Jane Embury looks at proposed fire safety legislation
Flouting fire safety regulations could soon become a whole lot more expensive.
Building owners could face unlimited fines following a Home Office announcement. They’ve just published a number of new measures aimed at strengthening fire safety.
The new measures were announced as part of the government’s response to the Fire Safety Consultation.
They will come into force as part of legislation in the Building Safety Bill.
The final Act, if approved, will amend the Fire Safety Order. It will include a requirement for fire risk assessments to be recorded for each regulated building.
It will also improve how fire safety information is handled over the lifetime of a building.
The government has said the new measures will improve the quality of fire risk assessments and the competence of those completing them.
The issue of competence is one that we have come across regularly with, for example, improperly-fitted advanced glazing systems.
Not only were they badly-fitted, building inspectors did not pick up on it. This is already an industry concern, and we’ve welcomed proposals for better fire safety training.
The Building Safety Bill will also ensure that fire safety information is preserved over the lifespan of every regulated building. At present, that paper trail can be confused, fragmentary or entirely missing.
Adding to better recorded information, there will be improved cooperation and coordination among those responsible for fire safety. If something goes wrong, it will be easier to identify those at fault.
There will also be better enforcement action, with anyone obstructing a fire inspector facing an unlimited fine.
That will go hand in hand with strengthened guidance under the Fire Safety Order. A failure to follow it may be considered evidence of a breach of compliance.
There will also be better engagement between Building Control Bodies and Fire Authorities in reviewing plans for building work.
The fire safety consultation took place last year, and received feedback from over 250 relevant stakeholders.
The government is also now planning a further consultation on personal emergency evacuation plans this spring.
This is to seek additional views on implementing specific recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
Again, it is an issue which we have written about before, because evacuating a complex building can often take a lot longer than anticipated.
It’s why, for example, we have drawn attention to fire safety specifications on advanced glazing systems being downgraded from 60 minutes to 30 minutes of fire protection. Perfectly legal, but a cost measure that could cost more than just money.
We all want to see the strictest fire safety measures built into every tall or complex building, with a clear paper trail to ensure compliance or ascertain blame.
In many ways, the Fire Safety Bill should have been enshrined in law long before now. However, we’re glad that it soon will be.