The Changes Coming to Fire and Building Safety
A new Fire Safety Bill has passed its first reading on 19 March 2020, in the House of Commons, with the aim of improving fire safety in multi-occupancy residential properties in England and Wales. In the last year, purpose-built flats accounted for 27% of the 28,655 primary dwelling fires attended by the Fire and Rescue Service.
Of the fires attended, 802 were in purpose-built high-rise flats and six resulted in a fatality, an increase on the previous year. The Home Office said the Fire Safety Bill will build on previously implemented actions so that people are safe in their homes, fire risk is reduced and a tragedy like Grenfell Tower will never occur again.
Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, Roy Wilsher said:
“I am very pleased to see the announcement of the new Fire Safety Bill. We have been calling for additional powers since 2017 and these changes should contribute to the public feeling safer in their homes.
“We look forward to seeing additional supportive measures to assist fire and rescue services, identify different types of cladding and take appropriate measures.”
What Will the Fire Safety Bill Change?
The Bill will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO). Alongside prioritising resident’s personal safety, it will give the Fire and Rescue Service the ability to hold building owners and managers of multi-occupied residential buildings accountable, to make sure their premises are safety compliant.
It currently has no set publishing date, but it is likely to be known as the Fire Safety Act 2020, when it becomes official legislation. The intention is to reassure residents that the government is fully committed to improving fire safety.
The Bill will specify the duty-holder or responsible persons’ role in multi-occupied residential properties, reducing the risk of fire in:
- The structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows.
- Entrance doors to individual flats that open in common parts.
The Call for Evidence
The Home Office is also publishing responses to a call for evidence on the FSO, which was to identify necessary legislative changes and how they could be implemented.
It identified a need for better clarity; however, it was still regarded as suitable legislation for regulating fire safety and protecting lives.
An additional call for evidence will be published on risk assessments in existing buildings, in the hopes of improving and informing future regulations for existing and new buildings.
What Does it Mean for Building Owners and Managers?
The Bill will also allow the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), as a result of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations, to introduce secondary legislation modifying the list of qualifying premises under the FSO.
Any subsequent secondary legislation introduced by the Secretary of State of MHCLG, will be contained within the FSO. By leaving scope for secondary legislation, the government will be able to respond better and faster to any developments in the design and construction of buildings.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry report advised building owners and managers of high-rise; multi-occupied residential buildings be accountable for:
- The reviewal and updating of evacuation plan procedures in a fire, including personal evacuation plans for any residents who require it.
- Lift inspections and monthly reports of the conclusions to local Fire and Rescue Service.
- Supplying residents will clear, easily understandable fire safety instructions.
- The inspection of all fire doors, individual flat entrance doors and external walls of the building to ensure compliance with current standards.
Despite there being no publishing date yet, building owners and managers should be preparing now for the changes set to come. It will likely affect resources and processes in the industry, applying to all multi-occupied buildings.
The Bill will have an impact on the regular fire risk assessment as well as increase the number and depth of external safety checks, to include windows. It has yet to be determined what parts of the windows the legislation will refer to.
Building owners and managers must be alert to how the possibility of secondary legislation and other recommendations from the Grenfell Inquiry report, could influence compliance procedures in the future.
The government will also have to consider the added pressure on fire safety experts to investigate buildings, enforce the legislation where unsafe ACM cladding has not been remediated, and ensure compliance.
What Else Has Been Announced?
The government has also announced a few other measures, that it will be taking, to further improve building and fire safety. This includes a new Building Safety Regulator, the introduction of a Building Safety Bill, a £1 billion Building Safety Fund specifically for unsafe cladding systems, as well as the relaunch of the Fire Kills campaign.
The government is in the process of reviewing the current combustible cladding ban height threshold and the sprinkler height threshold in new buildings. As well as, looking to amend and improve the remediation timescale for ACM-clad buildings in the private sector.
The Building Safety Regulator
The new Building Safety Regulator will be established by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in England, to improve building safety and performance standards. It will apply particularly in high-risk buildings who require a stringent safety regime. Dame Judith Hackitt, who chaired the Grenfell Tower report, will oversee the process.
Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, Martin Temple said:
“We are proud the government has asked HSE to establish the new Building Safety Regulator.
“HSE’s vast experience of working in partnership with industry and others to improve lives will ensure people are confident the creation of the new regulator is in good hands.”
The Building Safety Bill
The Building Safety Bill, although with no publishing date, will give the HSE power to better examine the construction of high-rise residential buildings including materials and workmanship. The Bill will aim to strengthen the building safety regulatory system, currently inept in the case of complex buildings. Residents will be able to voice their concerns; feel they are heard and make them safer in their homes.
Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) said:
“I was pleased to see the vitally important area of building safety referenced in the Queen’s Speech… It is essential this work happens at pace to ensure people feel safe in their homes, while dealing with the broken building regulations system. This simply cannot be allowed to continue; I will be pushing for this to happen.”
The Building Safety Fund
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has announced a new £1billion Building Safety Fund, to remove unsafe combustible cladding from high-rise residential buildings, over 18 metres in the private and social sector. The new fund, an increase on the original £600m pledged, is expected to remove the financial burden on leaseholders and make homes feel more secure.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, on the fund, said:
“Two-and-a-half years on, we’re still grappling with the tragic legacy of Grenfell. Last year, we allocated £600 million to removed unsafe aluminium composite material [or ACM] from high-rise residential buildings.
“Expert advice is clear that new public funding must concentrate on removing unsafe materials from high-rise residential buildings…That is what the independent experts have called for. This is what the select committee has called for. That is even what the opposition has called for”.
There has also been an additional £20million of funding for the fire services, to assist in the vital inspections and enforcement work.
The Fire Kills Campaign
As of February 2020, the Fire Kills campaign has been relaunched to demonstrate the importance of staying vigilant to the dangers of fire at home. The government felt it necessary to re-educate the public and reduce the number of fire-related fatalities, 215 people lost their lives in the year-end June 2019. The campaign is partnered with other UK organisations; Dementia UK and B&Q. It will provide statistics, information and advice on home fire safety.
Susan Drayton, Clinical Lead of the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline at Dementia UK:
“We are pleased to be a part of this campaign which will help to raise awareness of fire risks to some of the most vulnerable people in society. In cases where people have been diagnosed with dementia, loss of memory could cause food to be left on the stove for too long, for example. Sensory and spatial awareness may change too leaving people with the dementia unaware of fire hazards, or not realising that a fire has started in the first place.
“Whilst installing a smoke alarm can help to mitigate against these risks, people and families with dementia can also contact their local fire service who can provide a free home fire safety visit to identify any hazards.”
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