General Health & Safety in Blocks of Flats
Belinda Thorpe, Managing Director of Residentsline, outlines the main health and safety regulations that apply to blocks of flats.
The duty to comply with the regulations falls on the landlord or person responsible for management which could be a Property Manager, a Residents’ Management Company or a Right To Manage Company. You must remember that health and safety regulations should never be ignored or simply put aside because they require additional expenditure. Normally, the cost of failing to comply if there is an accident or injury is far greater than the cost of complying in the first place.
Risk Assessment of Communal Areas
All blocks of flats must have a risk assessment carried out on the health and safety of any common areas. You may argue common areas are not “at work” but if any cleaner, gardener, managing agent or repair contractor enters them, then a risk assessment must be made. Remember to cover all areas, including gardens, grounds, plant rooms, meter cupboards and lift motor rooms. If there are no employees working at the block, there is no requirement to record the risk assessment. However, it would be best practice to do so anyway, as if there were to be an accident and you had no proof of a risk assessment being carried out, you are much more likely to be prosecuted and/or sued for negligence. The risk assessment should be looked at annually to reassess the situation.
Since 2006, every block of flats requires a fire safety risk assessment. Again, this applies to common parts, not to the inside of any flats. Fire officers will be able to enter any block of flats to check the risk assessment and issue enforcement notices to improve fire safety should the need arise.
Working at Height
Work at height can be very dangerous. In this instance, ‘height’ is defined as any height that could injure a person if they fell from it, even if this is below ground level.
If window cleaners or other contractors visit a block of flats, then an assessment of the risk from working at height is required. Part of the duty to assess risk will obviously fall on the window cleaner, but you also have a duty.
The principle is that any work at height should be avoided if it is practical to do it in another way.
It if cannot be avoided, then the work must be assessed and planned to be done with the least risk.
Working at height can include changing light bulbs, general cleaning, testing smoke detectors and cleaning gutters. If a ladder is supplied by the landlord for changing light bulbs or checking smoke detectors, it should be checked regularly, and a notice stuck on it with safety precautions for its use.
Electrical Equipment Safety
If electrical equipment is supplied for example to a cleaner, then it must be regularly tested and properly maintained.
A visual inspection and a more formal test should be carried out at the intervals recommended by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Legionella is a bacterium commonly found in water systems which can result in Legionnaires’ disease.
There is a responsibility and duty to control the risks of Legionella in any pipes, tanks and taps in common parts (including a cleaner’s cupboard).
Cold water tanks, taps and showers within lessees’ flats are the responsibility of the lessees, unless the lease puts repairing responsibility for them on the landlord.
Water tanks in roof spaces are more likely to be the responsibility of the landlord and are a greater risk where water is present at temperatures between 20C and 45C. A risk assessment involves assessing whether conditions are right for bacteria to flourish.
The starting point is a risk assessment usually carried out by an expert and, if there are risks, then a written action plan should be produced to reduce the risks. An annual review of the risk assessment should be made.