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Hot Topic Highlight - Fire Safety

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What is today's blog about?

Fire safety is an essential component of a number of RICS APC competencies, including Health & Safety, Fire Safety, Construction Technology & Environmental Services, Design & Specification and Legal/Regulatory Compliance. This blog article will give you an overview of fire safety and what you might need to know for you RICS APC.

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Back to basics - what do fires need to start?

  • Ignition source, e.g. heaters, lighting, naked flame, electrical equipment

  • Fuel source, e.g. wood, waste packaging, furniture

  • Oxygen source, i.e. the air

What legislation covers fire safety in England and Wales?

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 covers general fire safety relating to non-domestic property in England and Wales. Non-domestic includes the common areas of multi-occupied residential buildings.

The Order places emphasis on risk assessment and fire prevention, with a requirement for reasonable steps to be taken to reduce the risk from fire and to ensure that occupants can escape safely if a fire does occur.

Who is the Responsible Person?

The Order allocates responsibility for fire safety to the Responsible Person, who is generally the employer or controller of the premises.

The latter could be the owner, landlord, occupier or anyone else with control of the premises such as a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent or risk assessor.

On a construction site, the Responsible Person is likely to be the main or principal contractor in control of the site.

There can, of course, be more than one Responsible Person, in which case those responsible need to work together to ensure the requirements of the Order are met.

What must the Responsible Person do?

  • Carry out and regularly review a Fire Risk Assessment

  • Communicate the risks to staff and users of the premises

  • Install and maintain appropriate fire safety measures, e.g. fire detection, warning systems and fire fighting equipment

  • Ensure emergency planning, e.g. adequate and unobstructed escape routes

  • Provide staff training, e.g. marshals and drills

What is a Fire Risk Assessment?

This identifies what is needed to prevent fire and to keep people safe in a building. A written record is required if a business employs more than 5 people.

What are the steps in carrying out a Fire Risk Assessment?

  • Identify fire hazards

  • Identify people at risk

  • Evaluate, remove or reduce risks

  • Record findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training

  • Review and regularly update the Assessment

You can read more about making premises safe from fire in the HM Government guidance booklet.

Who enforces the Order?

Local fire and rescue authorities may visit premises to check that the Fire Risk Assessment and fire prevention measures are appropriate and reasonable. If these are found to be insufficient they may issue an informal or formal fire safety notice (e.g. alterations, enforcement or prohibition notice).

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Up to £5,000 for minor breaches. Major breaches carry unlimited fines and up to 2 years in prison.

What other legislation or guidance should I be aware of?

  • Requirements of the CDM Regulations 2015, which imposes a duty to prevent risk from fire

  • Approved Document B (fire safety), which is part of the building regulations relating to fire safety

  • British Standards Codes of Practice 9999 and 9991

  • Launch of a Standards Setting Committee in relation to International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS)

There are also additional requirements for rented residential property and HMOs.

What issues relate to high rise buildings and combustible cladding?

The Hackitt Report, published in May 2018, provided an independent review of building regulations and fire safety following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.

Following this in December 2018, the Government banned the use of combustible materials on all new residential buildings over 18m in height. This was through changes to Approved Documents B and 7 of the building regulations.

The key issue relates to the use of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) in cladding, typically as a form of rain screen.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) also established the Building Safety Programme to ensure the safety of residents living in high-rise residential and hotel buildings over 18m in height. The programme initially focussed on remediation of buildings with cladding that failed safety tests, but it has since been broadened to cover other building safety issues.

The Government has also confirmed plans to fund removal of unsafe cladding systems on social sector high-rise housing in England.

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Stay tuned for our next blog post to help build a better you

N.b. Nothing in this article constitutes legal or financial advice.