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Fire Safety Act 2021 – what you need to know

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Dame Judith Hackitt report into the system of building regulations and fire safety said it was not fit-for-purpose and that systemic failures had allowed a culture of indifference to perpetuate.

To examine and address these failures, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was established, leading to the introduction of the Fire Safety Act 2021 - an important step in implementing the recommendations from Phase 1 of the Inquiry.

What is the Fire Safety Act 2021?

The Fire Safety Act 2021 received Royal Assent in April 2021 but sections 1 and 3 did not come into force in England until 16 May 2022.  

The Act amends and extends the provisions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, increasing the obligations of ‘Responsible Persons’.

Section 1 of the Act extends the provisions of the Fire Safety Order to the following parts of multi-occupancy domestic premises:

  • The building’s structure, external walls and any common parts. The external walls include doors or windows in those walls, and anything attached to the exterior of those walls, e.g. balconies and cladding.
  • All doors between the domestic premises and common parts.

Section 3 of the Act introduces risk-based guidance, which can be found on the Government website.

Risk-based guidance and the Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool

The guidance is intended for use by ‘Responsible Persons’ - or anyone who has, to any extent, control of multi-occupancy buildings. It is there to ensure that you can comply with your duties under the Act and Fire Safety Order.

The guidance makes it clear that to comply with the Fire Safety Order, as a ‘Responsible Person’ you  should regularly review the fire risk assessment of your buildings, particularly if there is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid or there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates.

You must also ensure that the fire risk assessment is carried out by a competent person. The Fire Sector Federation provides useful guidance on how to select a competent fire risk assessor.

Recognising that the demand for competent professionals to update fire risk assessments will be high in the coming months, a Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool has been developed. This will help you to identify which buildings to prioritise for a fire risk assessment review.

As with all guidance, use of the risk-based guidance and the prioritisation tool is entirely voluntary. However, Section 3 of the Act modifies the Fire Safety Order, making specific reference to the fact that proof of compliance with any applicable risk-based guidance by any duty holder may be relied upon to establish that legal duties were met.

It may be referred to and relied upon, therefore,  in relation to any legal proceedings concerning an alleged contravention of the duties in the Fire Safety Order and the Act. Following the guidance does not introduce a statutory defence but does provide a useful benchmark.

Implementing phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry – the Fire Safety Regulations 2022

Introduced under Article 24 of the Fire Safety Order, the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 are another step towards implementing the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report and are intended to provide an even more robust legislative framework to strengthen the Fire Safety Order.

The Regulations will make it a requirement in law for those classed as ‘Responsible Persons’ of high-rise blocks of flats to provide information to Fire and Rescue Services to help them plan for and, if needed, provide an effective operational response.

The regulations will also require specific actions depending on the height of the building.  Whilst some provisions apply regardless of height, additional provisions are triggered once the building reaches 11 metres. There are also additional provisions for buildings of 18 metres (or seven storeys) and above. These regulations are intended to come into force on 23 January 2023 and will apply to England only.

It is important to review the Regulations so that you can plan and prepare for any changes before they come into force. That said, the government recommends only submitting electronic information to local Fire and Rescue Services closer to the date when the regulations are effective.

What do you need to do now to comply with the Fire Safety Act? 

The Fire Safety Act is now in force and compliance is essential.

Albeit not mandatory, if you are deemed a ‘Responsible Person’ you are strongly encouraged to follow the Guidance and related prioritisation tool to evidence compliance with the Fire Safety Order. Given the very public tragedy, failure to comply with the Fire Safety Order carries a high risk of enforcement action and / or prosecution.

Of primary importance is ensuring that fire risk assessments and overall fire strategy covers the building structure, external walls and common parts, including doors, balconies and cladding.

Paragraph 7 of the Guidance anticipates that there may be more guidance to follow. It is important to monitor and keep up-to-date with any updates and implement the related changes where necessary.

Unlike the Building Safety Act 2022, the Fire Safety Act 2021 is simply concerned with the extension of responsibilities on existing Responsible Persons. It does not deal with who may bear the costs of additional measures to get buildings compliant with the Fire Safety Order.

If you would like any help or advice in complying with the new Fire Safety Act 2021 or have any related enquiries concerning fire safety, please contact Ian Manners.

Recap of Fire Safety Order responsibilities and ‘Responsible Persons’

The Fire Safety Order imposes duties on Responsible Persons in respect of workplaces and other premises within their control. This extends to those who have control over premises related to safety, maintenance and repair obligations.

It confirms that a Responsible Person is one who, in relation to the workplace, is an employer, if the workplace is to any extent under their control. If not a workplace, the Responsible Person is a person who is the owner of the premises or the person who has control of the premises.

Importantly, the Fire Safety Order has no application in relation to domestic premises and therefore the general fire precautions and the duties imposed do not extend to domestic premises, save for in relation to the ability of an enforcing authority to serve a prohibition notice

The Fire Safety Order confirms that domestic premises are premises occupied as a private dwelling (including any garden, yard, garage, outhouse, or “other appurtenance of such premises which is not used in common by the occupants of more than one such dwelling”.

The common parts of multi-dwelling buildings are therefore not within the definition of domestic premises and are therefore captured by the requirements of the Fire Safety Order, with the Responsible Person being the owner of the building or any other person who has control of that part by reason of occupancy or the carrying on of any trade or business, e.g. a property management company.

A Responsible Person who fails to comply with their duties under the Fire Safety Order commits a criminal offence.

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