UK government commits to enhancing fire safety in all regulated buildings

Out-Law News | 22 Mar 2021 | 4:20 pm | 2 min. read

The UK government has pledged to strengthen fire safety in all regulated buildings in England, both residential and commercial, in its response to last year’s fire safety consultation.

The government said it would make a number of changes (74 page / 576KB PDF) to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO), including improving compliance in all regulated premises. It added that it would implement recommendations from phase 1 of the inquiry into the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, and improve the effectiveness of consultation between building control bodies and fire and rescue authorities on planning for building work and the arrangements for the handover of fire safety information.

Changes will be brought into effect through the Building Safety Bill and building regulations fire safety guidance.

Health and safety expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “The government’s proposals to reform the RRO are a clear signal of intent that fire safety should be enhanced across the built environment, not just within residential buildings. The duties of the responsible person for all buildings will become significantly more onerous once these proposals become law.”

Under the proposed changes, fire risk assessments will be strengthened with a new requirement for any person engaged by the responsible person (RP) to undertake any part of the assessment to be competent. There will also be a requirement for all RPs to record their completed fire risk assessments, and for the identification of RPs to be recorded.

The government said it would increase penalties for failure to comply with the regulations.

Metcalfe said the focus on the competence of fire risk assessors was strongly aligned with the recommendations of the 2018 review by Dame Judith Hackitt on building regulations, and built on the work of the Competency Steering Group leading towards the publication of principles of building safety competence by the British Standards Institution earlier this year.

At the same time the Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group, a group of social landlords set up by government in 2019, has released a best practice guide (28 page / 1.2MB PDF) on resident engagement on fire safety.

The report explores the practical implementation of effective resident engagement, which is a key focus of the new building safety regime. Although the focus is the social sector, the guide could also be applied to the private sector.

The report made four recommendations for government and housing providers, including enhanced penalties for tenants who fail to allow access to their homes or share information which could affect building safety.

Other recommendations included a consistent approach to fire safety messages and the use of evacuation alert systems in high-rise or high-risk residential blocks.

Separately, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) have agreed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which sets out the expectations and parameters for the sharing of information between the two bodies. It establishes principles of collaborative working between the CQC, the NFCC and UK Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) to support and improve fire protection and prevention, and promote patient and public safety for those in receipt of health and social care services.

The bodies agreed to share information about fires and other incidents at locations falling under CQC regulation.

Health and safety expert Sean Elson of Pinsent Masons said: “At a time of significant change in relation to fire safety in England and Wales this announcement highlights particular issues for the health and social care sector where there are groups of people who are particularly vulnerable."

“The government proposals relating to the reform of the RRO are very important for health and social care providers. The MOU is a reminder that the legislation and the regulators have teeth and will enforce in serious cases – providers should start to plan for these changes now,” Elson said.