The Government consultation ran from 20th July - 12th October which was “seeking views on proposals to strengthen the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO], implement Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations and strengthen the regulatory framework for how building control bodies consult with Fire and Rescue Authorities.” Some of BAFE’s comments submitted have been outlined below to demonstrate our position regarding fire safety.
Stephen Adams, Chief Executive of BAFE, responded on behalf of BAFE and began by disagreeing that “Article 50 [Guidance] is a sufficient basis for providing guidance to RPs [Responsible Persons] to support their compliance with their duties under the Order”. Following this, BAFE strongly agreed that a strengthened legal basis for guidance under the Fire Safety Order is needed (such as a Code of Practice). BAFE believe that an “Approved Code of Practice” should be applicable for multiple areas and people including Responsible Persons, Enforcement and Sanctions, Fire Risk Assessments, Provision of Information and Competence of Providers. Mr. Adams commented these areas should be covered by a code of practice to ensure “that all providers of fire protection services and related built environment services are competent to provide them. Both as organisations and as individuals. This competence should be Third Party Certificated by UKAS [for organisations], OFQUAL or equivalents [for individuals].”
Mr. Adams agreed that Responsible Persons should be required “to record who they are, the extent of their responsibility under the FSO, and their contact information will facilitate the identification of RPs”. He added “RPs need a clearer detail of their responsibilities and guidance as to how they can best be discharged. Guidance on what is required and what can constitute a defence in law if a building failure occurs.”
BAFE have been ambassadors for the requirement for strong regulation of Fire Risk Assessment providers for a long time. Naturally, Mr Adams strongly agreed that “the FSO should include a competency requirement for fire risk assessors and other fire professionals engaged by the RPs” and that the specific representative from the fire risk assessment provider should be clearly documented within the completed fire risk assessment. BAFE note that Fire Risk Assessments should require:
Following this, BAFE also strongly agreed “that a duty should be placed on all RPs to record their completed fire risk assessments”. Whilst onerous, this is a vital life safety action for all commercial/non-domestic buildings which the Fire and Rescue Service should always have access to (as the prosecuting body for the FSO). BAFE advise that Fire Risk Assessments are commonly misunderstood as being an action that establishes a safe building. A Fire Risk Assessment is a report of the adequacy of a building’s fire safety at the exact time when it was carried out. This simple statement is not meant to undermine its significant importance however, but it does not immediately make a building safe from fire risk. There may be actions required by the building owner/manager to mitigate any identified risk. With this, Mr Adams also strongly agrees that “all RPs should be required to record their fire safety arrangements” to acknowledge suitable recommendations from the assessment have been followed to mitigate any risk highlighted.
Later in BAFE’s response Mr Adams adds: “There are insufficient powers for the Fire Risk Assessors to ensure that RPs and all building occupiers comply with requirements. Fire Risk Assessors do not consistently have the skills and knowledge to carry out the range of inspections required.” This is an area BAFE strongly feel Government intervention is required, stipulating competency requirements instead of putting complete onus on the Responsible Person to nominate competent persons. This opens up this process back into cost cutting and the inevitable outcome of this money saving exercise can cause unnecessary risk to life and property protection.
Mr Adams disagreed that level 3 (£1000) or level 4 (£2,500) fines would provide a suitable deterrent. What was agreed however is a level 5 unlimited fine would be. He added “if there are suitable guidelines and instructions about what needs to be carried out, which currently do not exist, then fines must be commensurate with the failure to act accordingly.”
This statement coincides fully with BAFE’s request for greater supporting guidance on the role of the Responsible Person which can be used to clarify if legislation has been adhered to – akin to HSE guidance and Health and Safety legislation.
Mr Adams, within the response, champions the need for levels of competence. The FSO refers to the requirement of suitable maintenance and guidance issued by the Home Office indicates that there is a benefit to using Third Party Certificated providers for this. He notes “Unless all fire safety equipment, including emergency lighting and evacuation equipment is properly and regularly maintained and updated, especially where there are refurbishments, then any legislation about new construction is worthless.” At the end of BAFE’s response Mr Adams concludes that the impact of implementing “third party certificated competence will be hugely beneficial to all fire protection and related construction work. The proposals, when implemented will provide a framework that will protect lives and property.”
The BAFE Fire Safety Register (and the whole UKAS Accredited competency sector) demand greater Government issued guidance on who is considered competent to provide essential life safety work. This must be at the same level of HSE Guidance, which can then be used to lawfully judge who was at fault for any safety breaches under the FSO and included in any statutory defence. With many buildings not having a dedicated fire safety officer, these responsibilities are just a part of another staff members/owners’ duties and clearer guidance must be issued for quick reference to ensure they remain compliant to the law. Stipulating what is required to determine competency can assist in sourcing quality providers to help them meet their fire safety responsibilities with due diligence. Compliance will improve with mandated competency levels that must be adhered to and specified, thus appropriately regulating the industry with no additional cost to Government.