Fire safety legislation has, historically, been difficult to understand due to the variety of Acts and Regulations which has caused businesses difficulty in knowing their responsibilities. Fire safety in England and Wales has now been brought under one regime known as The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which came into effect in 2006.
The most significant change that The RRO introduced was to shift the responsibility of fire safety from the authorities (who used to issue Fire Certificates - now no longer valid), to whoever has day to day control over the premises. The RRO consolidated and extended fire safety legislation from just applying to the building, to include fire fighters' safety, the property itself and the environment around the building. It also introduced an assessment based approach - the Fire Risk Assessment - and the notion of a Responsible Person who has the legal responsibility to ensure that fire risks are assessed and managed, and a Competent Person who has sufficient and adequate experience and "Training" in carrying out specialist fire safety works. This requirement is solved by using a certified third party accredited company.
The "Responsible Person" either has to carry out the Fire Risk Assessment, or appoint a "Competent Person" to do so on their behalf.
Given the increasing complexity and sophistication of fire safety the nominated Responsible Person is unlikely to have the skills, experience and knowledge to be competent. If this is the case, they can appoint a "Competent Person" to undertake the fire risk assessment on their behalf.
The Responsible Person has to have an understanding of the Certification of products, and the Accreditation that specialist fire companies can provide, so that they are able to manage the fire risks competently identified in the Fire Risk Assessment.
There are a number of businesses providing Fire Risk Assessments, and a number of professional organisations have been set up to provide accreditation for this service - for example, Warrington Certification's Fire Risk Assessors Certification Scheme (FRACS).
How The RRO affects businesses
The emphasis of The RRO is now on fire prevention and risk reduction - as opposed to the old system which was focused on reducing the effects of a fire that had already broken out.
Each business must now appoint a Responsible Person, whether it is the owner of the building, the building manager, or a facilities management company to manage the fire risk of the building, those within it, and the immediate surroundings.
The Responsible Person has a responsibility under law not only to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment but implement and maintain a Fire Management Plan for the building, its occupants, visitors, member of the public and the areas surrounding the building.
Maintenance of fire safety systems, including fire doors, is now a specific requirement of The RRO.
Local fire authorities have a duty under The RRO to monitor buildings within their area. Whilst the majority of fire authorities will act with reasonableness in advising businesses on breaches of their requirements under The RRO, they will issue Formal Alteration Notices, Enforcement Notices and Prohibition Notices on businesses that continue to fail to meet The RRO requirements.
Even large businesses have fallen foul of The RRO. New Look was prosecuted by the London Fire Brigade and was fined £400k plus costs of over £130k for serious breaches of The RRO after a fire. Whilst The Co-Op was fined £210k for breaches of The RRO without even suffering a fire. Perhaps the most relevant was Shell, which received a £300k fine, specifically relating in part to defective fire doors.
Increasingly, the courts are taking the view that any fines applicable under The RRO should be in proportion to the to the size of the business.
Most insurance companies now require a valid fire risk assessment to validate their insurance policies - and may withhold payment if a claimant doesn't have a current properly recorded and actioned Fire Risk Assessment.
Fire Risk Assessment - a continual process
Once a business has undertaken a Fire Risk Assessment, they need to develop an action plan to implement the findings of the assessment.
The Fire Risk Assessment is considered to be a "live document", so needs to be continually reviewed and updated with regard to any changes in the fabric of the building, its uses, it's inhabitants, or relevant safety regulations.
Insurance companies and local fire authorities are increasingly looking for proof that fire risk assessments have been undertaken and regularly updated before deciding to payout on insurance or choose whether to prosecute the business.
Fire Risk Assessments - a cost worth having
Whilst a Fire Risk Assessment together with any associated actions can cost money - but compared to the cost of losing a business due to fire, being prosecuted for breach of The RRO and not being covered by insurance, it is a small cost.
Further, a business by undertaking a comprehensive Fire Risk Assessment can help improve their business continuity, if the worse does happen.
If you would like to find out more about The RRO, Fire Risk Assessments and how they affect your business, please get in touch with us.