Last reviewed 20 October 2021

The maintenance of general fire precautions is already a legal requirement under the respective UK fire safety regulations. However, there is likely to be more formal guidance produced in relation to this requirement in order to improve fire safety. As Mike Sopp explains, meeting legislative compliance by following British Standards should form part of the overall management of fire safety in all regulated buildings.

March 2021 saw the UK Government publish its response to the consultation on proposed reforms to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (FSO) as part of its objective to improve fire safety in all regulated buildings.

In summary, respondents “clearly agreed with the need to strengthen the FSO and improve compliance” and, in particular, with a stronger legal basis for any guidance issued under the FSO.

Among the responses, consultees saw “the need for an appropriate standard and/or suitable system for maintenance, and clarity on roles and responsibilities” (for maintenance). The duty holder should be ensuring that they are following best practice to meet current and future legislative requirements.

Legislative requirement

Article 17 of the FSO states that “where necessary in order to safeguard the safety of relevant persons the responsible person must ensure that the premises and any facilities, equipment and devices provided in respect of the premises under this Order…are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair”.

It should be noted that similar requirements are contained in the respective legislation for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In summary, “where necessary” can be taken as meaning that the duty holder must do what is reasonable to protect relevant persons in terms of the maintenance needs of the facilities, equipment and devices provided under the FSO.

In turn, these can be described as the general fire precautions that will include measures:

  • to reduce the risk of the spread of fire on the premises

  • in relation to the means of escape from the premises

  • for securing the safe use of the means of escape

  • for fighting fires on the premises

  • to provide the means for detecting and giving warning of fire.

The key part of Article 17 is the requirement for these elements to be maintained in efficient state and working order and good repair. Guidance for enforcing authorities notes that this is a three-part test that the equipment/device/facility:

  • works to its required design and specification (eg the fire warning system is functioning)

  • is in good repair, free from physical damage or disrepair (eg call points not hanging off walls)

  • is subject to regular testing, inspection and examination to remain in an efficient state.

Maintenance of general fire precautions is an essential part of the overall fire risk management framework and can form part of any formal enforcement procedures.

Government publication, Guidance Note No. 1: Enforcement, states that risk assessments should include references to maintenance. It goes on to state that “enforcing authorities must consider the suitability and sufficiency of any risk assessment that does not address the matter of maintenance where there is the possibility of persons other than the employer/occupier being capable of omissions affecting and negating the effectiveness of the fire precautions”.

It continues by stating that enforcing authorities are “expected to use their professional judgment in evaluating the maintenance of any equipment and devices provided in accordance with the risk assessment to protect all relevant persons in and around the premises from the dangers of fire”.

Achieving legislative compliance

Requirements under Article 17 can be described as “goal-setting”, although there are no prescriptive requirements in relation to how to comply with this Article.

However, Government guidance highlights that fire protection products and related services should be fit for their purpose and properly installed and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions or the relevant British Standard.

This is also reflected in the enforcer’s guidance, which states that to satisfy the requirement to maintain general fire precautions “it is reasonable to expect a system of servicing to be in place, maintaining the system to some recognised standard usually a British Standard”.

Codes of Practice from British Standards Institution will provide guidance and recommendations on various general fire precautions in terms of testing, inspection and examination.

Following such guidance and recommendations can, as noted above, ensure the duty holder is meeting legislative compliance. However, any deviation from the recommendations or guidance would need to be justified to enforcing authorities if this route is taken.

The relevant British Standards will provide details of the necessary periodic actions required to maintain the general fire precautions as part of a routine maintenance programme.

However, the duty holder must also consider the need for reactive or non-routine maintenance, for example if a general fire precaution becomes faulty or is damaged. In respect of this, reference should again be made to the relevant British Standard to ascertain what requirements are being made, for example in terms of service level agreements with third parties to attend site within a set time period to undertake repairs.

Managing maintenance

Meeting legislative compliance by following British Standards should form part of the overall management of fire safety in the premises.

BS9997: Fire Risk Management Systems, notes that organisations should “plan, document, implement and manage the processes for maintenance and testing of fire safety systems to ensure that they operate correctly in the event of fire”. As part of the planning, the organisation will need to consider the following:

  • who is deemed to be the duty holder (responsible person) in shared/leased premises

  • the person/section responsible in-house for managing the maintenance regime

  • identification of the equipment/devices/facilities that will be in scope of the FSO

  • the “base-line” standards to be adopted for maintenance to meet compliance with Article 17 (eg British Standard)

  • the person/organisations that will be responsible for the particular activity (eg in-house or third-party)

  • the competency requirements and/or due diligence required to undertake the activity either in-house or contract with third-party

  • the means for faults or damage, etc to be reported to an appropriate person and remediation procedures (including service level agreements)

  • the records that need to be kept, how they are to be kept and who will have access to them

  • the means of monitoring the undertaking and effectiveness of the maintenance regime.

How the above elements are formalised will be dependent upon the size and complexity of the organisation involved.

It is essential that all the relevant equipment that will fall within scope is identified. Clearly, obvious systems such as fire detection and alarm systems and fire-fighting equipment will be included, but more passive systems should also be included.

Identification of equipment, devices or facilities could be found from relevant manufacturer’s documents, information provided from Regulation 38 requirements of the Building Regulations and the H&S file from the CDM Regulations. Where necessary, a survey of the premises can also be undertaken to identify assets to include.

Another area often forgotten is competency of in-house employees who may be undertaking regular visual inspections or regular testing. Any such employees must be capable of undertaking the necessary tests and inspections (eg by following manufacturers’ guidelines) and interpreting the outcomes.

The keeping of appropriate records for both routine and non-routine maintenance is essential as these may be required as proof of a robust regime by enforcing authorities and other stakeholders.

Summary

The maintenance of general fire precautions is a legal requirement under the respective UK fire safety regulations. Going forward, there is likely to be more formal guidance produced in relation to this requirement.

To meet the goal-setting requirements of legislation, the duty holder must make decisions as to what base line requirements they wish to adopt.

This is most likely to be based upon the relevant British Standards Institution Approved Code of Practice and associated recommendations/guidance.

Enforcement authorities may require evidence to identify that all relevant equipment/devices/systems within scope are being maintained to the three-part test of efficient working order, good repair and efficient state.

Duty holders need to carefully plan their maintenance regime, including reactive or non-routine maintenance. In doing so, the key elements include good scoping, identification of base-line requirements, delegation of responsibility, competency and record keeping.