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 that in general, regulations and guidance were ‘ambiguous and inconsistent.’ These issues were 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.
As a result of the Grenfell enquiries, significant changes have been made to fire safety in construction and building maintenance, including new laws and regulations covered in the Building Safety Act (2022).
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
The biggest changes to building regulations post-Grenfell include the classification of buildings over 18 metres (7 storeys) as having a higher risk for fire. This means they are now subject to new compliance standards and regulations. These changes to the way higher-risk buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained, include the banning of certain flammable materials for cladding and construction. The culmination of building fire safety regulations is the Building Fire Safety Act (2022), which we will examine further in this article.
What is The Building Safety Act (2022)?
The Building Safety Act (BSA) was intended to act as the key piece of legislation for fire safety in construction and maintenance. It is designed to work in tandem with other pieces of legislation and is being implemented in phases over the next few years. Below are just a few examples of how the Building Safety Act will serve as a framework for long-lasting change:
- Legal empowerment: Tenants and residents will now have more recourse to escalate concerns during renovation projects and across a building’s lifetime.
- Key duty holders: Either a single person or a group of individuals must be assigned to carry out statutory responsibilities during the construction process to maintain adherence to fire safety standards.
- The Building Safety Regulator (BSR): A new regulatory body will oversee the implementation of safety measures in construction projects, liaising with duty holders and relevant parties.
- A gateway process: As part of the new ‘golden thread’ process, there will now be key ‘gateway points’ during the design and build process where certain fire safety measures must be met before work can continue.
- Stricter legal sanctions and penalties: These are aimed to deter non-compliance with regulations among developers, construction companies, manufacturers, designers, and duty holders.
What is the Fire Safety Act (2021)?
The Fire Safety Act (2021) was introduced as an amendment to the existing Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which will be explored later in this article. According to Brokenshire, it represents the Government’s ‘resolute commitment that Grenfell is never repeated.’ This legislation is expected to affect approximately 1.7m residential buildings in England and Wales.
The Fire Safety Act clarifies that property owners and duty-holders for multi-occupancy residential buildings are responsible for fire safety. More specifically, those who are responsible must effectively manage any fire risks associated with a building’s core structure, walls (e.g., doors and windows) and anything attached to its exterior, such as balconies. The Fire Safety Bill also includes new sanctions, such as an unlimited fine for anyone found to be impersonating a fire inspector or hindering one from carrying out their duties.
Current fire safety regulations for residential buildings
So that building owners and managers are fully informed on what is required for regulatory compliance, below is a brief overview of how the Building Safety Act and other fire safety regulations apply specifically to residential properties:
- Applicable buildings and developments: Fire safety measures must be implemented in all buildings over 11 storeys or 18 metres in height, as well as those that contain at least 2 or more residential premises.
- Safe construction sites: Fire safety best practices must be adhered to on building sites throughout the delivery of construction or renovation projects.
- New standards for combustible materials: Materials must meet British Standard EN 13501 – NOT Class 0 (limited combustibility) under British Standard 476 Fire Tests (BS476)
- Documentation approval and accessibility: All building plans should be approved by the Building Safety Regulator, and records need to be created and stored in line with the ‘golden thread’ principle.
- Fire stopping regulations: These include standards for fire stopping materials, compartmentation, cavity barriers and fire doors, as well as the proper application of fire stopping products.
- Fire risk surveys: Fire risk surveys must incorporate not only the structure itself but also communal areas, doors for individual flats, external walls, balconies and cladding.
Additionally, metal composite material panels with a core of unmodified polyethylene (PE) are banned on all new buildings at any height, including local authority housing, healthcare facilities and student accommodation.
To help streamline compliance procedures, the government has developed a Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool that allocates a priority to the category your building falls into. This ranges from Tier 1 (very high priority) to Tier 5 (very low priority).
Residential fire safety regulations for landlords
Landlords in need of clarification on fire safety regulations can find guidance from The London Fire Brigade. This guidance has been split into two separate categories, depending on the nature and purpose of the affected building:
- Local authorities, registered social landlords and owners of private residential blocks. To find out more about CLM Fireproofing’s work with councils and local authorities, visit our dedicated page for fire protection in social housing.
- Private sector landlords, including managers of buy-to-let properties or those who own residential buildings above their commercial premises.
