A Step Change for Fire Safety

06 Sep 2021

By Jonathan Coyne

fire extinguisher service and inspection

Four years after the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the Fire Safety Act 2021 has been written into legislation. This, and the upcoming Building Safety Bill, focus on the long-term accountability of developers and property owners, which will markedly change the way we design, build and manage property in the long term.

The Fire Safety Act (FSA) requires property owners to appoint a formal “Responsible Person or Duty Holder” who is legally accountable for managing and reducing a buildings fire risk. Among other things, the RPs remit includes:

  • ensuring the adequacy of the building structure, including the external walls, cladding, balconies, windows, doors and other common parts
  • keeping a fire risk assessment, an evacuation plan, and disseminating fire safety instructions to residents

Similarly, the Building Safety Bill (BSB), which is currently working its way through Parliament, will introduce a new lifetime duty holder regime. This includes legislating that Responsible Persons take reasonable steps to preserve and share relevant historical fire safety information. All new fire and structural safety building information will be held digitally; this golden thread will ensure reliable records are available throughout the building’s life.  

In addition, the Bill will establish mandatory industry competence requirements. This overarching framework will provide a set of core principles that cover leading and managing safety, communicating safety, delivering safety, risk management, regulations & processes, building systems, ethics, and fire/life safety.

These new legislations will combine with existing regulations to create a new gateway regime, which can broadly be set out as:

Gateway 1 Prior to planning permission a ‘Fire Statement’ needs to be submitted and consulted on by the Regulator (the Health and Safety Executive) and the Fire and Rescue Authority.

Gateway 2 Construction can only start when The Regulator is satisfied the design meets the functional requirements of the Building Regulations.

Gateway 3 the completed building is assessed by the Building Control body and a completion certificate issued. At this stage, the Client, the Principal Designer and the Principal Contractor will also be required to co-sign a final declaration confirming that to the best of their knowledge the building complies with the Building Regulations.  

The implications of these new legislations for investors, developers and building owners are:

  • There will be a skills shortage in the short term.
  • There may be programme delays until the new approval system is fully operational and everyone is familiar with how it works.
  • Gateway 3 introduces new liabilities. It’s important to understand what they are and how you can mitigate them.
  • There could be additional cost in achieving – and maintaining - compliance under the new regime.

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