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Housing Health and Safety Rating System

2.5 Housing Health and Safety Rating System

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is the method used
by local authorities to assess housing conditions. The Housing Act 2004
Part 1 establishes the HHSRS as the current statutory assessment criterion
for housing and it is based on the principle that:

“Any residential premises should provide a safe and healthy environment
for any potential occupier or visitor”.

The system applies to all dwellings including owner-occupied, privately
rented, council and housing association dwellings. Local authorities are
required to keep housing conditions in privately owned property under
review and also have a duty to inspect a property where they have reason
to believe that this is appropriate to determine the presence of health and
safety hazards.

The HHSRS is not a standard which the property must meet, as was the case
with the previous fitness standard, but it is a system to assess the likely risk
of harm that could occur from any ‘deficiency’ associated with a dwelling.

A deficiency is a variation from the ideal standard that may lead to a
situation where a visit to the doctor or hospital may be necessary. It may
be due to an inherent design or manufacturing fault, or due to disrepair,
deterioration or lack of maintenance. Unnecessary and avoidable
significant hazards should not be present.

The standard acknowledges, however, that some hazards may exist and provides a method of deciding whether or not the degree of risk is acceptable. The use of a formula produces a numerical score which allows comparison of all the hazards. This score is known as the Hazard Score and irrespective of the type of hazard, the higher the score, the greater the risk.

Local authority environmental health professionals undertake assessments and
they must decide for each hazard what is:

• the likelihood, over the next twelve months, of an occurrence e.g.
falling down stairs, electrocution etc that could result in harm to a
member of the vulnerable group, and

• the range of potential outcomes from such an occurrence e.g.
death, severe injury etc.

There are 29 hazards associated with the system [see section 2.5.1 below].

When an assessment is made, the assessment is based on the likely effect of
the hazard on the most vulnerable age group, regardless of whether the current
occupiers are in that vulnerable group. Action taken as a result of identifying
hazards should consider the actual occupiers. For some hazards there is no
relevant group, but for many hazards it may be either the young or the elderly.

2.5.1 Hazards

A hazard is any risk of harm to the health or safety of an actual or potential
occupier that arises from a deficiency. The system is concerned with
hazards that can result in disease, infirmity, physical injury, and also
includes mental disorder and distress. There are 29 hazards, which need
to be considered, and these have been divided into four groupings:
Physiological, Psychological, Protection against Infection and Protection
against Accident.

Physiological:

• damp and mould growth;
• excess cold;
• excess heat;
• asbestos and manufactured mineral fibre;
• biocides;
• carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products;
• lead;
• radiation;
• uncombusted fuel gas;
• volatile organic compounds.

Psychological:

• crowding and space;
• entry by intruders;
• lighting;
• noise.

Protection against Infection:

• domestic hygiene, pests and refuse;
• food safety;
• personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage;
• water supply for domestic purpose.

Protection against Accidents:

• falls associated with baths;
• falling on level surfaces;
• falling associated with stairs and steps;
• falling between levels;
• electrical hazards;
• fire;
• flames and hot surfaces;
• collision and entrapment;
• explosions;
• position and operability of amenities;
• structural collapse and failing elements.

2.5.2 Landlord Responsibilities

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System: Guide for Landlords and
Property Related Professionals was produced by the government in 2006.
It is still relevant and includes advice on inspections and assessment of
hazards under Section 9. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System
(HHSRS) Operating Guidance Guide can be accessed at www.communities.
gov.uk/documents/housing/pdf/142631.pdf

Each property will have its own hazards depending upon its location, age,
construction, design, state of repair and so on but landlords must take
steps to make sure that the dwelling provides both a safe and healthy
environment.

For enforcement purposes the landlord is responsible for the provision,
state and proper working order of:

• the exterior and structural elements of the dwelling
- this includes all elements essential to the dwelling including
access, amenity spaces, the common parts within the
landlord’s control, associated outbuildings, garden, yard walls
etc;
• the installations within and associated with the dwelling for:
- the supply and use of water, gas and electricity
- personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
- food safety
- ventilation
- space heating, and
- heating water.

It includes fixtures and fittings, but excludes moveable appliances unless
provided by the landlord. In multi-occupied buildings the owner, or
manager, is responsible for stair coverings e.g. carpets.

