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 that 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
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.
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 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 ban was initiated in June 2018 by James Brokenshire, former Housing Secretary and Minister of State for Security. Unfortunately, fiscal setbacks made enforcing the ban problematic. Buildings struggling to fund replacements continue to remain non-compliant. Moreover, in December 2020 the BBC reported that fire safety inspections across England and Wales unearthed a troubling range of issues. For example, London Fire Brigade inspected 576 buildings that have been deemed to be a fire risk (to the extent that they require overnight fire wardens) and found that over 100 had insufficient fire compartmentation.
Fortunately, the appropriate authorities have begun to take action. In March 2021 the Home Office announced that alongside a cash injection of £16m for fire and rescue authorities, they would be introducing a new Fire Safety Bill.
What is the new Fire Safety Bill?
According to the House of Commons, the Fire Safety Bill (2021) should be considered an amendment to the existing Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which will be explored later in this article. According to Brokenshire, this bill 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 Bill 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
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 state 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, consult the Local Government report ‘Fire Safety in Purpose-Built Blocks of Flats’.
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 learn 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 firestopping.
- Any individual flats within a building, corridors and predefined escape rooms need to be reinforced with compliant firestopping. 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.
Commercial building fire safety requirements
Most fire safety legislation for commercial buildings has been superseded by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) – which in turn has been superseded by the 2021 Fire Safety Bill. 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. 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?
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 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 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.
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.
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, 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
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 as 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.