24-hour monitoring still needed in 1,149 London buildings

London skyline

The London Fire Brigade has described the lack of progress on dealing with potentially unsafe buildings, due to the building materials used in their construction, as “frustrating” and “unacceptable”.

Waking watches have been required in 1,149 buildings in London that have been identified as having severe fire safety defects and are yet to be made safe. The 24-hour monitoring was advised by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) after the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, in which 72 lives were lost, and was deemed at the time to only be used as a temporary measure.

In safe buildings there is a “Stay Put” strategy in place, which advises people to remain in their homes unless directly affected by fire or smoke.

A waking watch is the term used when a responsible person is required to be in a building which has moved away from the Stay Put strategy. The waking watch is there to raise the alarm in the event of fire. In such a case, residents are required to evacuate the building in the event of a fire.

It costs London households an average £137 every month to pay for a waking watch.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service says that 100 new buildings have been identified as having inadequate fire safety measures in place, including flammable cladding or other defective fire safety measures, such as fire doors or sprinklers.

A spokesperson said:

“We understand the anger of those residents who are still living in unsafe buildings. We share their frustrations that they are in this appalling situation, almost five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire.

“The only acceptable long-term solution is for any fire safety failings to be remediated by those responsible as soon as possible.”

The fire service does not impose the requirement for a waking watch in unsafe buildings. It is the responsibility of the person responsible for the fire safety of the building, usually the owner or manager, to put the measure in place should it be deemed necessary following a Fire Risk Assessment.

Whilst the fire service does have a role in enforcing fire safety legislation, it does not make a decision on which interim measures are put in place in a building. However, the service’s fire safety inspectors cannot leave an unsafe building without sufficient fire safety measures in place, due to the known significant risk to residents.

It is acknowledged that a waking watch is necessary in some cases, and there are few viable options unless a common alarm is fitted – other than evacuating the whole building. The NFCC’s guidelines do state that the use of remote monitoring centres and CCTV can be deemed as acceptable alternative options to a waking watch, provided their use is supported in the Fire Risk Assessment.

London Fire Brigade said that leaseholders in unsafe buildings face “unacceptable burdens” and supports government action to make those responsible pay, which it hopes will result in buildings made safe more quickly.