On 17th March 2021, the Home Office announced new fire safety measures in response to the Fire Safety Consultation, in a step towards ensuring that people feel safe in their homes. Along with these measures, they also announced that building owners who were found to be non-compliant with the regulations under the Fire Safety Order, or those who obstructed fire inspectors, could face unlimited fines. These regulations will come into force as part of the legislation in the Building Safety Bill.
These new fire safety regulations come amidst widespread reforms to increase the fire safety standards in the country after the fateful Grenfell Tower fire. The draft Building Safety Bill published by the government after conducting an independent review of the industry after the Grenfell Tragedy proposes various changes to promote transparency and accountability in the construction industry. Various changes like the introduction of a Building Safety Regulator, a Construction Products Regulator and an accountable person for every high-rise residential building in the country were already proposed in the draft Building Safety Bill.
The new measures will assist with the amendment of the Fire Safety Order under which the government will clarify various requirements for fire risk assessments, which will be recorded for each building, and how this relevant fire safety information will be passed on to every stakeholder involved throughout the lifecycle of the building. It also aims to make it easier for the stakeholders to identify and coordinate with the people responsible for these fire safety measures.
Additionally, the Home Office has also announced a £10 million cash boost specifically for the Fire and Rescue Authorities across England. This is in addition to the earlier £6 million funding already announced in the Fire Covid-19 Contingency Fund. This cash boost is to be used for assisting with additional tasks related to managing the pandemic, such as assisting at testing and vaccination centres and driving ambulances as required.
Through the new measures announced earlier this month, the government aims to:
-Improve the quality of fire risk assessments and the competence of those who complete them,
-Ensure vital fire safety information is preserved over the lifespan of all regulated buildings,
-Improve cooperation and coordination among people responsible for fire safety and make it easier to identify who they are,
-Strengthen enforcement action, with anyone impersonating or obstructing a fire inspector facing unlimited fines,
-Strengthen guidance issued under the Fire Safety Order so that failure to follow it may be considered in court proceedings as evidence of a breach of compliance,
-Improve the engagement between Building Control Bodies and Fire Authorities in reviewing plans for building work,
-Require all new flats above 11 metres tall to install premises’ information boxes.
These measures have been rolled out after conducting a Fire Safety Consultation initiated by the government under which they received feedback from over 250 relevant stakeholders with a common interest in increasing the building fire safety standards in the country. These stakeholders included a range of representatives such as enforcing authorities, residents and other responsible persons.
The government also announced that they intended to launch a further consultation to study the existing emergency evacuation plans in high-rises across the country this spring. This would allow them to gain additional insights on how these plans can be improved by implementing the recommendations suggested after the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
The scope of the Fire Safety Order (FSO) has been clarified in the Fire Safety Bill, and changes outlined above in the FSO aim to contribute to achieving the objectives. The Building Safety Bill will facilitate the appointment of the first national Building Safety Regulator who will change the way buildings in progress are designed, constructed and managed throughout the lifecycle of the building.