Keep it clear – fire safety in communal areas and blocks

Your safety is our priority. This includes looking after our buildings in a way that reduces risk and training our employees on fire safety.

Areas in blocks of flats need to be especially well managed and this includes indoor and outdoor communal areas as well as escape routes in corridors, lobbies and stairwells. Items stored in these areas create a real fire risk, so we have made the decision that from now on we are going to keep these areas completely clear. This is so that if Fire and Rescue Services ever need to attend to a fire in your building, they need to be able to get to the fire quickly, without anything preventing them from doing so.

This new policy starts on 1 May, so please be sure to remove any items you have stored in hallways or communal areas to prevent them from being removed by Orbit. This includes obstacles such as rubbish, bikes, furniture, plants, pushchairs and scooters, but does not include doormats. When we’re out and about and see these items, don’t be surprised if we ask you to remove them. This will not only help keep your building safe in the event of a fire, but it will also help our Property Managers to take better care of your building by being able to identify repairs or needed improvements more quickly.

Starting on 1 May, our employees and contractors will try to contact the owner of any goods left in the communal areas and ask them to remove the items. If there is an immediate health and safety risk, goods will be removed within 24 hours. This could include things such as paint, solvents and gas canisters. All other goods will be removed after the 14 day notice period has expired. Low value items (goods estimated to be less than £300) will be removed and disposed of.

More valuable goods will be removed and stored for a further 14 days. You may collect these goods during the 14 day storage period and will be charged for their removal and storage. After this, the items will be disposed of. The owner of any disposed of goods will be charged for their removal and disposal. If we are not able to find out who owns the items, the costs will be split amongst everyone in the building and recharged to as part of your service charges, so please help us keep these areas clear.

Our Property Managers are working to identify locations for customers to store their bikes and scooters. Please let us know if you wish to have access to these storage facilities so that we can arrange this for you.

Frequently asked questions

Why have you decided to change the policy?

It’s quite simple. We want to keep you and your family as safe in your home as possible. We’ve been working hard to improve fire safety across all our homes and should fire and rescue services ever need to attend to a fire in your building, they need to be able to get to the fire quickly, without any obstacles preventing them from doing so. Keeping the hallways, corridors and gardens completely clear helps them help keep you and your family safe. Our partners at West Midlands Fire Service and the London Fire Brigade have told us that this is the best way to manage fire safety in communal areas in our buildings.

When does it take effect?

The new policy takes effect on 1 May 2019. However, between now and then we will be granting an amnesty period, so that you have an opportunity to remove any personal items that may be in your hallways and gardens well in advance of the new policy coming into effect. Starting on 1 May, our employees and contractors will try to contact the owner of any goods left in the communal areas and ask them to remove the items. Any items not removed will be disposed of.

What happens after 1 May?

From 1 May, our employees and contractors will try to contact the owner of any goods left in the communal areas and ask for them to be removed. If there is an immediate health and safety risk, goods will be removed within 24 hours. This could include things such as paint, solvents and gas canisters. All other goods will be removed after the 14 day notice period has expired. 

Low value items will be removed and disposed of. Customers will be charged for this service. More valuable goods will be removed and stored for a further 14 days. You may collect these goods during the 14 day storage period and will be charged for their removal and storage upon collection. If we are not able to find out who owns the items, the costs will recharged as part of your service charges, so please help us keep these areas clear.

How do you determine what is a high value or low value goods?

Any goods with an estimated value of £300 or more will be removed and stored for 14 days.

Is it fair that I would be recharged (through my service charges) for storing my neighbour’s goods?

We will always try hard to determine who the owner is. However, if we aren’t able to do so and as a last resort, the costs will recharged as part of your service charges, so please help us keep these areas clear. We need you to keep an eye on what’s happening in your building and let us know if you see anything disposed of incorrectly. For more information on how to properly dispose of bulky waste, please visit: orbit.org.uk/bulkywaste

I don’t have any room in my home to store my mobility scooter, wheelchair and/or bike and have always stored in the hallway with no issues previously. Does this mean I’m okay to leave it there?

