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Government outlines changes to Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order

13 July 2021

HAVING NOW introduced the Building Safety Bill as part of its overarching programme of work to improve the Building Regulations and fire safety systems in both the existing and future building stock, the Government has also outlined the details of a clause that will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in order to support greater compliance with – and effective enforcement of – the Order in all non-domestic premises and, indeed, the common parts of multi-occupied residential buildings.

In a communication sent to the Fire Sector Federation, Rachel Atkinson (director of the Fire, Events and Central Management Directorate at the Home Office) has stated: “We are determined to continue to learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and reform building and fire safety to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again. The Building Safety Bill marks the next step in the Government’s ongoing reforms to ensure everyone’s home is a place of safety. The Bill will deliver improvements across the entire built environment.”

Atkinson continues: “The Bill will strengthen oversight and protections for residents in high-rise buildings. It will give a greater say to residents of tall buildings and toughen sanctions against those who threaten their safety. Its focus on risk will help owners to manage their buildings better, while giving the home-building industry the clear and proportionate framework it needs to deliver more and better high-quality homes.”

In terms of the Fire Safety Order, the new requirements will increase the transparency of the activities of ‘Responsible Persons’ under the Order and provide further reassurances to members of the public that those responsible for their safety from fire wherever they live, stay or work can be held to account.

The Government is amending the Fire Safety Order to require that:

*all ‘Responsible Persons’ must record their fire risk assessment in full

*‘Responsible Persons’ must not appoint a person to assist them with making or reviewing a fire risk assessment under Article 9 unless they are competent

*all ‘Responsible Persons’ should record the identity of any person appointed by them to assist them with making or reviewing an assessment under Article 9

*all ‘Responsible Persons’ must record their fire safety arrangements to ensure effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of preventative and protective measures

*‘Responsible Persons’ who share or have duties in respect of the same premises must provide to each other – and also record – their name and a UK address at which they or someone acting on their behalf will accept service of documents as well as informing each other of the part of the premises for which they consider themselves to be the ‘Responsible Person’

When an outgoing ‘Responsible Person’ ceases to be a ‘Responsible Person’ and another ‘Responsible Person’ takes their place, they must give the new ‘Responsible Person’ any relevant fire safety information they hold.

The provision contains a regulation making power enabling the Secretary of State to extend the list of relevant fire safety information that must be provided and to include details of the times when – and the form in which – all of the information must be provided.

Relevant and comprehensible information

For buildings consisting of two or more sets of domestic premises, ‘Responsible Persons’ must provide relevant and comprehensible information about relevant fire safety matters to residents of such premises.

When it comes to premises consisting of (or including) a residential unit in a higher-risk building (currently defined in the Building Safety Bill as a building in England that is at least 18 metres in height or has at least seven storeys and contains at least two residential units), ‘Responsible Persons’ must take reasonable steps to ascertain whether there are one or more ‘Accountable Persons’ in relation to the premises. If there are, they must co-operate with them to enable them to carry out their duties under the Building Safety Act.

Further to the Government’s amendment to Article 50 in the Fire Safety Act 2021 which provides that a Court of Law may consider compliance or not with risk-based guidance in proceedings for breach of the Fire Safety Order, Article 50 is to be amended further in the Building Safety Bill. This amendment will provide that, where proceedings are brought against ‘Responsible Persons’ for a breach of their duties under the Fire Safety Order, failure to follow any applicable guidance may be relied upon in support of such a breach. Following any applicable guidance may be relied on as supporting compliance.

The Government is going to increase fines to the maximum level (ie unlimited) for the offences of impersonating a fire safety inspector and any proven non-compliance with the stated requirements imposed by a fire safety inspector or in relation to the installation of luminous tube signs.

In closing its communication with the Fire Sector Federation’s membership, the Government comments: “These are important reforms to overhaul fire safety legislation in England and Wales and we would like to encourage you to support our amendments through the passage of the Bill in Parliament.”

Important factors for consideration

Independent fire safety engineering consultancy the Joule Group has welcomed the announcement by the Government of its intention to create a new Building Safety Regulator, on a statutory footing, as part of its newly-published Building Safety Bill. As reported by Fire Safety Matters, the proposed regulator will oversee a new safety regime for high-rise residential homes, specifically those over 18 metres tall.

The Joule Group believes that there are a number of important factors to consider in terms of the future remit of the Building Safety Regulator:

*What will be the framework for future public and Parliamentary accountability of the regulator?

*What will the regulator’s key priorities be in selecting regulated firms and entities to audit?

*How will the regulator’s remit address regulation of residential building stock below 18 metres in height which may be connected to or forming part of buildings over 18 metres or that reside within the same development?

*Will the proposed scheme of regulation and compliance be entirely consistent with the ‘golden thread’ of data that provides for each building to retain fire safety information over time?

*How will the definition of ‘properly managed’, as provided for in the Building Safety Bill, guarantee that safety information is stored and recorded in an appropriate and proportionate manner? Is the intent for this to be underpinned by the draft BS 8644-1 on the digital management of fire safety information?

John Noone, co-founder of the Joule Group, told Fire Safety Matters: “The Government’s decision to create a new regulator is to be hugely welcomed. It will bring much-needed clarity to the industry, provide consumers with confidence and bring necessary standardisation for safety across the UK residential real estate portfolio of buildings above 18 metres tall.”

Noone added: “It’s important to bear in mind that the remit of the proposed regulator will also have applicability to a much wider cross-section of the UK’s built environment. If implemented carefully, the Building Safety Bill promises to make the UK a world leader in this critically important and sensitive area of public policy.”

Important role

Peter Baker, Chief Inspector of Buildings at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE),  has also commented on the Building Safety Bill announcement by the Government. He said: “I welcome the introduction of the Building Safety Bill which will give the HSE the tools to deliver its important role as the Building Safety Regulator. This is a key step in setting out what will be expected of future duty holders.”

Baker went on to state: “Everyone involved in higher risk buildings from design and construction through to day-to-day operations will manage and control building safety in a way that is proportionate to the risks. This will ensure these buildings are safer for those who live in them and that they have a stronger voice. I encourage duty holders to use the Bill’s introduction in preparation for the new and more rigorous regulatory regime.”

Further, Baker explained: “The Building Safety Regulator will continue to work with industry and others to deliver the new building safety regime and ensure that residents of higher risk buildings are safe, and feel safe, in their homes both now and into the future.”