In 2005, the British Government decided to renovate and unify the existing Fire Safety legislation, which at the time was comprised of nearly 80 separate Acts. Through doing so, the Regulatory Reform Order was born, which became law in England and Wales the following year. It covers the ‘general fire precautions’ and fire safety duties needed to protect ‘Relevant Persons’ in cause of fire within and around ‘most premises’.
The most innovative aspect of the new legislation was the inclusion of risk assessments as a means to comply, as opposed to the sole use of prescriptive codes. The Fire Safety Order outlines the risk assessment regime, stating that the “responsible person” (i.e. the employer or owner of the building) must take ownership for the safety of the employees or occupants of their premises. This includes taking precautions to prevent a fire taking place, and then putting safeguards in place to ensure that people are protected should a fire occur.
The building fire risk assessment concentrates on the following areas:
- Elimination or reduction of risks i.e. ignition sources
- Suitable means of detecting and raising the alarm in the event of fire
- Adequate emergency escape routes
- Adequate fire compartmentalisation i.e. protected escape routes with the use of fire curtains
- Appropriate and sufficient quantities of fire extinguishers
- Correct and sufficient quantities of fire notices
- Sufficient maintenance of installed fire equipment such as fire curtains
- Provisions for the protection of Fire Brigade personnel
- To guarantee that occupants/ employees are informed about fire regulations and procedures
The Order found that “Responsible Persons” were often failing to sufficiently compartmentalise their premises, which as of 2005, is considered a grossly negligent act. Fire Curtains are thereby advised as a way to ensure emergency escape routes were adequately protected from the risk of fire intrusion. In order to comply with new legislation, “Responsible Persons” must also ensure that these pieces of vital fire equipment were adequately and regularly checked and maintained.
Any other breach of this legislation caused by negligence, failure or deliberate misrepresentation on the part of the contractor is considered an offence and will be dealt with by the relevant authorities. After an inspection, Fire Authorities may order additional fire precautions to be put in place and possible even issue a prohibition notice to prevent the use of building that they have perceived as particularly dangerous.
All Enforcement and Prohibition Notices are published on a publicly accessible register for 3 years after the date of compliance. In addition to this, Crown Courts can officially impose unlimited fines on any company breaching the requirements outlined in the Fire Safety Order 2005. Since then, several landlords and business owners have been taken to court for breeching the Fire Safety Order, which has resulted in some persistent offenders being sentenced to prison.
The priority of the “Responsible Person” must be to ensure the safety of all “Relevant Persons” in case of fire, in particular those at special risk, such as the disabled or elderly. Therefore, measures should be taken to ensure these persons could escape the premises through a protected and easily-accessible route.
The “Responsible Person” must provide the “Relevant Persons” under his or her protection with clear and appropriate information on:
- The risks identified in the risk assessment
- The preventive and protective measures in place i.e. ignition sources and safety/ fire curtains
- The procedure they should follow in the event of a fire
- The identity of those placed in charge to implement these preventative and protective measures
As outlined in this fire safety legislation, the “Responsible Person” must also ensure that employees are provided with adequate safety training.
Overall, the 2005 Regulatory Reform Order revolutionised fire safety legislation within the UK, ensuring for the first time that businesses were attempting to prevent fires effectively and protect all people should a fire occur.