Last reviewed 27 July 2022

Mike Sopp examines the challenges of implementing a key recommendation from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry aimed at assisting those who cannot self-evacuate from residential properties.

Introduction

The Government continues to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations so as to improve fire safety, particularly in high-rise residential buildings.

A key recommendation of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was in relation to the preparation of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans for those who cannot self-evacuate from high-rise residential buildings.

Meeting the requirements of this recommendation is proving challenging and controversial.

Background

The use of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP) is well-established in workplaces and organisations providing a service to the public.

The person responsible for fire safety under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (or its equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland) is required to ensure that all people, including disabled people, can leave the building they control safely in the event of a fire.

This is usually achieved by identifying individual needs and developing a specific PEEP that outlines the process, procedures and resources required to assist in the evacuation of the individual. In addition, Generic Emergency Evacuation Plans (GEEP) can be developed for public access needs.

Phase 1 of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire made a series of recommendations including the following in paragraph 33.22.

  • That the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised (such as persons with reduced mobility or cognition).

  • That the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEPs in the premises information box.

In their response, the Government stated that they “agreed that it is critical for Responsible Persons to have in place an evacuation plan to ensure that building occupants can safely exit the building in case of an emergency and that Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) are aware of the evacuation plan and have an appropriate operational response prepared should this be required”.

In support of this position statement, a joint Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities technical steering group has been set up to support a research project to review means of escape provisions in blocks of flats including the use of a “stay put” strategy and evacuation.

This research is considering a range of issues, including the risks associated with the evacuation of large numbers of people, in order to produce national guidelines for the FRS carrying out of full or partial evacuations of high-rise residential buildings.

PEEP consultation

In summer 2021, the Government published a consultation document in relation to the above recommendations. In summary, it put forward the following proposals.

  • A requirement for the Responsible Person to prepare a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan for every resident in a high-rise residential building who self-identifies to them as unable to self-evacuate (subject to the resident’s voluntary self-identification) and to do so in consultation with them.

  • Provision of a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan template to assist the Responsible Person and the residents in completing the PEEP, and to support consistency at a national level.

  • A requirement for the Responsible Person to complete and keep up-to-date information about residents in their building who would have difficulty self-evacuating in the event of a fire (and who have voluntarily self-identified as such), and to place it in an information box on the premises to assist effective evacuation during a rescue by the Fire and Rescue Service.

  • Provision of a template to capture the key information to be provided in the information box.

Based upon these proposals, a series of questions were put forward for respondents. The respondents included residential groups, responsible persons and FRS.

In addition to the consultation, a number of workshops were held with representation from all relevant stakeholders.

The consultation and workshop outcomes identified various recurring themes and concerns over the proposals. This included (but is not exclusive to) the following.

  • The use of an 18m threshold limit for PEEPs.

  • The burden of costs involved with implementing PEEP.

  • The personnel available and competency required to implement a PEEP.

  • Compatibility with any existing “stay put” strategies.

  • The role of the FRS in implanting PEEP.

  • Information security and updating of PEEP.

The current solutions being adopted were also examined as part of the consultation. This again identified some of the challenges faced, not least residents self-identifying as requiring a PEEP, the use of third-parties to assist evacuation and the provision/use of equipment to assist in evacuation.

New approach

Commenting on the outcomes of the consultation, the Government stated that “policy in relation to residents who are unable to self-evacuate needs to be proportionate, practical, and safe” and that response to the consultation “shows that despite widespread support for PEEPs and the proposals outlined, there remain significant issues in implementing them, with regard to all three of these requirements”.

Taking this position statement into account, the Government has published a revised consultation with alternative proposals.

In addressing proportionality, the Government are proposing that any requirements in relation to meeting the inquiry recommendations should take into account the defined building evacuation strategy.

The proposal is that where the fire evacuation strategy is based upon “stay put” (as determined by a fire risk assessment for example), then the proposals being put forward to meet the recommendations of the inquiry would not be proportionate and should not be mandated.

The rationale is that both current and augmented fire safety legislation (and current research) suggests that the fire risk in stay put premises is lower.

Instead, the Government is proposing that the following steps are mandated specifically for simultaneous evacuation buildings (ie those which have been assessed as at higher risk), regardless of their height.

  • Responsible Persons would be required to ask residents to make themselves known to the Responsible Person for their building if they consider they would need support to evacuate in the event of a fire.

  • For those who self-identify as needing support to evacuate, the Responsible Person would be required to offer a Person-Centred Fire Risk Assessment and connect them with a home fire safety visit from the local Fire & Rescue Service, in order to establish the fire safety risks present and whether there are any measures that could be introduced to mitigate those risks.

  • For those mobility impaired residents where there are still issues preventing them from self-evacuating in the event of a fire, the Responsible Person would be required to share the residents’ details with their local Fire & Rescue Service.

  • If called to an incident in a building with a simultaneous evacuation strategy in place, the Fire & Rescue Service would have the information described available to them very soon after arrival (if in a secure information box), or to review in advance of arrival (if shared digitally).

Summary

The above proposals are seen by some as being controversial and not meeting the recommendations of the inquiry.

The consultation notes that “the Responsible Person and resident would review the risk assessment and consider what might be reasonable for them to implement to mitigate against the risks identified” and that “it would be for the Responsible Person to determine what is reasonable to implement for them to satisfy their duties under the FSO”.

Although this approach does not rule out the possibility of PEEPs being put in place where the Responsible Person and resident agree that this is practical, proportionate and safe, the Government note that “having reviewed the responses from the previous consultation and the work undertaken since, we are of the view that these cases would be relatively rare”.

The consultation continues by stating that where they do occur, “we firmly believe they should not result in the instalment of on-site evacuation stewards or fire marshals simply to enact them as…….this would be problematic with regards to practicality and proportionality”.

Where there are already building staff in place, it is suggested that it may be reasonable for the Responsible Person to ask them to perform some additional duties to aid fire safety of mobility impaired residents.

Subject to consideration of the responses and the final Ministerial decision, the intention is for proposals to be implemented in secondary legislation in late 2022/early 2023.

Further information

The consultation and associated publications can be found here.