No, we need hallways and corridors to be completely clear from 1 May and this includes storing or charging electrically powered mobility scooters or powered wheelchairs. This is because research has shown that a fire with a single mobility scooter can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius in less than eight minutes. They also create a substantial risk to occupants since the smoke and heat will block escape routes and put at risk anyone who opens their doors. If you’re struggling to find a place to store these items, please let us know as soon as possible and we will work with you to help find a solution.

What if I can’t afford to pay the fee to have my goods returned?

That’s why we’re telling you now – to give you the opportunity to move your items out of the way before the policy takes effect on 1 May. After that time, goods will be disposed of after the 14 day storage period. To avoid the charge altogether, please move everything out of the hallways and corridors before 1 May.

Emergency information for customers in residential blocks

Please ensure that you are familiar with the emergency evacuation procedure for your building. Information about this should be available in communal areas. If you have any questions about the procedure, please contact us

If your flat is being affected by fire or smoke and your escape route is clear

  • Get everyone out, close all windows and doors and walk calmly out of the building.
  • Do not use the lift.
  • Call 999, give your address, the number of your flat and state which floor the fire is on.

If there is a fire or smoke inside your flat but your escape route is NOT clear

  • It may still be safer to stay in your flat until the fire brigade arrives.
  • Find a safe room, close the door and use soft materials to block any gaps to stop the smoke.
  • Go to a window, shout “HELP, FIRE” and call 999.
  • Be ready to describe where you are and the quickest way to reach you.

If there is a fire in another part of the building

Purpose-built blocks of flats are built to give you some protection from fire. Walls, floors and doors can hold back flames and smoke for 30 to 60 minutes.

  • You are usually safer staying put and calling 999.
  • Tell the fire brigade where you are and the best way to reach you. 

If you are within the common parts of the building, leave and call 999.

If you cannot make voice calls, you can contact the 999 emergency services by SMS text from your mobile phone. You will only be able to use this service if you have registered with emergency SMS first. Text ‘register’ to 999. You will get a reply – then follow the instructions you are sent.

Fire prevention and suppression in residential blocks

It is normal for residential blocks to not have fire extinguishers and fire blankets as we want you to move away, rather than towards a fire, to a place of safety.

The presence of fire extinguishers encourages people to fight a fire, rather than evacuate the building. Additionally, a person may be tempted to re-enter a flat, having collected a fire extinguisher from a communal area, which is more dangerous than directly evacuating and ensuring the flat door is fully closed behind them.

Fire blankets are generally applied to pan fires and where the user is untrained, serious injuries including burns and scalds, can occur if the fire is not properly cooled before the blanket is removed. The fire may also start again if enough heat remains and it hasn't been fully put out.

If your block only has one exit then it will not need to have a fire exit sign posted above it.

You can also help keep yourself and others safe by addressing the following:

  • Test your smoke detector every four to six weeks

  • Keep all communal areas free from personal items and debris as it can hinder escape routes and also help fires spread. Household rubbish should always be taken to the refuse area immediately and not left in communal areas

  • Make sure fire doors are always closed, don't prop them open as it can damage the seal. Although we check them regularly, be sure to report it to us if they are not closing into the frame properly or have been damaged

  • It is easy to get confused if it is dark or smokey so it’s important to know your route out of the building using the exit stairs. Count the number of doors you need to go through or use familiar objects to guide you to help with your escape in the event of a fire

  • If you have access your meter with a key via the building's riser, it is really important that the doors remain locked and shut when not in use and that you report it to us if the door is not locked or closing properly. A riser is the duct that houses various cables and pipes that are in use around the building
  • Not allowing non-residents into your block can reduce the risk of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and fires starting, so keep all doors secure

  • It's important that we know who is living in your property, please make sure your details are up to date by logging in to My Account. If you think someone's subletting illegally, you can report them to us

  • If you live in a flat that has a balcony, please be sure not to set light to anything that may catch fire including barbeques and chimineas. Please also be extra careful with cigarettes and make sure they are always fully extinguished.

If you have a smoke detector in your home, whether it was there when you moved in or you have installed it, it should be checked regularly and this is your responsibility.

If you live in a supported, sheltered, very sheltered or independent with living care scheme block, you may also be covered by either a fire panel* or your warden cord system. Both of these systems will be tested by our contractors on a periodic basis.  One way to check is that smoke detectors that are part of a fire panel system do not have a self-test button.

*a fire panel is an alerting system either in communal area or a flat.

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