2.5.3 HHSRS enforcement

Local authorities have statutory duties and powers to take enforcement
action to deal with properties containing hazards identified under the
HHSRS. Under the HHSRS local authorities have a duty to take appropriate
enforcement action in relation to category 1 hazards, and discretion to act
in relation to category 2 hazards.

If a hazard presents a severe threat to health or safety it is known as a
category 1 hazard.

If a local authority considers that a category 1 hazard exists on any
residential premises, they must take the appropriate enforcement action in
relation to the hazard.

Less severe threats to health and safety are known as category 2 hazards
and a local authority may take appropriate enforcement action to reduce
the hazard to an acceptable level. The circumstances in which local authorities
will take action over category 2 hazards will vary and will depend on the
individual local authority’s enforcement policy.

Although statutory action is mandatory for category 1 hazards and
discretionary for category 2 hazards, the choice of what course of action is
appropriate is also a matter for the local authority and it will depend on the
individual local authority’s enforcement policy.

The authority must, however, take into account the statutory enforcement
guidance and the options available include:

• serving an improvement notice requiring remedial works;
• making a prohibition order, which closes the whole or part of a
dwelling or restricts the number of permitted occupants;
• suspending the above types of notice for a period of time;
• taking emergency action itself;
• serving a hazard awareness notice, which merely advises that
a hazard exists, but does not demand works are carried out;
• demolition;
• designating a clearance area.

2.5.4 Additional HHSRS Information

Additional information can be obtained from the CLG, in particular the two
guidance documents:
- Housing Health and Safety Rating System: - Guidance for Landlords
and Property Related Professionals
- Housing Health and Safety Rating System: - Operating Guidance
The hazards most likely to exist in all types of dwellings are:
• damp & mould growth
• excess cold
• radiation
• crowding and space
• entry by intruders
• falling on the level
• falling on stairs
• fire
• flames and hot surfaces
• collision and entrapment.

However this will vary depending on, amongst other things, the location, the
type, the standard of maintenance and age of the property.

The following outline of certain hazards provides an insight into how the HHSRS
operates and what factors are taken into account when an assessment is made by the local authority. The scoring system of the HHSRS allows all hazards to be
rated against each other for importance within any dwelling. The inclusion or
exclusion of any hazard in this section is not an indication of its relative
importance as all 29 hazards have the potential to result in harm.

2.5.4.1 Excess cold

This is by far the most likely hazard to affect a dwelling, for example, the hazard
score for a pre-1946 property will on average mean that a category 1 hazard
exists and action by local authorities would be mandatory. The most vulnerable
age group is all persons aged 65 years and over.

There are up to 40,000 excess winter deaths in the UK each year associated with the affects of cold. It is not hypothermia, but respiratory and circulatory diseases in the elderly which is responsible for most of these deaths. ‘The increase in deaths from heart attacks occurs about two days following the onset of a cold spell, the delay is about five days for deaths from stroke, and about 12 days for respiratory deaths.’

Lack of heating also causes increased illness, increased risk of falls, as well as
distress and discomfort. Inadequate heating is directly linked to ill health when
the internal temperatures start falling below 19°C. It is essential that occupiers
be provided with adequate and controllable (preferably central) heating within
their accommodation.

British Standards state that a minimum standard of heating is a fixed space-
heating appliance to each occupied room. It should be capable of efficiently
maintaining the room at a minimum temperature of 18°C, in sleeping rooms, and 21°C in living rooms, when the temperature outside is minus 1°C and it should be available at all times. The adequacy of loft insulation and cavity wall insulation is important and would be considered as part of any HHSRS assessment.

2.5.4.2 Falls on Stairs

The most vulnerable age group is all persons aged 60 years or over. Men are
more likely to die than women. Although physical injury is the most likely
outcome, death may occur several weeks or months after the initial fall injury,
due to cardio-respiratory illness, including heart attack, stroke and pneumonia.

Several factors can influence the likelihood of an accident including the
following:

• accidents are nearly twice as likely on stairs consisting of straight steps with no winders or intermediate landings • accidents are more likely where the pitch of stairs is more than 42º, and the steeper the pitch, the worse the outcome
• an accident is three times more likely to occur on stairs without carpet covering
• the lack of any handrail doubles the likelihood of a fall, even if there is a wall to
both sides of the stairs.

