This week’s draft legislation is good news but serious questions remain, writes Andrew Mellor
The Home Office yesterday introduced a new bill that is intended to improve fire safety in multi-occupancy residential buildings in England and Wales. The Fire Safety Bill was proposed following consultation with industry on required changes to the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO).
The new bill will essentially do three things:
1. Amend the FSO such that the building owner is required to manage and reduce the risk of fire, related to structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows as well as entrance doors to flats and within communal areas.
2. Provide a platform for the introduction of secondary legislation to enable recommendations form the Grenfell Inquiry phase 1 to be introduced, which stated building owners and those that manage them should be responsible for a number of actions including lift inspections, evacuation plans and easily understandable fire safety instructions for residents.
3. Allow MHCLG to include other types of buildings in the FSO as is required by industry events as well as design and construction considerations.
The proposed content of the bill raises a number of issues which building owners and managers should be aware of and must start preparing for in anticipation of the bill becoming law, possibly as soon as this summer.
These can be summarised as:
- The proposals apply to all multi-occupancy buildings of all heights and that means all blocks of flats must have their facades, flat entrance doors and all communal fire doors checked as part of the periodic fire risk assessment. This will have resource and process implications for the industry.
- We do not yet know the risk assessment process that will have to be used. MHCLG is consulting the industry on this.
- Windows have been introduced alongside cladding and balconies for the first time in recent building safety announcements from government. It remains to be seen why. Will this require safety checks of windows? Does it perhaps relate to laminated glass?
- The Grenfell Inquiry phase 1 report included other recommendations for existing residential buildings including floor-level signage and evacuation plans. We know that many existing residential buildings do not have record drawings of any type, so building owners would be forced to produce fire strategy and evacuation plans.
- The secondary legislation potential may suggest that the Home Office or MHCLG may in time include apartments and not just common areas.
Overall the bill will help to ensure that buildings and those who live in them are safer. For those who own or manage residential buildings, the requirements will impact further on costs and resource allocation for investigating buildings and ensuring compliance. Added to that, with so many existing residential buildings in England and Wales, how will the industry be able to undertake the volume of assessments required given the current shortage of fire safety experts?