I will never forget the 14th June 2017 – before heading out to deliver a Diploma course I, like millions of others around the world watched in horror as the fire at Grenfell Tower raged. As the days and weeks went by, we speculated as to the cause and hoped amongst hope that the loss of life would be less than we feared, but tragically 72 lost their lives. Much emphasis was placed on the cause of the fire – but in reality the cause was largely irrelevant, a kitchen fire was a foreseeable, controllable event and what happened after was nothing short of catastrophic.
As the second phase of the public inquiry prepares to restart, the Fire Safety Act has seemingly appeared without so much as a mention in the news. Few even know it exists even though it received Royal Assent back in April (the tutor in me wants to ask “can anyone explain what that means?”, and I hope that those taking Unit A or ND1 courses can give a firm “yes” at that point). For NEBOSH students in England it has yet to come into force but will be enacted by regulations when the Secretary of State sees fit. The Welsh Ministers have been somewhat quicker off the mark and the Fire Safety Act 2021 (Commencement) (Wales) Regulations 2021 came into force on October 1st. As Scotland has separate fire safety legislation this does not apply in the north of the border.
What is the Fire Safety Act 2021 about?
So what is the Fire Safety Act 2021 (FSA)? Well, the Act is perhaps the shortest Act of Parliament I have seen, when printed it covers only 3 pages, but it packs a powerful punch.
So what does the FSA do for us – well if you are living in a “building containing two or more sets of domestic premises” (or “flats” to those of us not writing legislation) this is game changing. The intent of the Act is to start to address many of the recommendations in the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry and to ensure that those living in flats or apartments, no matter how tall the building is, feel safe in their own homes. That for me is both a great improvement but also such a dreadful admission, because clearly at the moment as it stands people do not feel safe.
The FSA amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) and will, when in force, bring buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises into scope. For buildings of this nature the RRFSO will apply to the building’s structure, external walls and common parts. This includes in common parts the separate entrance doors to each flat, doors or windows on external walls and “anything attached to the exterior of those walls” – whilst balconies are mentioned specifically everyone reading this will be thinking “and cladding”.
This means that once in force regardless of ownership of the individual flats, the “responsible person” (the building owner, manager or operator) will need to carry out fire risk assessments and make sure that the building is safe. This will likely include the assessment of the integrity of front doors into individual flats, the windows, external cladding and internal common areas to ensure that the tragedy that unfolded in 2017 can’t occur again. Should responsible persons fail to be responsible, then enforcement can be taken by the Fire and Rescue Service. This could of course require access to individual flats in order to carry out a suitable fire risk assessment but the increased effort should yield greatly reduced risks.
Building Safety Bill and its influence on FSA
So where have these ideas come from? And will people who live in flats now feel safe in their homes? Sadly the Grenfell Tower Phase 1 Report GRENFELL TOWER INQUIRY: PHASE 1 REPORT OVERVIEW provides the answer as to why such changes are necessary, however the full regulatory picture won’t emerge until the Building Safety Bill finishes it’s tortuous parliamentary process and that is currently expected to take several years. The Building Safety Bill New regulator at heart of building safety overhaul – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) is much broader in scope and includes proposals for a new “building Safety Regulator” established by the HSE, ensuring that safety is considered at the design, construction and occupation stages for high rise buildings, providing residents with a mechanism to voice concerns, establishing mechanisms for compensation for sub standard workmanship and driving culture change. Interestingly however, the building safety bill applies only to premises over 18m in height.
Until then, we are still waiting for the FSA to come into force in order to provide the responsible persons with the duty to carry out fire risk assessments and to provide the regulators with the stick to beat them with should they fail to do so – the author hopes that truly “responsible persons” will have taken the decision to get to work already.
RRC Lead Tutor