UK government unveils raft of fire safety proposals

Out-Law News | 01 Jun 2022 | 8:59 am | 3 min. read

The UK government has published new proposals designed to improve fire safety in residential buildings in England, at the same time as the Fire Safety Act 2021 comes into force.

It has introduced a Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool, designed to help responsible persons prioritise the review of fire risk assessments required under the new legislation.

The act clarifies the scope of the Fire Safety Order to make clear it applies to the structure, external walls and individual flat entrance doors between domestic premises and the common parts of a multi-occupied residential building, and responsible persons now need to make sure their fire risk assessments are up to date.

Health and safety expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons said use of the tool was not mandatory.

“The Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool is backed up by Article 50 guidance, which has a special legal status. If you use the tool, you will be well placed to demonstrate compliance with fire safety law,” Metcalfe said.

“However, it remains possible to demonstrate compliance with the law in other ways. It is important to be aware that the tool gathers data for use by the Home Office, who may contact the responsible person for buildings falling into higher risk categories, to make sure that risks are being mitigated in the short and longer term,” Metcalfe said.

The government also responded to its consultation held last year on personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPS) for vulnerable residents in residential buildings. The PEEPS consultation was designed to work out how the government should implement recommendations in the phase 1 report of the inquiry into the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, which suggested that the owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should prepare PEEPS for vulnerable residents.

In its response (62 page / 498KB PDF), the government concluded that its original proposals for PEEPS were not proportionate, practical or safe. Instead, the PEEPs proposals will be replaced by new proposals for Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing (EEIS+), and a consultation is open until 10 August 2022.

For buildings with a ‘stay put’ strategy, no new measures will be required.

For buildings with a simultaneous evacuation strategy, the proposals include a requirement for vulnerable residents to self-identity with the responsible person. The responsible person will need to offer a person-centred fire risk assessment to those self-identifying, and connect them with a home fire safety visit from the local fire and rescue service.

Details of mobility impaired residents will be shared with the local fire and rescue service and in the premises information box.

Guidance will be published to help responsible persons judge what measures it is practical to put in place to support the person-centred fire risk assessment.

“The new consultation on EEIS proposes a much more pragmatic and proportional set of arrangements that the previous PEEP proposals. It will be welcome news for many building owners to see the government acknowledge the financial, practical and safety concerns about PEEPs in a residential setting,” Metcalfe said.

The government also published the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, which will come into force on 23 January 2023 and implement many of the Grenfell phase 1 recommendations.

Under the regulations, responsible persons for high-rise residential buildings will be required to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date electronic building floor plans and to place a hard copy of these plans in a secure information box on site.

Local fire services will also be provided with up-to-date information about the design and materials of a high-rise building’s external wall system, and the level of risk that the design and materials of the external wall structure gives rise to.

Responsible persons will also have to carry out monthly checks on the operation of lifts intended for use by firefighters, evacuation lifts, and the functionality of other key pieces of firefighting equipment, with regular checks on fire doors and flat entrance doors also required for buildings of more than 11 storeys.

The regulations introduce requirements to install wayfinding signage visible in low light or smoke, and provide fire safety instructions and fire door information to residents of multi-occupied buildings.

Meanwhile the government released a white paper on reforming the fire and rescue services (46 page / 905KB PDF), with the consultation open until 26 July 2022. The aim is to give fire services the tools they need to do their jobs better, and potentially give chief fire officers operational independence.