Bill to remove ambiguity from fire safety legislation for multi-occupancy residential buildings

Further reform to fire safety legislation has been announced by the Home Office in the form of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-2021 (the Bill), which was introduced and first read to Parliament on 19 March 2020.

The proposed Bill will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RR(FS)O) to reflect the recommendations of Sir Martin Moore-Bick following the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (Phase 1 Report, October 2019) and of Dame Judith Hackitt in her review of building regulations and fire safety (Building a Safer Future, May 2018).

Background

The introduction of the RR(FS)O in 2005 replaced an annual fire certification system with a risk-based approach to fire safety, placing duties on ‘responsible persons’ arising from the degree of control that they exercised over a building. Such duties include the implementation and oversight of a fire risk assessment programme to identify dangers and risks, the removal or mitigation of those risks so far as is reasonable practicable and the introduction and maintenance of an up-to-date plan to deal with any emergencies. Failure to comply with any of the duties within the RR(FS)O can result in criminal proceedings brought under the RR(FS)O.

While the RR(FS)O applies to a wide range of premises including workplaces, it does not apply to domestic premises. However, in the case of multi occupancy residential buildings, the RR(FS)O applies to the common parts of that building, which will form workplaces for the likes of contractors and housing officers.

Proposed changes

The proposed changes arising from the Bill are intended to “remove ambiguity” from the RR(FS)O and “make clear” that the aforementioned duties apply, in the case of multi occupancy residential buildings, to external walls, insulation, fixings, balconies, windows, common parts, flat entrance doors and doors adjacent to common parts.

It is intended that these clarifications, which are reflective of the live issues at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, will empower the fire and rescue services to use their enforcement powers under the RR(FS)O where they consider there to be a failure to reduce the risk of fire arising from these structural aspects of a building. However, the use of wording such as “clarify” and “make clear” strongly indicate that responsible persons should already be including these structural elements in their fire risk assessment programmes under the existing RR(FS)O.

While not addressed in either the draft Bill or its Explanatory Notes to date, an introductory article published by the Home Office indicates that its intention is for the Bill to also create specific duties on responsible persons in respect of lift maintenance, evacuation plans, fire safety advice to residents and the provision of information about vulnerable residents to the Fire and Rescue Services.

Further reformative action taken by the government in respect of building and fire safety as a result of the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017 has included the announcement of a proposed Building Safety Bill.

Read other items in Health, Safety and Environment Brief - April 2020

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