In the immediate aftermath of Grenfell, investigators found multiple examples of non-compliance in terms of best practice and workmanship. It was clear that a series of professional and institutional...Continue Reading
In the immediate aftermath of Grenfell, investigators found multiple examples of non-compliance in terms of best practice and workmanship. It was clear that a series of professional and institutional failings contributed to the fire. However, what also emerged was a worrying lack of clarity surrounding regulations and compliance processes.
The Hackitt Review, the main post-Grenfell fire safety inquiry, described roles and responsibilities for building safety as ‘unclear’. It was also noted in general, regulations and guidance were ‘ambiguous and inconsistent.’ These issues were also exacerbated by a critical lack of funding for fire safety services. Between 2009/10 and 2018/19 funding fell by £379m annually, leading to 22% fewer firefighters over this same period.
In these circumstances, it is fundamental that property owners remain aware of the latest commercial and residential building safety requirements. This article will outline and summarise key fire safety regulations, as well as the appropriate way to report a potential fire safety breach.
Changes to building regulations after Grenfell
In July 2019, the Government released a 192-page proposal that detailed ways to reform the building safety regulatory system. Here are the following areas of improvement covered in the proposal:
- Empowering tenants and residents to escalate concerns about fire safety.
- Identify key ‘duty holders’ and their individual responsibilities in the construction process.
- Create a new regulatory body to oversee the implementation of new safety measures.
- Stricter sanctions and penalties for non-compliance with building safety regulations.
The biggest change to building regulations post-Grenfell was a proposed ban on the use of combustible materials in the external walls of residential buildings over 18 metres in height.
The ban was initiated in June 2018 by the former Housing Secretary James Brokenshire. However, progress on this ban has been sluggish. In January 2020 the current Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick stated: “unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started.”
Unfortunately, fiscal setbacks have made enforcing the ban problematic. Buildings struggling to fund replacements remain non-compliant. The government announced £200m was being allocated to replace hazardous cladding. However, as of June 2019 221 buildings (out of a total 328) are still in need of new external cladding, and so remain non-compliant.
Current fire safety regulations for residential buildings
It is important to note that the regulations differ between existing buildings and buildings currently under construction. For new buildings, the main piece of legislation is the Building Regulations (2010), with Section B specifically covering fire safety. The Building Regulations specify that all new buildings must be designed and constructed with ‘appropriate provisions for the early warning of fire’ as well as ‘appropriate means of escape.’
The legislation does not include technical specifications for complying with these guidelines. It does, however, detail how safety measures can vary based on a building’s height. For example, windows are not an appropriate means of escape for flats situated 4.5m above ground level. For further guidance surrounding fire safety in high-rise buildings, consult the Local Government report ‘Fire Safety in Purpose-Built Blocks of Flats’.
Existing residential buildings are subject to the 2005 Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. The details of the Fire Safety Order will be outlined later in this article. Landlords and property owners must also comply with the Housing Act 2004. The key points surrounding fire safety are as follows:
- All escape routes must be kept clear. This must be sufficiently communicated with all tenants.
- Potential sources of fire must be identified (such as boilers, fuse boxes, and ovens) and cleared of any hazards.
- All appliances must have an annual PAT (Portable Appliance Test), and electrical appliances must have a British or European safety mark.
Commercial building fire safety requirements
Most fire safety legislation for commercial buildings has been superseded by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO). The main difference is that the FSO encompasses anyone who could be at risk from a fire on a commercial premises. This goes beyond employees to include visitors and potentially members of the public.
While we will delve into the details surrounding the FSO, the main governing principle is that any person with a level of control in a building has a responsibility to mitigate the risk of fire. This person could be a business owner or the managing owner of shared business premises. The most important aspect of FSO is for that person to conduct a thorough and comprehensive fire risk assessment. This assessment can be broken down into five primary steps:
- Identifying Fire Hazards – Common examples include points of ignition such as heaters and open flames, as well as sources of fuel or oxygen.
- Identifying People at Risk of Fire – This part of the assessment should pay close attention to those who are particularly at risk. For instance, staff who work with flammable materials or people with mobility issues.
- Evaluating the Overall Level of Risk – This should be followed by a series of preventative steps, such as outlining fire escape routes or implementing a no-smoking policy on commercial premises.
- Record, Plan, Instruct, Inform and Train – This covers exactly how business owners should implement their findings, in the form of an emergency plan. This plan should be unique to the specific premises and should include exactly who is responsible for executing the emergency plan.
- Reviewing the Assessment – It is best practice to regularly revisit your fire risk assessment. Any large-scale changes to the premises should be assessed, to see if they have an impact on fire risk.
As well as conducting a thorough risk assessment, for businesses to remain compliant with FSO they must also provide ‘adequate’ fire safety training. While the specifics of a business’s fire safety training can vary, here are some guidelines for what constitutes ‘adequate’ training:
- Fire safety training for new employees as part of their induction.
- Regular refresher training, as well as extra training if changes to the environment lead to an increased risk of fire.
- Training to ensure designated members of staff meet their responsibilities for fire safety
- Skills-based training for certain employees, such as fire warden training or using fire extinguishers.
The above guidelines provide a general overview of fire safety for commercial premises. That being said, there can be variation across certain businesses. Gov.uk provides a range of unique guides and risk assessments for specific industries, including the hospitality industry, residential care homes, and healthcare facilities.
How to report a fire safety breach
If you suspect there has been a fire safety breach or negligence in your building, you can escalate your concerns through a number of channels. These channels vary for residential and commercial buildings. As well as this, if you wish to report a breach in a commercial premises, then the appropriate regulatory body will differ based on the nature of the business.
For residential buildings
Tenants should first broach their concerns with either their landlord or building owner. However, if they wish to escalate it further, they should contact either their local authority or obtain advice from a local fire rescue service. Finally, they feel there is still a pressing issue, tenants can contact the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s building safety team. Tenants and residents looking for fire safety advice can also consult the Gov.uk website for further information.
For commercial buildings
For employees or anyone concerned about fire safety in a place of business, there are two main ports of call: either the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or their Local Authority. Common issues raised include a lack of in-depth fire safety training or a lack of access to fire escape routes. Which authority you contact will depend on the nature of the business.
Report to the HSE for the following businesses:
- Factories and farms
- Building sites and mines
- Schools, colleges and universities
- Gas, electricity and water systems
- Hospitals and nursing homes
- Central and local government premises
- Offshore installations
Report to your Local Authority for the following businesses:
- Offices (except government offices)
- Hotels, restaurants, pubs, and clubs
- Leisure premises
- Nurseries and playgroups
- Museums (privately owned)
- Places of worship
- Sheltered accommodation and care homes