An Introduction to changes to Fire Safety Legislation

The Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 highlighted the unsuitability of existing fire safety and general building safety legislation in England and Wales. As a result, the Fire Safety Bill was introduced by the Home Office and received Royal Assent in 2021. It was then implemented on 23rd January 2022. The new Fire Safety Act 2021 (previously known as the Fire Safety Order 2005) clarifies many ‘grey’ areas including the responsibilities of ‘Responsible Persons.’

Who are Responsible Persons?
Responsible Persons can be:

  • Duty-holders
  • Building owners
  • Leaseholders
  • Landlords
  • Managers

Why is a new Act necessary?
The ‘Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (as amended by the Fire Safety act 2021)’ has been designed to ensure that ‘people feel safe in their homes and that a tragedy like Grenfell will never happen again.’

The majority of changes apply to multi-occupied, residential buildings: any premises other than a single dwelling. This could comprise of a house converted into bedsits or a high-rise building with hundreds of flats. Either of these will require the Responsible Person to implement adequate fire safety measures and complete a risk assessment.

What are the changes?
Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, the items to which this order applies include:

  • The buildings structure and external parts and any common parts.
    NB: ‘External walls’ includes doors or windows in those walls, and anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies).
  • All doors between the domestic premises and common parts.
  • Insulation.
  • Cladding.
  • Entrance doors that open into communal areas from individual apartments, these fire doors will need to have all the correct intumescent and fire rated hardware. Action must then be taken to remove or negate the identified risks.

The height of each premises can increase the number of relevant regulations to the building. Some provisions apply regardless of height, more are needed once a building reaches 11 metres, and further requirements are introduced when a building reaches 18 metres (or 7 storeys) or more.

Other requirements under the Act may include:

  • Checks of Firefighting lifts and other key FF equipment.
  • The sharing of information to the Fire and Rescue Service and also to residents.
  • Secure Information Box, containing the name and contact details of the RP and hard copies of the building floor plans.
  • Wayfinding Signage: install signage visible in low light or smoky conditions that identifies flat and floor numbers in the stairwells of relevant buildings.

When are these changes coming into practice?
Although the law was passed on 29 April 2021, the Fire Safety Act 2021 commenced on 16 May 2022. This means that all Responsible Persons should now, if not already, review their risk assessments. It is intended that these regulations will come into force on 23 January 2023 and new Home Office Guidance to the new Regs will be available shortly. (The new Fire Minister has to ‘sign off’ the agreed content, predicted date early December 2022).

When should Responsible Persons act?
We recommend that Responsible Persons begin to act immediately so their residential buildings comply with the new legislation. Therefore, Responsible Persons must:

  • Be familiar with the fire prevention merits of materials they use within building structures and external walls.
  • Complete and action relevant risk assessments and ensure all maintenance is current and compliant with the requirements of the Act.
  • Doors between flats and communal areas must be fire doors, in good condition and fitted with sufficient fire-rated and intumescent materials. These may include fire and smoke seals around the door, intumescent letterboxes and fire-rated hinges, latches, and door viewers.

Which regulations will apply to my property?
The Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool (FRAPT) has been designed to assist Responsible Persons to develop a strategy to prioritise their buildings, review their Fire Risk Assessments and to ensure they take into account the clarifications outlined in the Act.

Where do I start?
Responsible Persons have around 50 days to achieve compliance, or at a minimum be able to show strong evidence in having attempted to do so if an action plan has not commenced already. It is imperative to start acting now.

Firstly, complete The Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool available within the Fire Safety commencement prioritisation guidance.

Carry out your Fire Risk Assessment and ensure it is suitable and sufficient. If necessary, advice/assistance is available from many consultants as well as Fire Safety Advisers.

Ensure that all required fire doors are installed and maintained in correct condition. Similarly, carry out relevant checks and testing, and record all these to evidence your efforts.

Contact your local Fire & Rescue Service and inform them of your findings. Once you have made contact, keep that line of communication open and update information provided following each review.

Similarly, ensure your residents are aware of the importance being placed upon their safety. Also remind them of the importance of keeping doors closed, that doors and self-closing devices are not to be tampered with, and any faults or damage to doors should be reported immediately. Residents will receive this information when they move into a multi-occupied residential building, and then on at least an annual basis.

You can find full details of the new legislation here.