On 1 October 2006 important changes to the fire safety regime in England and Wales came into force. Some key aspects of the law relating to fire safety in non-domestic premises are changed.
A fundamental element of the changes is that fire certificates are no longer valid. The previous fire safety regime found in the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 is repealed.
The new regime is to be found in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the Order), which consolidates fire safety legislation.
The Order is primarily relevant to non-domestic premises. Its coverage is broader than the old 1971 Act. It applies not only to buildings but also external areas such as car parks and it applies to vacant buildings. Whilst it does not apply to most domestic premises, the Order does apply to the common areas of residential property, residential care premises and sleeping accommodation in hotels, holiday letting premises, hostels and student halls of residence.
Under the new regime there are a number of fire safety duties imposed on the "responsible person". A key player under the new regime is the employer (where there is one) who is responsible to the extent that the workplace is under his control. If there is no employer, the responsible person will be the person in "control" of the premises for the purpose of a trade, business or other undertaking (for profit or not).
"Control" can arise where the person (for example, a tenant or even a managing agent or maintenance contractor) has an obligation (say, under a lease or other agreement) in relation to the maintenance, repair or safety of the premises. Where premises are vacant, the owner (who can include a tenant or mortgagee in possession) will be the responsible person.
Multi-let buildings are likely to have more than one responsible person, the tenants for the let premises and the landlord for the common parts. There may be some overlap of responsibility and the Order requires responsible persons to co-operate and co-ordinate their measures to comply with the Order.
The Order has been inspired by many of the concepts and approaches of the old Workplace Regulations particularly in their requirement for the carrying out of risk assessments.
A large number of fire safety duties are imposed by the Order. Perhaps the most significant is the duty to carry out a fire safety risk assessment. The responsible person must make a "suitable and sufficient" assessment of the risks from fire, to which people at the premises are exposed. The assessment must be reviewed regularly to keep it up to date. The responsible person will usually have to keep a written record of the significant findings of the assessment, the people at risk and the measures to be taken.
Landlords should ensure that their tenants have an obligation in their leases to provide a copy of any risk assessment and updates to them. The enforcing authority (the local fire authority) can require the records of the assessment to be presented to it. The risk assessment in effect replaces the fire certificate which was not produced by the responsible person but by the enforcing authority. The risk assessment is specific not only to the particular premises but also to the occupier.
The Order imposes a number of other fire safety duties including:
- taking general fire precautions;
- putting in place appropriate fire safety arrangements;
- keeping clear and providing certain signage and lighting to emergency routes and exits;
- maintaining facilities and equipment required by the Order;
- establishing emergency procedures;
- appointing competent persons to discharge fire safety duties; and
- ensuring the premises are equipped with appropriate fire fighting and detection equipment.
A time critical point to note is that there is a specific and tight timetable for compliance in relation to duties to notify the fire and rescue authority in connection with cut-off switches for luminous tube signs. There are duties in relation to providing information and training. There are also particular requirements in respect of dangerous substances or where young people are employed.
The fire authority remains the enforcing authority and can serve various notices such as alterations, enforcement or prohibition notices to enforce the legislation. Rather than the enforcing authority prescribing specific fire precautions, it is now required to ensure that the fire safety measures provided by the responsible person are adequate.
Failure to comply with the Order can lead to fines and imprisonment.
Consideration should be given as to the effect of the new legislation on any premises in which you have an interest. Have you carried out an up to date risk assessment? Is a notification to the fire and rescue authority required? Is there anything more that needs to be done?
If you are altering your existing building or building a new one, you are required under Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations to provide Building Control with your fire safety information prior to the Council issuing a completion certificate.