the fire service. Residents in surrounding flats may wish to evacuate the premises in any case and, of course, would not be prevented from doing so.
'Full evacuation' policy
Some blocks of flats do not or cannot follow the ‘stay put’ policy as they are not able to achieve the required standards of separate compartments.
In these buildings, a 'full evacuation' or ‘simultaneous evacuation’ policy is put in place. This means you must safely exit the building when the alarm is raised. The building's fire notices advise you what to do.
If you have to move through smoke, keep as close the floor as possible where the air will be clearer.
Our fire safety systems
These include the fire alarm detectors that are situated within your flat and in some common areas. They are designed to give early warning in the event of fire.
Dry and wet risers
In certain high rise buildings, these allow fire fighters to pump water to the higher floors without running lots of hoses through stairwells.
Compartmentation and fire doors
Flats in purpose-built blocks have fire-restricting walls, floors and ceilings, creating its own compartment to prevent the spread of fire. These have 30 or 60-minute fire doors, which are constructed to resist fire and contain it within the flat where it started, preventing further spread.
Fire doors create a barrier from fire and toxic cold smoke and prevent it from travelling around a building. This means they keep damage to a small area, allowing for safe evacuation, stay put, and safe access for emergency services.
In a block of flats, you will find fire and smoke control doors on the stairwells, the corridors and on the flats' front doors. You will also see them protecting areas where there’s a risk of combustion, such as bin storage or mains electricity service cupboards. Sometimes you will find fire doors inside flats, but this depends on the specific design and layout of the individual flat.
Your flat's front door is an important fire door, as it faces onto your critical means of escape. It’s vital that it works properly when a fire breaks out. You should check the door regularly to make sure:
- the ‘self-closure’ is fitted
- the cold smoke seal is properly fitted
- it is free from damage
You must not make any alterations to the door.
You should report any fire door damage to email@example.com.
Collaborating with the fire service
Our fire safety team keeps a strong working relationship with the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Rescue Service, with both organisations striving to achieve a similar goal of reducing risk from fire. Examples include training exercises and fire safety visits in our flats and continued attendance at Swindon Borough Council's monthly Housing Fire Safety Group meetings.
You can read more information about fire safety in the home at the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Rescue Service website.
Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service also offer a 'safe and well' visit.This is a totally free service, which you can request by phone on 0800 038 2323.
A reporting culture
Our fire safety team continues to be proactive in ensuring that fire safety systems are maintained, inspected and repaired. The team also relies on you to report issues, and encourages a 'reporting culture' in our tenants.
If you witness any damage to fire doors, obstruction to escape routes, faults on the fire alarm panels or any issues with regards to fire safety, you must report, without delay to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also discuss any issues with your Tenant Liaison Officer or Neighbourhood Warden, who will pass on the message.
Water hygiene and water safety
A clean water supply is vital to your health and wellbeing and you need to know how to help prevent problems arising in your home.
Most water systems contain bacteria and other organisms. If these are allowed to multiply, they can cause people to become ill. The most common and high-risk bacteria is Legionella.
What is Legionella?
Legionella is a bacteria that can cause pneumonia-like illnesses, including ‘legionnaire’s disease’, which can be a form of pneumonia. Legionella cannot be caught by drinking contaminated water. To be harmful, the bacteria needs to be inhaled through small unseen droplets of water suspended in the air.
So, while the risk of contracting the Legionella bacteria is very rare, some people are at higher risk, including:
- people who are over 45 years old
- people suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
- people with an impaired immune system
Where can Legionella bacteria be found in your home?
Wherever there is a water supply, there is the chance that Legionella bacteria are present. They can be found in natural water sources like rivers, lakes and ponds.
They can also be present in the artificial water systems in your homes and gardens such as:
- Hot and cold water systems and drinking water systems
- Storage tanks
- Baths, taps and showers
- Garden hosepipes
- Lawn sprinklers or watering systems
The risk of Legionnaire’s disease
The risk in your home is low because your water is usually stored in small quantities at a temperature above 45 degrees and is used daily. This means that the bacteria do not usually have time to grow to significant levels.
Risk can increase if a property has been empty for long periods of time, for example when tenants leave and the property is not immediately re-occupied.
Risk can also increase when you go on holiday for a week or more.
Where water systems are not used for long periods of time, the Legionella bacteria is allowed to grow in these systems. Legionella can then be spread through aerosol droplets created by turning on taps, showers and hoses.
How to reduce risk
The risk of Legionella is small. However you should take the following actions in your home:
- Run your shower or bath continuously for a minimum of five minutes at least once a week. This may already happen when someone is bathing, but, if you mostly use one either the bath or shower, remember to run the other which is used less often.
- Keep your water cistern covered, insulated, clean and free of debris.
- Maintain hot water temperatures at a minimum of 60 degrees. However, do be mindful that although hotter water can control Legionella growth, it also increases the risk of burns and scalds. Please take care, especially if you have children.
- Shower heads and taps should be clear of excessive lime scale and cleaned regularly.
- Ensure any taps which are not normally used are flushed regularly (for example, outside taps).
- External garden hoses should be disconnected from the tap and drained when not in use for over a week and stored in a cool place. When using for the first time after being stored away, the house should be flushed through without producing aerosol (fine breathable water droplets). You do this by removing the hose spray attachment.
You can find out what asbestos is and why it is dangerous at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website:
We undertake asbestos refurbishment surveys of our council homes when we carry out improvement works and when we upgrade empty homes. The results are put into our asbestos register.
We have also surveyed a representative sample of all our properties to find out which are most likely to have asbestos.
Most instances of asbestos products in our housing stock are of low risk and are managed accordingly.
There is no danger unless an asbestos product is disturbed. If you believe asbestos-containing materials may be in your building, you should:
- inspect it regularly, looking for signs of wear and tear. If you see any deterioration, you should let us know.
- get our permission to make changes or adaptations that involve the fabric or structure of the building
- not drill, cut, scrape or sand the material, or disturb it in any way
If you don’t follow these guidelines, you put yourself, your family, and anyone carrying out work at risk. You may also have to pay the cost of any asbestos incident caused.
If you are worried about asbestos in your home, or if you would like us to carry out a survey before you do any work, contact us on 01793 464342.
If we know there is asbestos-containing material in your home, we will make sure it is maintained in safe condition. Where it needs to be removed, we will arrange this.
Don’t try to remove any asbestos-containing material yourself. Only licenced contractors are allowed to remove and dispose of most types of asbestos