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Is Fire Safety Law Going to Change Post Grenfell?

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Is Fire Safety Law Going to Change Post Grenfell?

06 Aug 2018

A government review into fire legislation by Dame Judith Hackitt has called for ‘simplified and unambiguous’ regulations and guidance on fire safety.  When the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) came into force in 2015 it was designed to achieve just that and it did sweep away a complex system of overlapping legislation.  Examination of the legal position following the Grenfell fire, however, has highlighted a number of flaws.  The events industry needs to ensure that its voice is heard in any future reviews and is worth briefly considering where we currently stand:

The RRO requires all employers to appoint a ‘Responsible Person’ (RP) to ensure safety from fire of all employees and anyone who could be affected by a fire.  The RP is the main duty holder for fire safety and accountable for ensuring that appropriate measures are in place based on a fire risk assessment which is central to the RRO.  The problem is that it is not always clear who the RP is especially in the events industry where there are overlapping responsibilities particularly between the venue and the organiser.

The technical requirements are set out in the Code of Practise for Fire Safety in the Design, Management and Use of Buildings BS9999: 2017 which is designed as a co-ordinated package covering the four main areas that influence fire safety measures, namely:

  • fire safety management
  • the provisions of means of escape
  • the structural protection of escape facilities and the structural stability of the building in the event of a fire
  • the provision of access and facilities for fire-fighting.

Essentially it lays out the required standards to be achieved relative to the use and occupancy of the premises. 

When the RRO came into force the government produced the Fire Safety Risk Assessment Series.  This is part of a series of government guidance written for specific industries for compliance with the RRO.  They do not reference BS9999 which was written after their publication which is confusing and highlights the fractured nature of current law and guidance.

Dame Judith was formerly the chair of the HSE when CDM was reviewed and this drives much of the thinking behind the report which calls for a shift in ownership of the legal liability on the lines of CDM.  It also calls for a tightening of the law from the requirement to conduct regular fire risk assessments to mandating annual fire risk assessments which would apply to all offices, venues and contractors’ warehouses.

For venues and other buildings there is a requirement to maintain a ‘golden thread’ running through from the original design to current use.  For modern buildings constructed under CDM this should be quite simple but could be problematic for older venues which were not designed with modern fire safely legislation in mind.  There is a clear implication that allowing venues to upgrade alongside refurbishment and routine maintenance may give way to a tighter regime requiring venues to meet the requirements of the law and BS9999 at all times and subject to annual inspection.  There are obvious cost implications in this for all venues which will inevitably filter down to organisers.  It should be less problematic for contractors whose properties are mostly centred around modern industrial units which are easier to maintain in this regard.

The idea of introducing layered responsibility in line with CDM regulations may actually suit the events business but inevitably this will lead to greater individual accountability than is currently the case.  When more senior managers realise that they are personally on the hook for ensuring fire safety (as they are now although many are unaware) that will also drive improvements but again potentially with cost implications.

Currently there is no specification regarding the qualifications of fire risk assessors beyond the notion that they must be ‘competent’.  The review calls for mandatory accreditation of fire risk assessors.  Previous attempts at this have failed because there are simply not enough health and safety professionals with the background and training to meet this requirement and the bar to gaining that accreditation has been set unnecessarily high.  This could potentially turn the requirement for an office fire risk assessment from a relatively simple review into an expensive annual exercise driven by landlords wary of falling foul of the new law.  It also begs the question regarding how the need will be met for event fire risk assessments.

As ever, of course, it is unlikely that this review or any subsequent paper will give any thought to the events industry and the unique issues that surround conducting an event fire risk assessment.  Whilst we should welcome any law designed to improve fire safety, there is clearly a need for all event companies and the various industry forums to ensure that we are prepared to engage proactively in any future consultation in changes to fire safely law to ensure that it can be applied proportionately in the industry.

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