Back in January of this year, the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 came into force following an inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017. These regulations set out a number of requirements for the improved safety of high-rise building occupants.
While representing a significant step forward, the regulations have since been reviewed with significant revisions set to be introduced on the 1st of October 2023. This has particular implications for responsible person(s), including landlords, building owners and property managers who have control over the communal parts of buildings.
Read on as we highlight the changes to the Building Safety Act (specifically section 156), setting out the duties of such responsible person(s) and highlighting the requirements that should be met in carrying out a fire risk assessment.
Changes to the Building Safety Act
As confirmed by Building and Fire Safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh, the introduction of the Building Safety Act marked the “biggest improvements to building safety in a generation”. It became mandatory for the responsible person(s) – who may also come under the category of duty holders – to perform specific actions for optimum building safety.
Although the new legislation was introduced with high-rise buildings as the focus, some of the provisions applied more generally to buildings of different heights. This included the sharing of information, with the responsible person expected to provide fire safety instructions to their residents, together with information about the importance and proper use of fire doors.
While such duties remain in the latest update, the range of affected premises has been extended to include small shops, takeaways, holiday lets, and small blocks of flats. The owners of such premises should be aware of and account for these updates:
- The need to record a a fire risk assessment and fire safety arrangements in full – no matter the number of employees, and size or type of business
- Further expectations in terms of cooperation and coordination between responsible persons in multi-occupied buildings or those where the occupier and owner are not the same person
- A requirement to provide residents of buildings where there are two or more domestic premises with details of identified fire risks and implemented safety measures.
Phase 3 of the Home Office’s fire safety reform programme will make it easier for enforcement authorities to act in the event of non-compliance. It will also be necessary to comply with the terms set out as part of the recently introduced Responsible Actors Scheme.
What does Section 156 say?
Section 156 of the Building Safety Act applies to all non-domestic premises, including workplaces and the non-domestic parts of multi-occupied residential buildings (e.g. communal corridors, stairways, plant rooms).
This new legislation set out the various duties of responsible persons, including the need to:
- Complete a fire risk assessment in full (where previously it was only necessary to record specific information)
- Record the name of the individual and/or organisation who instructed the undertaking/review of any or all of the fire risk assessment
- Record the fire safety arrangements (demonstrating how fire safety is managed on the premises)
- Investigate, identify and make contact with other responsible and accountable persons who also have duties in the same premises
- Share all relevant fire safety information in the event of having to transfer responsibility to another party
- Provide the residents of any building containing two or more sets of domestic premises with relevant and understandable fire safety information
Section 156 also highlights the potential for incurring higher fines in relation to some offences, with the status of statutory guidance issued under Article 50 of the Fire Safety Order being strengthened.
What is a responsible person (RP)?
The characteristics of a responsible person will vary depending on the property. However, they will have responsibility for the safety of all building users. In the case of a residential building, this is likely to be the owner, although only in relation to the non-domestic parts, such as the freeholder or landlord.
There might also be a separate duty holder who has some control of the premises and must meet certain responsibilities as set out within the Fire Safety Order. The title of duty holder may refer to a managing agent, fire risk assessor or fire alarm engineer.
It’s possible that there will be more than one responsible person and/or duty holder for shared premises. In this instance, the different parties will be expected to work together, share information, and ensure that the requirements of the Fire Safety Order are met. The government guidelines should be referred to if there’s any doubt over the identity and/or responsibilities that such parties should fulfil.
The responsible person might also employ another individual to carry out the fire risk assessment on their behalf. The legislation makes it clear that the hired individual must be competent, in terms of having sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities. The responsible person will also maintain the duty of having to ensure that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment is completed.
If there are multiple responsible persons then each party should share their names, as well as the names of any parties acting on their behalf, and UK-based addresses for the receipt of notices or other documentation.
It will also be necessary to disclose the extent of responsibilities under the Fire Safety Order, with a record being taken.
What is a fire risk assessment?
A fire risk assessment should indicate the chance of a fire occurring in a particular building. This will involve a thorough assessment of the factors which could possibly cause the fire. Precautions should also be set out with the aim of ensuring the least amount of risk to the building users.
These steps should be taken as part of the fire risk assessment:
- Identifying any fire hazards, including any sources of ignition, fuel and any work processes which increase the risk
- Identifying those who will be in danger while occupying the building in the event of attempted escape
- Evaluating the level of risk associated with each hazard and identifying necessary measures in line with risk levels based on the hierarchy of risk control
- Recording the findings and corrective actions taken, with such details being shared and accessible to all building users. This might be in the form of a standard fire safety notice or a separate plan of information for the building
- Regularly reviewing and updating the risk assessment following relevant changes made within the building
A fire action plan should also be produced, with advice on fire safety arrangements such as the timescales for any corrective actions for the residents’ welfare.
Building tenants should be supplied with relevant fire safety information, including:
- The risks identified by the risk assessment
- The preventive and protective measures in place
- The name of the responsible person and a UK address where they, or their representative, can accept notices and documents
- The identity of any person appointed to assist with the risk assessment
- The identity of any competent persons nominated by the responsible person
- Any risks informed to the responsible person
- Any other matters specified in regulations made by the relevant authority.
Who can carry out a fire risk assessment?
A fire risk assessment should be carried out by a person with the required level of competence. If you don’t have any direct contacts who meet such criteria then you should be prepared to arrange the services of a suitably qualified fire risk assessor, such as those listed in the Institution of Fire Engineers register.
Your chosen fire risk assessor will ideally:
- Have experience of carrying out fire risk assessments in buildings/premises similar to yours
- Be able to provide references from previous clients in premises of your type
- Agree the scope of fire assessment work in advance
- Have sufficient insurances in place.
A “golden thread” for compliance and safety
With the upcoming changes to the Building Safety Act, and a more stringent set of requirements circulating around the need to capture precise, consistent property data, it’s never been more important to create a “golden thread” of information.
The recently enacted legislation mandates that building data must be kept digitally and securely, with a requirement for accessibility to individuals, such as fire services or maintenance personnel, whenever they require it.
Additionally, this information must be presented in a user-friendly format and regarded as the definitive source of truth for a building.
The integration of cutting-edge technology can companies and individuals in the property sector achieve exactly that, giving responsible persons the ability to conduct quicker and more precise safety risk assessments, establish more robust communication channels, and establish standardised data practices – all of which are absolutely fundamental under the new legislation.
Property Inspect is ready to help you efficiently collect the required information, making it easy to capture, store, and access data from anywhere, at any time. If you want to see how Property Inspect can empower your business with lighting-fast inspections and secure audit trails, get in touch with us today.
We’re ready to answer your questions and help you achieve the best possible safety standards with our inspection and reporting software.