The Fire Safety Act – An update
Since the Fire Safety Bill received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021, it has been in limbo, waiting for its provisions to be brought into force. This has now happened, at least in part, with the publication of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (the Regulations) made under article 24 of the Fire Safety Order (the FSO).
The Fire Safety Act (the Act) was introduced to clarify who is responsible for managing and reducing fire risks in different parts of multi-occupied residential buildings, to prevent tragedies like the Grenfell fire occurring again. The legislation brought new fire safety obligations to some leaseholders, building owners and managers for the building structure, external wall, common parts and doors between the domestic premises and common parts.
The Regulations seek to improve fire safety of high-rise residential buildings and implement the majority of the recommendations made by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in its Phase 1 report. The Regulations were published on 18 May 2022.
What changes does the Act bring?
Section 1 of the Act came into force in England and Wales on 16 May 2022. It makes amendments to, and extends the following provisions of, the FSO to the following parts of multi-occupied residential buildings:
- the building's structure, external walls and any common parts. The external walls include doors or windows in those walls, and anything attached to the exterior of those walls, e.g. windows, balconies and cladding.
- all doors between the domestic premises and common parts.
The legislation applies to any building in England containing two or more sets of domestic premises.
Section 3 of the Act also came into force on 16 May 2022. It deals with risk-based guidance for the discharge of duties under the FSO. Under Article 3 of the FSO, the "responsible person" of a premise (either a building or any part of it) is the person who has control of the premises ("the Responsible Person"), which may include building owners, leaseholders or managers.
Section 3 defines 'risk-based guidance' as guidance on how a Responsible Person is to prioritise the discharge of its duties in respect of different premises by reference to risk.
It provides that if a person has contravened a provision of the FSO:
- proof of a failure to comply with risk-based guidance may be relied on to establish that there was such a contravention; and
- proof of compliance with risk-based guidance may be relied on to establish that there was no such contravention.
The Responsible Person needs to review and update the risk assessment processes accordingly. Once the risk assessment processes are published, the Responsible Person should apply the risk-based guidance (under Section 3 of the Act) to comply with their duties in the FSO.
The Government is yet to publish to relevant risk assessment processes themselves.
What changes will the Regulations bring?
It is intended that the Regulations will come into force on 23 January 2023. Regulations 4 to 10 provide some further clarity as to the scope of a Responsible Person's duties, including imposing obligations such as:
- The installation and maintenance of a secure information box to hold plans and information, including: (i) a record of the design of the external walls of the building, including details of the materials from which they are constructed; and (ii) floor plans and building plans identifying locations of lifts and identify if the lift is one for use by firefighters.
- Lifts and essential fire-fighting equipment to be regularly inspected.
- The installation of wayfinding signage.
- The provision of fire safety information and instructions to residents, including how to report a fire; the evacuation strategy; and the display of such instructions in a conspicuous part of any building.
- The undertaking of checks on fire doors.
The above applies to high-rise residential buildings, defined by the FSO as a building containing two or more sets of domestic premises that is at least 18 metres above ground level or has at least seven storeys. For multi-occupied residential buildings over 11 metres in height, the Responsible Person must undertake checks on all communal fire doors and annual checks on flat entrance doors.
The Regulations apply to existing buildings and requirements for new buildings may be different.
The imposition of these obligations on the Responsible Person incorporates the recommendations and lessons learnt from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report, which concluded that the lack of onsite information hampered the London Fire Service's response and that such information can assist in planning for and operational response to a fire.
Anyone undertaking the role of the Responsible Person should ensure they incorporate the new regulatory requirements into their processes in good time before their enactment. They should also continue to watch closely for both the specific risk assessment processes relevant to the FSO and further Regulations as they are introduced. This will include the publication of supporting guidance for the Regulations, which is due to be published later this year.