The Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety
The tragedy of the Grenfell fire has had wide ranging effects and one of those is the introduction of the Building Safety Bill into Parliament on 30 June this year. The Bill, which was drafted following Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review, is intended to provide a, “strengthened regulatory regime for high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings, improving accountability, risk-management, and assurance.” Amongst other important measures, which include appointing the HSE as overall regulator with respect to building safety, the Bill makes bespoke but important amendments to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (“FSO”).
One of the central features of the FSO is the concept of a ‘Responsible Person’ usually the owner, employer or occupier of the premises who is responsible for ensuring and maintaining correct fire safety and procedures; any building can and in many cases will have more than one Responsible Person. Ultimately, the Responsible Person can be prosecuted in respect of any breaches of the FSO and any expansion of their role will need to be carefully considered. In this regard, the Bill extends the obligations on the Responsible Person in a number of ways:
- The risk assessment regime is strengthened by requiring the recording of the full fire risk assessments and not merely their significant findings as is the case now;
- There will be a positive duty to ensure that any fire safety professional appointed to assist in the production of the risk assessment is competent;
- Fire safety arrangements following the fire risk assessment will need to be set out in writing whatever the size of the organisation; the FSO currently only requires this where the organisation employs five or more employees;
- Fire safety information will be required to be provided to residents. Such information will include, information about any risks to them identified within the fire risk assessment, preventative and protective measures, the name and UK address of the Responsible Person(s) and the identity of any person appointed by the Responsible Person to assist them;
- As there may be more than one Responsible Person in respect to a particular building, they will be required to coordinate and cooperate to ensure the compliance with the FSO. This will involve an obligation to identify whether any other Responsible Person exists; in respect of high-risk buildings, i.e. those over 18 metres in height, this this will include the identification of and cooperation with the ‘Accountable Person’ as defined by the Bill. The duty will extend to sharing information with successive Responsible Persons to ensure the best possible information on previously identified risks and fire safety measures put in place.
The purpose behind these changes is, in part, to ensure buildings owned, managed or occupied by small organisations have the same rigorous application of fire safety as those where larger organisations are involved. This recognises that many offices and flats are owned, operated or managed by organisation with few employees and who may use independent contractors to fulfil other roles. Further, the increased responsibility to record and share information means that there can be greater scrutiny by others including those who may be at risk in the event of any fire and provides for a more cohesive and inclusive approach to fire safety.
Finally, the consultation prior to the drafting of the Bill found evidence of variable quality in fire risk assessments and at times a lack of a competence from experts appointed to undertake those assessments. The Bill addresses this by making requiring due diligence on the part of the Responsible Person when considering who to appoint in this critical role.
In terms of enforcement, there is an expansion of the guidance that can be relied upon as evidence of breach of the FSO by a prosecuting agency and increased fines for, amongst other things, failing to comply with any requirements imposed by an inspector.
Overall, the proposed changes represent a strengthening of the FSO as opposed to a departure from the regime currently in place. Perhaps most importantly, reflecting the some of the concerns following the Grenfell fire, the Bill recognises the need to inform residents as to the risks they may face and how those risks are being addressed thus creating greater scrutiny and accountability on the part of those most directly affected.