In December 2020, Business Defence Lawyer Robert Starr provided an overview of the legal framework for fire safety, including some anticipated changes and the impact these may have on roles and responsibilities.
In the second part of this article, we take a more in-depth look at the newly proposed building and fire safety measures, whilst highlighting some key issues for employers.
Since the disastrous events at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, there has been extensive scrutiny to identify what went wrong and what can be done to prevent a recurrence. Though the outcome of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry will not be known for a while, the Government is looking to introduce significant changes for improved building and fire safety.
The Fire Safety Consultation contains a series of proposals aimed at strengthening the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the FSO), which is the governing legislation for fire safety in England and Wales.
This involves implementing recommendations from the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 report, which will most likely be achieved through amendments to the FSO or the introduction of new regulations.
Although many of these measures will focus on safety within high-rise buildings, there are several changes that will be relevant to most employers.
Clarity of duty-holders or responsible persons
The first change to anticipate involves a legal requirement for duty-holders within premises to record who they are, the extent of their responsibilities under the FSO, and identify themselves to other duty-holders (where relevant). The intention of the proposed change is to increase the level of co-operation between duty-holders. However, it will also make it easier for enforcing authorities to identify who they can take enforcement action against for non-compliance with the FSO.
FRAs and Fire Risk Assessors
To try to address the variable quality of Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs), it is also proposed that a competence requirement will be introduced for assessors. Currently, there is no competency requirement for fire risk assessors within the FSO, with competence generally only scrutinised when an FRA is deemed not to be suitable or in sufficient breach of the FSO.
It is not yet clear how this will be implemented. However, it could be beneficial to responsible persons who want reassurance that their assessor is competent, and that their decision to use the assessor will not be forensically examined later.
The downside to this is that the stringent requirements of who can be involved in the assessment or review process may result in increased cost. Particularly for smaller employers who do not have internal specialists on their payroll.
A change that may cause alarm for duty-holders is the proposal that fire authorities will be able to charge for audits and enforcement activities. At present, this is not permitted due to restrictions within the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. However, it is being considered whether the law should be changed to bring Fire and Rescue Services into line with other regulators, such as the HSE (with a fee for intervention) and the new Building Safety Regulator. Inadequate resourcing is an ongoing issue with Fire Authorities and, as such, we expect that a charging regime of some form will be introduced.
Planning for the changes
There is no guaranteed method of predicting whether all of the proposed changes will find their way into legislation. However, given that it has taken three years of government consideration to reach this stage, it is wise for employers to start planning now. This includes assessing how they are likely to be affected by each of the changes, whilst looking to identify which resources they need to put in place moving forward.
AHR Consultants has a team of experienced competent fire risk assessors. Remove the risk from your organisation by appointing us to ensure you are compliant with existing measures and any future changes that the government make.
Image provided by Safety Technology International