While the regulations differ slightly across the two categories, they can be broadly summarised into the following key points:
- Each floor must contain at least one smoke alarm, which is to be tested at the start of each tenancy. Furthermore, any rooms of a building containing a fuel-burning appliance (such as a wood-burning stove) should also be fitted with a carbon monoxide detector.
- All flats, corridors and staircases must be fitted with ‘self-closing’ fire doors. This is so they provide adequate compartmentation in the event of a fire. These areas should also be regularly reviewed to identify any compartment breaches that need fire stopping.
- Any individual flats within a building, corridors and predefined escape rooms need to be reinforced with compliant fire stopping. This will inhibit the spread of smoke and fire and maximise the length of time needed to safely evacuate a building.
- All fire risk assessments must indicate that landlords fully understand their building’s smoke ventilation requirements, as well as the measures put in place to adhere to these requirements.
Landlords and property owners must also comply with the Housing Act 2004. The main requirements 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.
Finally, landlords must either act as or appoint a responsible person for fire safety compliance in their building. Where needed, this person will take ownership of fire risk assessments and maintenance, with the help of a professional service provider. This involves identifying risks such as the following:
- The presence of flammable materials around doors into flats, windows, and external cladding, as well as any other ignition risks and potential fuel sources.
- Whether or not any repairs or non-compliant alterations have compromised the integrity of existing structural fire protection installations.
- If there are any signs of dilapidation, such as exposed wiring, or damage to fire safety components as a result of degradation or misuse.
- How to address the needs of at risk occupants, such as older residents, children, or tenants with disabilities or reduced mobility.
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 commercial premises. This goes beyond employees to include visitors and potentially members of the public. Broadly speaking, the FSO applies to any area of a building not considered to be an ‘individual private’ home, such as a family home or a single residence in a block of flats.
What is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order?
Before we dive into the details surrounding the FSO, we would like to point out that, rather than being replaced by the Building Safety Act, the FSO will now work in collaboration with this more stringent regulatory framework.
For example, the Building Safety Act amends one of the main governing principles of the FSO, which 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 amendment clarifies that this responsibility now extends to reducing fire risks within external walls and structural elements. These may include cladding, balconies, windows and entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.
The designated responsible persons must ensure that a thorough and comprehensive fire risk assessment has been conducted by a competent individual. 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.
The FSO also outlines several guidelines for the effective documentation of fire risk assessments. Any steps taken to bring buildings up to code must be recorded, especially if the fire brigade or any other regulatory body has issued an ‘alterations notice’, which often indicates the need for urgent action to be taken. Finally, fire risk assessments must be recorded by law if the building requires a licence (such as to sell alcohol) or contains a business with more than four employees.
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 this 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.
By following these guidelines, commercial landlords and business owners can help prevent the risk of fire. But in the event of a fire, it is crucial that buildings have a fully compliant fire protection and suppression system in place. For instance, the law specifies that all buildings contain fire extinguishers, as well as sprinklers and hose reels if required. Building owners are also responsible for the weekly testing of fire detection systems, as well as ensuring these systems are serviced at least once every six months.
This article provides 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, care homes, and healthcare facilities.
Does the Building Safety Act 2022 apply to commercial buildings?
There is some confusion here as the Act specifically applies to residential buildings, especially multi-home buildings and those 11m or taller. However, the Act can apply to some commercial buildings if they are determined to be high risk using the Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool. Generally, commercial buildings that are likely to fall under this act include student housing, hotels, dormitories, care homes, social housing, and hospitals.
Can we expect any new changes to building fire regulations in 2023?
The Building Safety Act (2022) will come into force in January 2023. Although this will form the foundational framework for building regulations, subordinate legislation will continue to be developed and implemented (following approval) throughout 2023 and 2024. These will primarily relate to fields of competence, procurement, and the golden thread, which as previously mentioned is crucial for compliant record-keeping throughout a building’s lifetime.
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 various channels. These channels vary for residential and commercial premises. As well as this, if you wish to report a breach in a commercial building, 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, if they feel there is still a pressing issue, tenants can contact the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s building safety team, or the Housing Ombudsman. 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
CLM Fireproofing are the UK’s leading provider of passive fire protection. Our team of specialists have worked on some of the country’s most iconic buildings, including The Shard and Battersea Power Station. We pride ourselves on being thought-leaders in fire protection compliance and are passionate about raising the bar for industry standards, project management and service delivery. Visit our Services page or contact one of our fire protection experts today.