Outbuildings are increasingly being used as living and working spaces, says report

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Monday, July 26th, 2021 11:06pm

By Alex Moore - Local Democracy Reporter

Sheds, garages and other outbuildings are increasingly being used as living and working spaces, a trend that brings an increased fire risk, a report says.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service logged 472 “accidental primary fires” in 2020-21, 39 more than its target for the year.

In a report for fire authority members, chief officers note that 241 of these broke out in homes or other residences, 109 in vehicles, 102 on commercial premises and 20 in “other” locations, a category that includes those outdoor structures.

They write that the last category has seen a rise since 2019-20 and the brigade is considering extending its “Safe and Well” visit procedure to include those areas, particularly as the pandemic has led to furloughed staff or home-based workers spending more time in them.

The report, by Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton and Assistant CFO Dan Quinn, summarises the brigade’s performance against yearly targets.

It notes that it aimed to finish the year with 520 or fewer deliberate fires, and ended with just 314.

Officer Hammerton and Officer Quinn put this down to “prevention-driven publicity”, work with the police to help vulnerable people and domestic violence victims and government restrictions on outdoor gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, their report says the target to limit “accidental primary fires” to 433 was missed. The final total of 472 was 50 more than the equivalent figure for the previous year.

“The underlying data suggests a trend for using garden sheds, garages and outdoor buildings for leisure and relaxation instead of traditional storage,” Officer Hammerton and Officer Quinn write.

“This is an area for further consideration and potential targeting of prevention activity, particularly considering the increase in home-based workers.

“With an increased number of companies marketing wooden constructed garden outbuildings as potential office space, a potential increase risk in the domestic home environment is present.

“As few such buildings will require planning permission of building regulations approval, standards of construction, safety and long-term use/conversion may prove problematic.

“The service does not currently extend its ‘Safe and Well visit’ content to the outdoor areas of the home. This may need to be considered in the future.”

The Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority’s Standards, Audit and Performance Committee will discuss the report on Thursday.

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