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Fire Safety Act
On 29 April 2021 the Fire Safety Act received Royal Assent after a protracted passage through Parliament. For those working in the built environment, the Act brings greater fire safety responsibilities, Hannah Eales of Kingsley Napley explains;
The Act makes provision for the application of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (“the Order”) to the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors in buildings which contain two or more domestic premises. The Act also introduces risk based guidance and provides a power to change premises to which the Order applies.
The Order imposes responsibilities on the ‘Responsible Person’ and those working in the built environment need to be aware of these as failure to comply with the requirements of the Order can have serious consequences. The issue of where responsibility lies when it comes to construction or refurbishment has been the focus of the Inquiry into the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.
In the construction industry, for new buildings or those undergoing refurbishment, the responsible person will usually be the main or principal contractor in control of the site. However, any duty imposed on the responsible person is also imposed on every person who has control of those premises. It is important to note that there can be more than one responsible person.
The responsible person(s) must take ‘general fire precautions’ to ensure the safety of employees and relevant persons, including any person lawfully on the site or in the immediate vicinity at risk from a fire on the site. The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions to take. The risk assessment needs to be specific to the site in question, e.g. construction of timber framed buildings may require different measures to meet the risk.
Be aware that it’s a criminal offence to fail to comply with the Order, leading to risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, with a penalty carrying up to 2 years imprisonment. Enforcement of fire safety in the construction industry can be a complex issue and the HSE, Fire and Rescue Service and local authority have different enforcement powers in respect of fire safety in construction. If you are unsure of what these are and how they relate to you – contact Hannah.
The Draft Building Safety Bill
This bill is currently making its way through Parliament. It takes forward policies from ‘Building a Safer Future’, which detailed how the Government intends to deliver the recommendations of the Hackitt review. The bill looks to ensure greater accountability for fire and structural safety issues throughout the lifecycle of a building, including establishing a Building Safety Regulator to oversee the stricter regime for higher risk buildings and a more responsible industry from design phase through to construction.
Through dutyholders, the bill proposes more accountability and statutory responsibilities for managing risk. The design and construction dutyholders in the bill are borrowed from the CDM: the client; principal designer; principal contractor; designer and contractor and may be fulfilled by an individual, organisation or legal entity. A dutyholder can hold more than one role in a building project. A key proposal in the bill is the ‘golden thread of information’ with dutyholders being required to share information with the next dutyholder and the Regulator as the building’s lifecycle goes on.
The bill provides for a ‘Gateway’ regime to ensure building safety risks are considered at each stage of a building’s design and construction.
Impact of the bill
The new Regulator will have powers to prosecute offences in the bill as well as issue compliance and stop notices in respect of construction. Failure to comply with such notices will be a criminal offence with a penalty of up to two years in prison.
The bill does not negate the role of the responsible person under the Order. Those involved in construction and the built environment, particularly principal contractors, directors and managers, should ensure they understand their responsibilities. The Building Safety bill will likely receive Royal Assent later this year so construction firms are urged to prepare for the new regime and ensure they understand the requirements placed upon them.
Don’t get caught out! If you have any questions about the Fire Safety Act or the Draft Building Act please contact Hannah Eales, Partner in the Regulatory team at Kingsley Napley.
If you have any questions or concerns about the content covered in this blog, please contact a member of the Regulatory team.
Hannah Eales is a barrister in the Regulatory team. She is an experienced advocate and a regulatory, health & safety and criminal law specialist. Hannah has a particular expertise in fire safety law having prosecuted on behalf of fire and rescue authorities nationally as well as representing individuals and corporates facing prosecution for breaches of the Fire Safety Order in the criminal courts. Hannah is experienced in advising property owners and managers on compliance with fire safety legislation and regulations. She has a broad practice, also acting both for regulatory bodies and representing those who appear before them, as well as prosecuting and defending in the criminal courts. She regularly advises on all aspects of criminal, health & safety and regulatory law.
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