In the four years since the Grenfell Tower fire, the legislative framework that governs building and fire safety has come under intense scrutiny – and been found wanting. The new Building Safety Bill, which is coming towards the end of its journey through Parliament and is expected to receive Royal Assent in early- to mid-2022, proposes sweeping changes that are expected to transform the way the construction industry approaches building safety. Perhaps less talked about – but equally as significant – is the Fire Safety Act 2021, which makes amendments to and extends the provisions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It passed into law in April last year and is due to take effect in early 2022.
For those responsible for the ongoing fire safety of buildings, this whirlwind of new legislation will come with some tough adjustments. But what duties does the new Fire Safety Act impose?
The Fire Safety Order
Introduced in October 2006, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 covers the ongoing fire safety management of occupied buildings. It applies to:
- all commercial premises in England and Wales
- the non-domestic parts of multi-occupied residential buildings (like shared landings in flats)
It imposes duties on a ‘Responsible Person’ – for example the employer in a commercial building or the owner or landlord of a residential building – to carry out an assessment of the fire risks to people occupying the premises and to take precautions based on the result of that risk assessment.
Clarifications in the Fire Safety Act
The main purpose of the Fire Safety Act was not to introduce a huge number of new rules and responsibilities, but to ensure clarity over the provisions contained within the 2005 Order. Mainly, it looks to clarify the types and parts of residential buildings to which the Order applies. The following parts of multi-occupied residential buildings now fall under the remit of the Order:
- structure, external walls (including doors, windows and balconies) and any common parts
- all doors between the domestic premises and common parts (e.g. a front door leading onto a shared landing)
Crucially, this amendment will also cover cladding on the external walls of commercial and residential buildings covered by the Fire Safety Order. This means that fire risk assessments for buildings covered by the Fire Safety Order must now by law include cladding, and ensures that the Responsible Person is obliged to ensure precautions are in place to mitigate the risk of unsafe materials – which may include its removal from the building. Failure to do so could result in an enforcement notice or prosecution.
The cost to remove unsafe cladding from buildings has been the topic of much debate in recent years, with many saying the government’s £5.1bn Building Safety Fund barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done to make high-rise buildings safe again. Campaigners have also argued for the protection of leaseholders’ rights, saying that leaseholders trapped in unsafe flats should not be made to bear the cost of building defects that are not their fault. On 10 January, a government press release announced that new statutory protections for leaseholders were to be introduced into the Building Safety Bill and that the government would be putting pressure on developers to shoulder the burden of making buildings safe.
It’s another step in the right direction to ensure that nothing like the Grenfell tragedy ever happens again.