2.5.4.3 Crowding and Space

Lack of space and overcrowded conditions have been linked to a number of
health outcomes, including psychological distress and mental disorders,
especially those associated with a lack of privacy and childhood development.
Crowding can result in an increased in heart rate, increased perspiration,
reduction of tolerance, and a reduction of the ability to concentrate. Crowded
conditions are also linked with increased hygiene risks, an increased risk of
accidents, and spread of contagious disease.

Personal space and privacy needs are important for the individual members of
the same household as well as for individuals or households sharing rooms
and/or facilities. In multi-occupied accommodation, most of these issues may be compounded by sharing of some spaces. In terms of privacy, a higher standard may be expected where facilities are shared with other households. For example, whereas a partially glazed door may be acceptable to a single household bathroom, it would be unacceptable to a shared bathroom.

There should be sufficient provision for sleeping having regard to the numbers
likely to be accommodated in the dwelling. As a guide, and depending on the sex of household members and their relationship, and the size of rooms, a dwelling containing one bedroom is suitable for up to two persons, irrespective of age. A dwelling containing two bedrooms is suitable for up to four persons. One containing three bedrooms is suitable for up to six persons, and one containing four bedrooms is suitable for up to seven persons

The Local Authority Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) have produced guidance on crowding Guidance on Regulation of Crowding and Space in Residential Premises which is available from their website.

2.5.4.4 Fire

The most vulnerable age group is all persons aged 60 years or over.

There are approximately 70,000 fires each year reported to the fire authorities, but it is considered that only about 20% of fires are reported. It has been estimated that fires occur in about 3% of all dwellings per year. In 2005 there were 300 deaths with most deaths associated with being overcome by smoke and fumes. Over 80% of accidental fires in dwellings result from occupier
carelessness or misuse of equipment or appliances, etc.

Over 65% of fires start in the kitchen, about 10% start in bedrooms and
bedsitting rooms, and 10% start in living and dining rooms. Around 90% of fires
are confined to the rooms where they started.

There is a greater risk of a fire occurring in flats and bedsits than in houses,
where there is also a higher risk of the fire resulting in harm. An adult living in
either a self-contained flat or bedsit accommodation in a three or more storey
building is around 10 times more likely to die in a fire than an adult living in a
two storey house.

The presence or absence of a fire detection and alarm system affects the level of
harm suffered. The death rate from dwellings with alarms is less than half of that
for non-alarmed dwellings. The HHSRS Operating Guidance (CLG) stated that
properly working alarms, connected to smoke or heat detectors are probably
most effective at saving lives in the event of a fire. They provide early warning to the occupants, allowing them to escape before they are overcome by fumes or burned. For any form of multi-occupied buildings, there should be adequate fire protection to the means of escape and between each unit of accommodation, appropriate fire detection and alarm system(s), and, as appropriate, emergency lighting, sprinkler systems or other fire fighting equipment.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) introduced duties on the
“responsible person” , usually the landlord, in relation to fire safety in the
common areas of HMOs, flats, maisonettes and sheltered accommodation in
which personal care is not provided.

The Local Authority Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) have produced guidance on fire safety under both HHSRS and RRO, Housing – Fire Safety, which is available from their website.

2.5.4.5 Dampness and Mould

The most vulnerable age group is all persons aged 14 years or under. One in eight children suffer with asthma in the UK.

The hazard covers the health effects from house dust mites and mould or fungal
growths resulting from dampness and/or high humidity. It includes threats to
mental health and social well-being. The waste from house dust mites and mould spores a are both potent airborne allergens and exposure to these over
prolonged period will cause sensitisation of susceptible individuals. Deaths from all forms of asthma in the UK are around 1,500 a year, of which around 60% has been attributed to dust mite allergy.

Ventilation to any room helps prevent condensation by dispersing water vapour generated by normal household activities. It helps to remove pollutants from within the accommodation and helps to control internal temperatures.

Dwellings should be warm and dry with good ventilation. The dwelling should be free from rising and penetrating dampness. the The dwelling should be able to cope with normal occupant moisture producing activities without persistently high relative humidities.

There should be provision for the safe removal of moisture-laden air during peak production. This should include extraction during cooking or bathing, either by mechanical means, or passive stack ventilation and direct venting of clothes drying facilities (whether tumble driers or drying cabinets) to the exterior.

There should be sufficient and appropriate means of ventilation to deal with
moisture generated by normal domestic activities without the need to open
windows.