In depth

An overview of the draft Fire Safety Bill

Gateley Legal

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The draft Fire Safety Bill is currently being reviewed in Parliament, with its intended purpose to update the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 following the Grenfell tragedy.

Current Position Pre-Fire safety Bill

The Fire Safety Order creates fire safety obligations for the responsible person who is usually an employer where the building is a workplace or the party responsible for communal areas where the building is a residential apartment block. Building owners can also have responsible person obligations. 

Failure to comply with the FSO is a criminal offence enforceable by the relevant Fire & Rescue Authority, who have powers to issue enforcement notices as well as powers to prosecute.

The Government have been critical of Fire & Rescue Authorities for not using the full extent of their enforcement powers to force remediation of cladding and fire stopping issues that have emerged in the countrywide checks on apartment blocks in the aftermath of Grenfell. The Fire & Rescue Authorities are clearly uncomfortable changing over ten years of enforcement precedent to accommodate the Government’s attempts to rewrite the industry approach to the Building.

See our previous insight which explores the Building Safety Bill.

The FSO created the following duties on responsible persons:

  • General fire precautions, risk assessments, fire safety arrangements;
  • Elimination or reduction of risks from dangerous substances;
  • Ensuring fire fighting detection and emergency routes and exits were appropriate;
  • Procedures for dangerous areas and emergency measures in respect of dangerous substances; and
  • Maintenance works, safety assistance, provision of information and training.

Proposals in the new Fire Safety Bill

The Fire Safety Bill as currently drafted will amend the FSO and is likely to create the following key changes:

  • creating a legal requirement on residential building owners to inspect external cladding and fire doors (closing the loophole which previously left it unclear as to whether fire safety legislation applied to the structure and external walls of multi-occupied residential buildings);
  • empowering Fire & Rescue Authorities to take enforcement action and hold building owners accountable if they are not compliant; 
  • acting as a platform to allow MHCLG to easily amend the legislation, enabling recommendations from the Grenfell Inquiry to be introduced; and
  • allowing MHCLG to easily amend the FSO to include other types of buildings in the future.

Concerns are already being raised

However, during the Draft Bill’s Second Reading on 29 April 2020, some key concerns were raised regarding its interrelation with the draft Building Safety Bill (see our insight on the Building Safety Bill). 

There are two key elements of concern regarding the interaction between the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill:-  

  • the responsible person in the Fire Safety Bill and the accountable person in the Building Safety Bill need to be consistent; and
  • the FSO applies to all buildings regardless of height, whereas the Building Safety Bill appears only likely to focus only on buildings over 18 metres

Thoughts for the audience

At this stage there is still room for amendment before the Bill becomes law, but numerous questions arise:

  • Windows are now included as part of the external structure. Without further explanation, it is not clear whether this refers to all types of glass and the requisite safety checks that are to be undertaken;
  • The power of MHCLG to add to the list of qualifying premises means the Government can intervene at the design and construction stage and add these to the list. Any current or planned development works will have to track the Bill closely to ensure there are no nasty surprises down the line; and
  • Whether the Government will heed the concerns about ensuring the roles of  responsible person and accountable person are properly delineated or aligned to avoid the myriad of issues that would arise from any drafting faux pas in this context. 

More information

If you are the subject of any civil or criminal investigation arising from Cladding or Fire Safety matters, our specialist Regulatory and Construction teams at Gateley are on hand to assist you, contact our expert listed below for more information.

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