Fire Safety Act 2021
As the threat of fire is a constant worry for any business owner, all designated Responsible Persons must ensure that the premises are compliant with the recent Fire Safety Act 2021.
With the legislation expected to be enshrined in law in 2022, Responsible Persons should prepare now for the additional responsibility.
What is the Fire Safety Act 2021?
The Fire Safety Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 19 March 2020, received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021 and is now known as the Fire Safety Act 2021 (the Act).
The Fire Safety Act 2021 clarifies that the responsible person or duty holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must “manage and reduce the risk of fire” posed by the building’s structure, and most notably external wall systems, including windows and balconies, and individual occupants’ entrance doors.
The new Act is an effort on behalf of the Government to improve fire safety in multi-occupancy domestic premises following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in 2017.
What amendments does the Fire Safety Act 2021 make to the Fire Safety Order?
The Act amends the current Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), clarifying its ambit to include the risks posed by the external façade of buildings and individual entrance doors to flats, thereby implementing the recommendations made by Sir Martin Moore-Bick in his Phase 1 report arising out of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
In Summary, the Act:
(a) amends the FSO to require all Responsible Persons (i.e. the relevant duty holder under the legislation and note there may be more than one) to assess, manage and reduce the fire risks posed by the structure and external walls of the buildings for which they are responsible (including cladding, balconies and windows) and individual doors opening onto common parts of the building;
(b) applies to all multi-occupied residential buildings and is not dependent on the height of the building; and
(c) allows the Fire and Rescue Service to enforce against non–compliance in relation to the external walls and the individual doors opening onto the common parts of the premises.
(d) it must be noted that the Act does not address remediation costs in relation to cladding or its replacement.
Who does the Fire Safety Act 2021 apply to?
Any building containing two or more sets of domestic premises, e.g., a block of flats. This is likely to include approximately 1.7m residential properties in England and Wales.
What can Responsible Persons do to prepare?
This will mean building owners and managers of high-rise (defined as over 18m), multi-occupancy residential buildings will become responsible for new areas, including:
• regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local FRS
• ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated
• personal evacuation plans are in place for vulnerable residents
• ensuring fire safety instructions are given to residents in a form that they can understand
• ensuring individual flat entrance doors comply with current standards
What are the risks for Responsible Persons?
The new Act marks a new era of accountability, bringing clarity to where the responsibility for managing safety lies – right from the design and construction of a building through to occupation.
Whilst the Act isn’t yet in force, you should review your Fire Risk Assessments to make sure they cover the external walls and individual entrance doors, bringing your fire risk assessment in line with the proposed Act.
Under the new law, fire and rescue services will be empowered to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.
With financial and criminal liability at stake, now is the time to make sure your residential portfolio is compliant.
Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022
Responsible Persons will acquire additional responsibilities under the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 which are due to come into force on 23 January 2023. These Regulations seek to improve fire safety of high-rise residential buildings by implementing most of the recommendations made by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in its Phase 1 report.
These Regulations will apply in England and require that the Responsible Person of a multi-occupied residential building take specific action depending on the height of the building.
For multi-occupied residential buildings (at least 18 metres in height or 7 or more storeys), the Responsible Person will need to:
Building Plans: provide the fire and rescue services with electronic copies of building floor plans and keep hard copies of those plans in a secure information box accessible by firefighters.
External wall Systems: provide the fire and rescue services with information about the building’s external wall system and provide updates if there are material changes to these walls.
Lifts and Fire-Fighting equipment: undertake monthly checks on fire and evacuation lifts and other firefighting equipment and inform the fire and safety services if a lift used by firefighters or firefighting equipment is out of order for longer than 24 hours.
Information Boxes: install and maintain a secure information box containing the name and UK contact details of the responsible person and hard copies of building floor plans.
Wayfinding Signage: install way finding signage which is visible in low light conditions showing flat and floor numbers in the stairwells.
For multi-occupied residential buildings over 11 metres in height, Responsible Persons will need to:
undertake quarterly checks on all communal fire doors, and make annual checks on flat entrance doors.
In all multi-occupied residential buildings with communal areas, Responsible Persons will need to:
provide residents with relevant fire safety instructions and information about the importance of fire doors.
Guidance to support Responsible Persons to comply with the new Regulations is expected over the coming months. In the meantime, Responsible Persons should:
ensure fire assessments in multi-occupied residential buildings take into account the risks from external walls, balconies and flat entrance doors under the amended scope of the FSO
consider what steps need to be taken to share information with fire and rescue services for affected multi-occupied residential buildings and how to implement the other requirements under the new fire regulations