The Regulatory Reform Act 2001 removed some of the constraints currently in place by the Deregulation & Contracting Out Actand when the Government began reviewing the fire safety legislation it allowed the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005to be introduced. Up to that point, fire safety regulations were enshrined in 110 pieces of legislation, some dating back to the 1830s, and in October 2006 fire regulations underwent a significant change. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which came into effect in October 2006, consolidated 70 fire safety law into a single set of regulations.
The major change was that the Fire Precautions Act relied heavily on codes & guides for its implementation, and that certain buildings required a fire certificate in order to comply. The Fire Precautions Act and its Fire Certificates were totally repealed and replaced by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
The new Fire Safety Order (FSO) changed the requirements of fire safety, the focus of legislation and the way it is enforced. Prior to 2005, the main obligation on schools, businesses and public buildings was the attainment of a Fire Safety Certificate. These were issued and enforced by the Fire Service, acting through local fire brigades. This was found to put resource pressure on firefighting services, whilst also focusing too much on compliance, and not enough on active risk management.
No longer is it the duty of the building owner to ensure they have a valid fire certificate, instead the new order has an emphasis on preventing fires through risk management, and applies to all non-domestic premises in England, including the communal parts of blocks of flats.
A Responsible Person, usually either a building owner, a facilities manager or building occupier, is responsible for carrying out a Fire Safety Risk Assessment and implementing an Emergency Fire Plan.
The regulations are enforced primarily through the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), through a network of fire inspectors. In some circumstances other bodies enforce the regulations, as we’ll see below.
The UK Fire and Rescue Service, operating through the local Fire authority, is the primary enforcer of the Fire Safety Order. The FRS is empowered to undertake fire safety audits and issue enforcement orders to any premises within their area of authority. On inspecting a premises, the FRS inspector may demand that additional fire precautions be written into the Emergency Fire Plan. If they deem a building to pose an extraordinary fire risk, they may also issue a Prohibition Notice, meaning the building cannot be used until improvements are made. In some circumstances, informal Action Plans are advised by the Fire Inspector. While they are not Enforcement Notices, an Action Plan is still legally binding and enforceable through the courts.
For domestic buildings, including Housing Association accommodation and blocks of flats, it is the local authority’s Environmental Health Officer (EHO) who has the responsibility of enforcing fire safety. This is also the case for sports grounds and any premises that require a safety certificate issued by the local authority. The principles on which the local authority enforces the fire regulations are the same as for the FRS.
The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for enforcing fire safety precautions on all offshore installations, nuclear sites, ships under construction and underground mines. The HSE is also the enforcing authority for fire safety on construction sites.
On properties owned by the Crown Estate, the Crown Fire Inspectors are in charge of enforcing the FSO regulations.
Military establishments, including civilian buildings on MoD owned land, must also comply with the Fire Safety Order, but these are enforced by the Defence Fire and Rescue Service, rather than the FRS.
It is the responsibility of every business and building owner to take the Fire Safety Order Regulations seriously. An Enforcement Notice, while it can be appealed, is enforceable through the Crown Courts with stiff fines and criminal penalties.
Every violation of an FSO regulation risks a fine of up to £10,000 and/or two years imprisonment for the individual person legally responsible for fire safety. Crown Courts also have the authority to levy unlimited fines on companies that ignore an Enforcement or Prohibition Notice. The FRS is vigilant in making prosecutions for fire safety breaches. Since 2010, fines of up to £400,000 have been applied to companies in serious breach of the FSO.
An Enforcement Notice, while not a criminal penalty in itself, does also carry a reputational risk. The FSO requires local fire authorities to publish the name and premises address of all organisations that are issued an enforcement order. These are made publicly available through the website of some local fire authorities, and in some cases remain there even after the demands are complied with.
Fire safety regulations should be taken seriously but shouldn’t be a source of worry. With the right strategic approach, it is possible for every business to comply with them. The problem is that many companies are unaware of their legal fire safety obligations under the FSO. This puts them at risk of Enforcement Notices and legal penalties should they undergo a fire safety audit.
To make compliance easier, we have summarised all the main fire safety regulations into plain English in our Quick Guide to UK Fire Safety Regulations. This free guide sets out the regulations by theme in short chapters, explaining what you need to do and how to comply. Click here to download your copy.