In the realm of building safety, especially in the wake of devastating fires in high-rise buildings, the term ‘waking watch’ has gained prominence in the UK. But what exactly does it mean? And just as importantly, who bears the cost of this essential service? Triton Security sheds light on these questions and more.
A waking watch is a continuous patrol of all the floors and areas of a building by trained wardens to detect and respond to any signs of fire. These wardens, often referred to as ‘waking watch wardens’, play a critical role in early fire detection and resident safety. Their duties include:
Their presence ensures that, should a fire break out, residents can be quickly alerted, allowing for prompt and safe evacuation. This is particularly vital in buildings where there are concerns about the effectiveness or absence of fire alarms, sprinklers, or other safety measures.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 painfully highlighted the risks associated with high-rise living. The fire’s rapid spread and the loss of 72 lives underscored the urgent need for robust fire safety measures, including waking watches, especially in buildings with flammable cladding or other vulnerabilities.
In line with this, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) provided vital guidance stating, “Where a waking watch is implemented, as soon as practicable but within a month, the Responsible Persons should make a plan for implementing sustainable means for supporting the evacuation strategy to allow the building to transition away from a waking watch.”
According to the latest statistics from gov.uk for the year ending March 2023:
|Fire Incidence / Attendance:||There were a total of 178,737 fires attended by Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) in England, representing a 17% increase compared to the year ending March 2022, which had 152,639 fire incidents.|
|Fatalities:||In the period of 2022/23, 246 fatalities resulted from these fires and necessitated 4,342 evacuations.|
|Locations:||Out of these, 42 fatalities occurred in purpose-built flats or maisonettes, accounting for 21% of all fire-related deaths.|
These statistics highlight the invaluable role waking watches play in ensuring the safety of building residents, especially in high-risk structures like high-rises.
Our timeline takes you through the key developments and government actions aimed at enhancing the safety of high-rise buildings. From emergency measures to substantial funding and policy reforms, trace the journey of this critical safety protocol designed to protect residents and ensure peace of mind.
Immediately after the Grenfell Tower fire, safety concerns regarding cladding on high-rise buildings led to increased scrutiny and the implementation of interim safety measures, such as Waking Watch, where trained personnel would be on duty to ensure fire safety and aid evacuation if necessary.
The UK Government, working with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), established a £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund to finance the installation of alarm systems in buildings with unsafe cladding, aiming to reduce the financial burden of Waking Watch on leaseholders.
Updated guidance from the NFCC recommended that buildings transitioning from a ‘Stay Put’ to a ‘Simultaneous Evacuation’ strategy should install temporary common fire alarm systems if the change is beyond a short-term period.
The government provided £10 million in additional funding to support fire and rescue services in responding to the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry, including the availability of smoke hoods and improved communication during major incidents.
The government committed to ensuring all high-rise residential buildings would be inspected or reviewed by the end of 2021, with an additional £3.5 billion announced in February 2021 for cladding remediation on buildings over 18 meters tall.
The NFCC published revised guidance advising responsible persons to consider cost-benefit options with leaseholders and residents and encouraging the installation of common fire alarm systems to reduce reliance on Waking Watch.
The UK Government allocated further funding to fire and rescue services to increase the capacity and capability of their protection teams and to the NFCC for the development of a central strategic leadership function and protection hub.
The UK Government announced an allocation of £18.6 million for the Waking Watch Replacement Fund to support the installation of alarm systems in residential buildings using Waking Watch in England, extending financial aid beyond prior funds aimed at buildings with fire safety concerns.
The question of who should bear the cost of waking watch services is a contentious one:
Building Owners/Management Companies: Many argue that since waking watches are necessitated due to design flaws or poor maintenance, the cost should be borne by building owners or the management companies responsible for the structure.
Government Grants: To alleviate the financial burden on leaseholders and tenants, the UK government has set up funds to support the removal of unsafe cladding and the installation of alarm systems. This has indirectly reduced the duration for which waking watches are required, thus cutting down their associated costs.
Leaseholders: In some cases, the cost has been passed onto leaseholders through service charge hikes. However, this has been controversial, with many believing that leaseholders shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of these costs, especially when they had no role in the building’s faulty design or maintenance.
The consensus, however, leans heavily towards building owners and management companies. With increasing pressure from tenant associations and regulatory bodies, the expectation is for them to bear this cost, ensuring that residents feel safe in their homes without an additional financial burden.
The waking watch service, while an interim measure, plays an irreplaceable role in safeguarding residents of high-rise buildings, especially those with known vulnerabilities. While the debate about who should pay continues, there is no question about its importance in the landscape of modern high-rise living. As always, Triton Security remains at the forefront, championing best practices and keeping our communities safe.