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Fire Safety Regulations

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Fire safety regulations for apartment blocks – what you need to know

Rarely has there been a greater focus from the public on the importance of properly implemented fire safety regulations – especially in high rise apartment blocks. The post-Grenfell disaster landscape has put this crucial subject at the forefront of many campaigners’ minds and created an urgency to ensure that developer’s and apartment block manager’s responsibilities are met.

As experts in block management throughout Manchester and the North, we recently highlighted this issue in our blog regarding the Grenfell disaster and the work Andy Burnham and Paul Dennett, Mayors of Greater Manchester and Salford respectively, have been doing to ensure that Manchester’s high rise skyline is safe.

But what do you need to know about fire risk assessment and legislation? Here are the basics, along with some helpful links to ensure you meet your responsibilities.

Fire risk assessment – what is it?

A fire risk assessment is a comprehensive, structured examination of the building by experts to determine the likelihood of fire – and therefore risk to residents – and is required in order to meet Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Building owners and management should consider this an opportunity to determine whether the managerial fire procedures and safety measures are robust and appropriate, and whether any further actions are needed to reduce fire risk to a minimum.

Although the local fire and rescue authority may be willing to offer advice on your assessment, they will only view it during an audit of the building and won’t carry out the risk assessment itself. It’s also important to recognise that a specialised fire risk assessment is not the same as an assessment carried out by a local housing authority to be used in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

What you need to know about fire safety regulations and legislation

A proper understanding of the responsibilities the residents, landlords and developers have is an essential part of satisfying building regulations and legislation.

For example, alterations to the building must satisfy current legislation and meet Building Regulations 2010 – it’s not enough to make alterations based on the previous legislation, and it’s an offence to make material alterations without building control body approval.

It’s also important for building owners and managers to understand that falling foul of the Building Act 1984 is relatively easy – even with seemingly quite minor alterations like replacing a fire door with one that is non-fire-resistant, or even one that’s fire-resistant but not self closing – so it’s good practice to submit proposed alterations to a building control body prior to any refurbishments in order to mitigate the risk of prosecution.

Residents have some responsibility too of course, and although it’s not our main focus today, it’s worth mentioning that they’re expected to maintain fire safety measures put in place at the time the high rise was constructed, when and if they make alterations to their property – so it’s essential that they’re made aware of this and gain proper approval.

Legislation for maintaining fire safety

Once a block is constructed under the fire safety requirements of Building Regulations 2010, the focus for maintenance of fire safety is transferred to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the ‘FSO’) and the Housing Act 2004 – with Building Regulations only coming back into the spotlight if alterations are proposed.

It’s these two important documents that block management and building owners need to keep in mind, with the Housing Act 2004 making requirement for both common and residential areas, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 dealing with common areas and work areas.

Housing Act 2004

Where the local housing authority is involved, they will carry out their own assessment of the individual flats under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System which considers 29 potential hazards, including risk of fire. Each problem will be classified as either Category 1 or Category 2 – if a Category 1 hazard is found, the housing authority will take one of a number of enforcing actions to remedy the situation and ensure resident safety:

  • Serving notice to take remedial action
  • Closing off some or all of the building
  • Or, in extreme circumstances, taking emergency remedial action themselves

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

The FSO imposes a duty of care regarding fire safety on the ‘responsible person’ – in the case of an apartment block this could be the block management team, building owner or, perhaps, the contractor who manages fire safety measures. If safety measures are not adequate or effectively maintained, and a fire risk assessment has not been carried out, the fire and rescue authority may step in and issue an enforcement notice that could lead to a fine or even imprisonment.

Understanding your commitments with regard to fire safety regulations is an essential part of block management best practice, and will help to ensure that you’re business is protected and that there are no more disasters like Grenfell on the horizon.

Useful links regarding fire safety regulations

Fire Safety Order

Building Regulations