Update on fire safety in University buildings

Following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in London, we, like many other institutions, have undertaken an extensive review of our ​​​​estate to ensure that it continues to support safe operation for staff, students and visitors.

We have some five million square feet of accommodation including student residential accommodation, academic and mixed use commercial facilities. Our estate includes 387 separate properties, all of which have now been fully surveyed.

In addition to surveying cladding on University buildings, we have undertaken a risk-based assessment. This includes assessing exit routes from buildings over four storeys high, existing systems for fire safety including fire detection and alarm, and the currency and quality of fire risk assessments, as well as the nature of any cladding on our buildings.

Our highest building is the Arts Tower and, naturally, people do need to be reassured about the arrangements in the event of a fire. The Arts Tower is a 19-storey building with two means of escape via two fire-protected stair cores. The building is protected with an L2 specification fire detection and alarm system. It has an integral sprinkler system in the event of a fire.

As you know we have mandatory training for all staff and students in fire safety. The policy for fire risk assessments is that all buildings are to be evacuated in the event of a fire alarm, including the Arts Tower. Fire drills are undertaken as a minimum once a year for all buildings.

The second building that has sprinkler system is the Diamond, which was completed in September 2015. The Diamond, like the Arts Tower, is a curtain wall glazed building without flammable cladding present.

There are a number of University-owned buildings which have cladding, none of which have the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding that Grenfell Tower had installed. The vast majority of cladding within the University is isolated and very few buildings are fully clad. Three buildings which are fully clad, or have elements which are fully clad and are over four storeys tall, do not have the ACM that was found in Grenfell Tower.

However, as part of the recent safety assessment, there was a small amount of aluminium composite material cladding identified at Allen Court, which is part of our City accommodation offer. We have worked with the owners of Allen Court, IQ Student Accommodation and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to assess the safety of this cladding and any steps that need to be taken. IQ student accommodation is now working to remove the aluminium composite material cladding from Allen Court. This work will be completed in the coming weeks and will not impact on current or future residents of the building.

As with all buildings at the University there is at least a minimum of an L2 specification fire detection and alarm system (non-sleeping accommodation), and the highest specification L1 systems in all University owned and operated residential accommodation. As set out above, we do not support a stay put policy and all buildings are to be evacuated in the event of a fire alarm.

Having undertaken the review of our estate, we can assure staff, students and visitors that we continue to maintain our estate in a safe condition and we remain vigilant to ensure that fire safety is a key risk which is regularly managed. We have bi-monthly meetings focused specifically on fire safety across all of our estate. These meetings continue and have undoubtedly helped to contribute to the maintenance of safe working practices across the University and our estate. All fire risk assessments within the University are undertaken by our professionally qualified team of fire safety staff. All fire risk assessments are current and are reviewed on a frequency of no greater than every two years.

If you have any questions or specific concerns please do not hesitate to email safety@sheffield.ac.uk

Many thanks

Keith Lilley
Director of Estates and Facilities Management