Last reviewed 23 January 2021

The changes in the world of fire safety continue, despite the pandemic. Mike Sopp summarises the significant changes and upcoming legislation.

Building Safety Bill

Due to become an Act in 2021, this piece of legislation will take forward reforms to the building and fire safety system. It aims to create a more stringent regime for “higher-risk residential buildings” as defined in the draft Bill (see “buildings in scope” below).

Key changes to be brought in by the Act are as follows.

  • The introduction of duty holders who will have accountability and statutory responsibilities for managing risks across the design, construction and occupation of buildings on an ongoing basis.

  • Gateway points (stop/go decision points) which will provoke rigorous inspection of regulatory requirements to help ensure building safety risks are considered during planning, design and construction.

  • The requirement for a “golden thread” of building information, stored and updated through the Gateway process and throughout the building’s lifecycle.

  • Mandatory reporting to the new Building Safety Regulator of fire and structural safety occurrences that could cause a significant risk to life.

  • Building registration and a certificate that confirms a building is fit for occupation and provides transparency on the assessment and findings at the time of certification. The Building Assurance Certificate is periodically reviewed.

  • The creation of an ongoing duty on the Accountable Person (who is the dutyholder in occupation). This duty will be to assess building safety risks, taking all reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence of a major incident in the building as a result of these risks.

  • A statutory requirement for the Accountable Person to provide a Safety Case Report that demonstrates how building safety risks are being identified, mitigated and managed on an ongoing basis.

  • A requirement for the Accountable Person to appoint a competent Building Safety Manager to support them in managing fire and structural safety risks in the building day to day.

  • Requirements to engage and develop a strong partnership with residents to keep the building safe through greater transparency and effective complaints handling.

This more stringent regime for higher-risk buildings is coupled with enhancements to the regulatory regime that applies to all buildings, including oversight of the building safety and performance system.

The Building Safety Regulator will:

  • undertake several regulatory functions that will apply to all buildings, working with building control authorities, technical experts and the construction industry

  • have a duty to establish a new industry-led committee to advise on industry competence, oversee the longer-term development of the competence frameworks, and drive improvements in levels of competence

  • be responsible for oversight of the competence and performance of registered building inspectors and the building control bodies in which they work.

Buildings in scope are defined as a building of at least 18 metres or more than six storeys (whichever is reached first); and which contains:

  • two or more dwellings ie house, flat or serviced apartments, or

  • two or more rooms for residential purposes (eg supported accommodation) or student accommodation.

Excluded from the definition are residential care homes, secure residential accommodation (such as prisons or detention centres) and temporary accommodation, such as hotels, hostels, guest houses, hospitals and hospices.

Initially the proposed regime will apply to new buildings but it is expected to apply to existing buildings in due course, although the detail on that is unclear.

See the Draft Building Safety Bill at GOV.UK.

Fire Safety Bill

Due to become an Act in 2021 as well, this Bill takes forward improvements in fire safety in England and Wales. The Bill amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to clarify that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for:

  • the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows

  • entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.

The Bill will provide a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report, which stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas including:

  • regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services

  • ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised

  • ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand

  • ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.

See the Fire Safety Bill 2019–2021 on the UK Parliament website.

Amendments to the Fire Safety Order

Consultation has been taking place on amendments to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. With the Government response expected in 2021, there are various amendments aimed at all premises within scope and some for higher-risk residential buildings.

Key proposals are:

  • overhaul of official fire safety guidance

  • a competence requirement for those undertaking a risk assessment

  • better recording of risk assessment information

  • improvements in the provision of information to key stakeholders

  • maintenance

  • additional requirements for defined higher-risk buildings

  • charging for false alarms.

The following proposals are made to implement Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations:

  • setting a clear definition of a high-rise building (18m or 6 storeys)

  • external wall system design and risk information to be provided to fire and rescue services (FRS)

  • plans of buildings to be provided to FRS

  • creation of a Premises Information Box for all high-risk residential buildings (HRRBs)

  • reporting of lift failures in HRRBs

  • development and review of evacuation plans

  • PEEP development and provision of information to FRS

  • provision of information to residents

  • fire door checks and inspections on a regular basis

  • wayfinding signage to be installed in 11m and higher buildings.

Building control changes are also recommended as follows.

  • changes to provision of information to FRS by building control

  • plan certification

  • prescribed response times

  • improved guidance

  • extending R38 requirements to material changes.

Fire competency

The Dame Judith Hackitt report, Building a Safer Future (generated by the independent review of building regulations and fire safety post-Grenfell) has made the construction and fire sectors consider competency throughout the fire safety sector.

The Industry Response Group, formed to take the report recommendations forward, established the Steering Group on Competence for Building a Safer Future (CSG), which itself then established a number of “working groups”.

The working groups are taking forward recommendations from the Raising the Bar/Setting the Bar publications on fire competency published by CSG. The system proposed is as follows.

  • A new competence committee to sit in the Building Safety Regulator.

  • A national suite of competence standards.

  • Arrangements for independent assessment against competence standards.

  • Appropriate oversight by those assessing and certifying persons against standards.

Further information is available on the Construction Industry Council website .

Fire Risk Assessor competency

Working Group 4 relates to fire risk assessment competency.

Working with the Fire Sector Federation, revised guidance initially published by the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council has now been revised and reissued:

  • Approved Code of Practice. A National Framework for Fire Risk Assessor Competency

  • Guide to Choosing a Fire Risk Assessor.

This new guidance is noted in the recently revised PAS 79-1:2020 Fire Risk Assessment. Premises Other than Housing. Code of Practice and PAS 79-2:2020 Fire Risk Assessment. Housing. Code of Practice from the British Standards Institution.

Building Safety Manager competency

Working Group 8 relates to building safety managing competence. The Building Safety Manager will be responsible for day-to-day management of fire and structural safety in HRRBs.

Competence requirements have been set out in Safer People, Safer Homes: Building Safety Management.

Further information can be found on the Construction Industry Council website.

British Standards Institution competence framework

The British Standards Institution (BSI) is developing an overarching competence framework standard intended for use by key professions and trades including designers, contractors, fire risk assessors, building managers and others in specialist technical or corporate roles.

This will be accompanied by a set of competence requirements for the Principal Designer, Principal Contractor and Building Safety Manager.

The framework will provide a set of core principles of competence, including leading and managing safety, communicating safety, delivering safety, risk management, regulations and processes, building systems, ethics, and fire/life safety.

The competence framework is being developed using an iterative and dynamic process, in line with the new flexible route to standardisation, called BSI Flex.

The second draft of BSI Flex 8670 Built Environment. Overarching Framework for Competence of Individuals. Specification has been published for consultation.

See the BSI website.

Fire Safety Management Systems

The International Fire Safety Standards Coalition’s aim is to “bring about universal and consistent fire safety for our shared built environment globally, given that fire safety is a very high societal concern”.

The Coalition published its first edition of the International Fire Safety Standards: Common Principles (IFSS-CP) in late 2020. These aim to complement current national standards. The Common Principles are applied through the IFSS-CP Framework, which is based around the building lifecycle.

Fire door inspectors’ register

A consolidated advice note from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has resulted in the development of a recognised course for fire door assessments in social housing and the creation of a National Register for Fire Door Inspectors in Social Housing.

For further Information, visit www.firedoorinspectorsregister.co.uk.