BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Understanding current building safety duties

With legislation about fire and building safety in England and Wales coming thick and fast in recent years, RICS aims to keep surveyors abreast of developments

Author:

  • Sam Piplica MRICS

17 August 2023

Mid-rise block

Since the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017 and the subsequent Hackitt Review, the UK government has introduced a range of measures that aim to improve building safety.

But with so much new legislation, it is not always easy for surveyors to understand how it affects them and what their current duties are. Breaking down the requirements may help.

Fire Safety Act amends 2005 order

The Fire Safety Act 2021 amends article 6 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to apply to buildings' structure and external walls, including doors, windows and balconies, any common parts, and all doors between the domestic premises and those common parts.

The act also adds provisions to article 50 of the order to clarify what evidence is needed to prove contraventions, and to require that the secretary of state consults anyone they think relevant before revising or withdrawing guidance on high-risk buildings.

Building Safety Act seeks to strengthen regime

Somewhat confusingly, the Building Safety Act 2022 made separate amendments to fire safety legislation. In particular, section 156 – effective from 1 October 2023 – changes the 2005 Order to improve fire safety in all buildings it covers.

Phase 3 of the act's implementation will further strengthen fire safety in all premises regulated by the order by placing new legal duties on those designated responsible persons (RPs) to record their fire risk assessments in full; previously, only the significant findings had to be recorded in such assessments.

They must then provide this and other fire safety information to residents to promote the importance of safety precautions such as fire doors.

RPs also have to: 

  • identify and share information with other RPs in the premises to ensure a cohesive approach to fire safety throughout the entire building
  • share fire safety information with incoming RPs when control of the building passes between them, to provide a continuous record – or golden thread – of such information throughout a building's lifetime
  • record their name and a UK address in the fire risk assessment to make it easier for enforcement authorities to identify them and, where necessary, take action. 

Section 156 also increases fines for certain offences under the 2005 Order to level 5, unlimited, to increase the deterrent.

These offences include using non-compliant firefighters' switches, failure to comply with requirements relating to the installation of luminous tube signs, failure to fulfil any requirements imposed by an inspector, or impersonation of a fire inspector to discharge legal duties fraudulently; the latter in particular presenting obvious life safety risks.

A further amendment adds a provision specifically stating that failure to follow all guidance issued under article 50 of the 2005 Order may be relied on as tending to establish a contravention of the duties contained in articles 8–22 of the 2005 Order.

Through ongoing discussions with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which the 2022 Act names as the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), RICS understands that the UK government will publish guidance under article 50 to help RPs understand and meet these new requirements, before they come into force.

However, the government is not at this stage commencing implementation of subsection 156(4) of the act, which places a new legal duty on RPs to ensure that anyone they appoint to carry out a fire risk assessment is competent to do so.

Further work is required with the fire risk assessment profession to develop a robust plan before it can bring the legal duty into force. 

This work is already being actively conducted, and RICS will look to provide more information on it in the coming months.

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How to stay on top of changing regulations

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Government publishes guidance on small premises

Recognising that these various amendments to the 2005 Order may not be easily understood by some RPs, the Home Office has recently published a suite of three guides.

The purpose of these guides and an accompanying checklist, produced as part of phase 3 of the Home Office's reforms, is to help persons with responsibilities for fire safety comply with both the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and the order itself, including amendments.

The guide on small non-domestic premises is designed to help those responsible for fire safety in small non-domestic premises with simple layouts, low fire risk, limited fire hazards and a small number of employees, customers or visitors.

Meanwhile, the guide on blocks of flats up to three storeys aims to provide simple and practical advice to persons responsible for fire safety in common parts, as well as the building's structure, external walls and the doors between flats and common parts.

Finally, the guide on small sleeping accommodation is intended for those with responsibilities for fire safety in paying guest premises with simple layouts, limited fire risks and a small number of bedrooms designated for guest sleeping in short-term lets, such as small bed and breakfast properties, guest houses and self-catering accommodation.

The government has also published an updated, five-step checklist and a prioritisation tool to help people responsible for the simplest premises complete a fire safety risk assessment.

New regulations enter force under 2022 Act

To enforce laws under primary legislation such as the 2022 Act, so it can operate in practice, ministers create secondary legislation.

In this case, the following building safety regulations that apply to our members and other professionals came into force on 6 April 2023. 

Revised order sets new fire safety duties

Meanwhile, the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022  – which came into force on 23 January 2023 – introduce new duties under the 2005 Order for RPs such as building owners or managers.

These duties require RPs to provide fire safety instructions and fire door information to residents in all multi-occupancy buildings with two or more domestic premises.

Where such buildings are more than 11m tall, RPs also have to carry out checks on flat entrance doors every year on both sides, as well as quarterly checks on communal fire doors.

For buildings more than 18m, RPs must perform all the duties set out above, as well as:

  • provide building plans and external wall system information to the fire and rescue services
  • undertake monthly checks on lifts and other firefighting equipment
  • install a premises information box, including floor plans and their own contact details
  • fit wayfinding signage in stairwells of relevant buildings.

These regulations implement most of the recommendations from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The government impact assessment states 2.3m homes are covered by this.

RICS and other bodies offer supporting resources

RICS released a podcast about the 2022 Act in February 2023, available on Apple or Spotify.

The Institution's own site also hosts an information centre on the act that is frequently updated with the latest information, and an FAQs page, as well as a fire safety hub.

For more detailed information from the HSE, you can sign up to its newsletters. You can also sign up to newsletters from Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures UK, which are essential reading for any built environment professional, or become a contributor in your area of expertise to help educate and maintain competence across the profession.

 

Sam Piplica MRICS is senior specialist, building standards, at RICS
Contact Sam: Email

Related competencies include: Fire safety, Inspection, Legal/regulatory compliance

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