The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) provides a framework for regulating, in England and Wales, fire safety in all non-domestic premises including workplaces but also the common parts of multi-occupied residential buildings.
In the case of residential buildings, the “Responsible Person” on who the duties under the FSO fall will be the person (usually an organisation rather than an individual) who has control of the premises in connection with carrying on a business. This will typically be the freeholder or the managing agents, or, for example, a residents’ management company.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry identified some misunderstanding in how the FSO applied to residential buildings, including which part of the buildings it applied to. The Inquiry also made a number of recommendations about additional fire safety duties that should exist.
The Fire Safety Act 2021 has already clarified that the FSO applies to 1) the external walls of the building, including cladding and balconies and 2) individual flat entrance doors between domestic premises and the common parts of a multi-occupied residential building.
The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (FSR), announced on 18 May 2022 and coming into force on 23 January 2023, take things further and extend the obligations on Responsible Persons under the FSO. The Government published guidance to assist Responsible Persons to comply with these duties on 6 December 2022 (available here - Check your fire safety responsibilities under the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 - GOV.UK) (the Guidance).
The new duties apply to any building which contains two or more sets of domestic premises and contains common parts through which residents would need to evacuate in the case of an emergency. Whilst the FSO does not apply within individual flats, the FSR does make Responsible Persons responsible for fire safety systems installed within individual flats if they are connected to communal systems (sprinklers, smoke detectors connected to a communal fire alarm system, etc.).
From 23 January 2023, in all residential buildings of any height with at least two sets of domestic premises, Responsible Persons must:
- Provide fire safety information and instructions to residents in a conspicuous part of the building, including the evacuation strategy for the building, how to report a fire and other guidance setting out courses of actions once a fire has occurred. These should be re-issued to all tenants annually and provided to new tenants as soon as reasonably practicable.
- Provide fire door information to residents to the effect that fire doors should be shut when not in use, residents or their guests should not tamper with self-closing devices on fire doors and residents should report any fault with, or damage to, fire doors immediately to the Responsible Person.
In residential buildings over 11 metres in height, Responsible Persons must (in addition to the above):
- Undertake annual inspections of flat entrance doors (and keep records of such checks)
- Undertake quarterly checks of fire doors in common parts.
The Guidance confirms that these checks should include checking doors are self-closing correctly and not damaged, with defects being rectified as soon as possible. The Guidance also confirms that the checks do not have to be completed by specialists.
For high-rise buildings (those above 18 metres or 7 storeys), Responsible Persons must (in addition to the above):
- Provide electronic floor plans to Fire and Rescue Services identifying all lifts, key fire-fighting equipment (rising mains, smoke control systems, fire suppression systems etc.), and to keep a secure information box on site which contains a hard copy of those plans alongside a building plan which identifies firefighting equipment. The box must also contain the name and contact information of the Responsible Person.
- Provide information about the design, materials and any known defects of external walls systems to Fire and Rescue Services, and to inform them of material changes to external walls.
- Undertake (and keep records of) monthly checks on lifts intended to be used by firefighters, on evacuation lifts, and on functionality of other key pieces of firefighting equipment. Defects must be reported to Fire and Rescue Services if the defect cannot be remedied within 24 hours. Information on defects and repair outcomes must be made available to residents.
- Install wayfinding signage visible in low light or smoky conditions which identifies flat and floor numbers in stairwells of relevant buildings.
The Guidance confirms that point two above (information about external wall systems) may need the input of specialists. It states
“Other than in blocks of flats with external walls of traditional masonry construction, unless the above information is readily available and known to be reasonably accurate, determining the information required by the Fire Safety (England) Regulations will normally require special skills, not normally held by a typical fire risk assessor engaged to carry out the fire risk assessment required by the Fire Safety Order. Where necessary, you must seek the advice and assistance of someone with sufficient training and experience/knowledge. You will, however, remain responsible for compliance with the Regulations.
In the case of external wall construction that is known to be of traditional masonry construction, it might be reasonable to assume that the risk of external fire spread is acceptable without further investigation, in which case this should be recorded within the record provided to the fire and rescue service. However, even in the case of low- risk, traditional masonry construction, if there are attachments (such as balconies or decorative cladding) that, because of their combustibility, might result in rapid external fire spread, further appraisal by a specialist is likely to be necessary”.
Breaching the above requirements is a criminal offence that can lead to enforcement action by the fire and rescue service, including prosecution (against organisations and / or individuals) with unlimited fines and possible imprisonment, notices requiring Responsible Persons to take action to address breaches, and / or notices prohibiting or restricting use of premises (which could require tenants to be relocated until breaches are remedied).
There are no transitional provisions within the FSR, meaning these additional duties will apply to all Responsible Persons and all relevant buildings from 23 January 2023. Responsible Persons therefore need to act now to ensure they are compliant by this date.
If you need support in understanding or complying with your duties in relation to fire safety, please contact Louise Mansfield.