Home>Fire>Alarms and Detection>"Owners and premises management fully responsible for fire safety of buildings" urges Government
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Home>Fire>Enforcement>"Owners and premises management fully responsible for fire safety of buildings" urges Government

"Owners and premises management fully responsible for fire safety of buildings" urges Government

07 December 2020

SPEAKING IN the House of Commons, Apsana Begum (Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse) has asked Robert Jenrick (the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government) “whether he plans to provide funding for remedial work to buildings which do not comply with fire safety regulations, but do not have problems relating to cladding.”

Subsequently, Christopher Pincher (Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Conservative MP for Tamworth) has reminded building owners and premises management that fire safety remains their responsibility as outlined in fire safety legislation.

Pincher stressed: “Building owners or other responsible entities managing blocks of flats are responsible for the safety of their buildings. We have made £1.6 billion available to support the remediation of unsafe cladding on buildings of 18 meters and above in height. This reflects the exceptional fire risk that certain cladding products pose at that height, as noted by Dame Judith Hackitt in her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.”

Post-Grenfell Tower, cladding has been one of the key areas in which Government has intervened to assist in establishing a safe building environment, with funding made available as stated. However, Pincher has warned that the unsafe cladding funding “does not absolve industry from responsibility and taking action. We expect developers, investors and building owners to cover remediation costs themselves, meeting their legal and contractual obligations, recovering costs or drawing on warranties where applicable, and without passing on costs to leaseholders.”

Pincher concluded his statement by observing: “This Government is determined to identify suitable financing solutions, remove barriers to remediation and protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs. The Government has asked Michael Wade to accelerate work with the financial sector to identify affordable solutions. We will be updating the House on this matter in due course.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, BAFE and the Fire and Rescue Services have stressed that fire safety obligations must continue to be met in order to provide an environment that’s safe from fire. Any additional COVID-19 safety measures introduced must also acknowledge all Health and Safety and fire safety requirements on-site and must all work together in the interests of life safety and protection.

Potential misunderstanding

Stephen Adams, CEO at BAFE, commented: “This issue is very interesting as it raises huge questions around the potential misunderstanding of fire safety legislation and responsibilities. The Minister of State is completely right in that building owners should already be implementing any remedial work required to meet these obligations. Such misunderstanding is precisely why BAFE demands stronger Government-issued guidance on who’s considered competent to provide essential life safety work.”

This last point was recently noted in BAFE’s response to the Government’s fire safety consultation. At the time of submitting that response, BAFE commented: “The BAFE Fire Safety Register (and the whole UKAS-accredited competency sector) demands greater Government-issued guidance on who’s considered competent to provide essential life safety work. This must be at the same level as Health and Safety Executive-issued guidance, which can then be used to lawfully judge who was at fault for any safety breaches under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and included in any statutory defence.”

BAFE continued: “With many buildings not having a dedicated fire safety officer, these responsibilities are just a part of another staff member’s or building owner’s duties. Clearer guidance must be issued for quick reference to ensure they remain compliant to the law.”

In conclusion, BAFE stated: “Stipulating what’s required to determine competency can assist in sourcing quality providers to help owners meet their fire safety responsibilities with due diligence. Compliance will improve with mandated competency levels that must be adhered to and specified, thus appropriately regulating the industry with no additional cost to Government.”

Update from Dame Judith Hackitt

In the Health and Safety Executive’s Building Safety eBulletin dated Thursday 3 December, Dame Judith Hackitt has offered an update on the Building Safety Bill. It reads as follows:

“More than three years ago, in July 2017, I started my Independent Review of Building Safety and Fire Regulations in the wake of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. In those first few weeks, I interviewed many people and almost without exception they told me that the current regulatory system needed radical change. The people I talked to also expressed doubts about whether the system would actually change as a result of my review.” 

“Three-and-a-half years on and we now know that radical change is on its way and the doubts expressed were unfounded. Given the scale of the tragedy at Grenfell which had led to my review, the momentum for change was greater than it had ever been before.” 

“After my final report was published in May 2018, my involvement continued when I was asked to chair the Industry Safety Steering Group. We brought together very senior people from a range of industry backgrounds to challenge the industry to accept the need for culture change and to adopt new practices ahead of legislation mandating them to do so.” 

“Over the last two years or so, we’ve heard some really encouraging stories of the progress people are making. This is from the people who recognise the need to change and want to do the right thing now, not wait for legislation to make them do it. Of course, we’ve also heard from others who haven’t changed yet and who offer a variety of explanations as to why – “It’s not my problem to fix” and “Tell me what to do”.” 

“The thing that makes the difference between those who are ploughing on with making change and those who are holding back is not about resources or competence or clarity. It’s all about leadership. We need many more companies and organisations to step up and show leadership.” 

“I’m delighted that the Building Safety Bill is about to make its passage through Parliament and that the new Building Safety Regulator has been announced and will be part of the Health and Safety Executive. There can no longer be any excuse for holding back or doubting that things are going to change. There is still a huge amount to do to achieve this ‘once in a generation’ change by everyone involved. Through the Transition Board, we will maintain the pressure to deliver the new regulatory regime and the new regulator as soon as is practicably possible. We meet monthly and will continue until the new regime is up-and-running.” 

“In the coming months I want us to focus on the positive outcomes that this new regime will deliver. Safer homes for residents is of course front and centre, but this is also a chance for the whole built environment sector to raise its game.”