The Home Office has launched a call for evidence relating to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO], which will run until 31 July 2019, alongside a government consultation.
In an announcement, the government stated that it is ‘seeking views’ on the FSO, which it notes ‘underpins fire safety in non-domestic premises’, with both employers and business owners being asked for their perspectives. It specifically noted that the call for evidence has come as part of the changes being made since Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety was published in May 2018.
This call for evidence will run until 31 July 2019, with an analysis of responses to be published and ‘inform the government’s next steps later this year’, and the government added that the call for evidence ‘complements’ its own consultation – Building a Safer Future – which ‘outlines how the government proposes to take forward meaningful legislative reform in the building safety regulatory system’.
On the consultation, the government stated that residents were ‘encouraged to have their say’, noting that the Grenfell Tower fire ‘shattered the lives of many people and shook the trust of countless more in a system that was intended to ensure the most basic human need of having a safe place to live’. It also noted that research made it apparent that ‘too many in the building industry were taking short cuts that could endanger residents’, with the Hackitt Review a response to this.
The consultation, to be held over the same period as the call for evidence, proposes a ‘stronger voice’ for high rise residents to ‘ensure their concerns are never ignored’, including better information provision and the ability to ‘participate in decisions about safety’, alongside ‘clear and quick’ routes of escalation ‘if things do go wrong’.
Nick Hurd, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, stated: ‘The Grenfell Tower fire was an unimaginable tragedy and we are determined to do everything we can to stop it ever happening again. The government is making good progress on improving the safety of high-rise flats, but we must also look at the wider building safety landscape, including the places where we all work.
‘To help keep people safe, we want to ensure the Fire Safety Order is fit for purpose. To do this, we need to understand how it is working on the ground and make informed decisions in the future.’
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) welcomed the launch of the consultation and call for evidence, with NFCC chair Roy Wilsher ‘pleased’ that the government has accepted Dame Judith’s ‘diagnosis that radical culture change is needed’, though he ‘stressed’ that the new regulatory regime for building safety ‘requires a risk based, person centred approach’.
He added: ‘It’s positive to see the Government’s plans will apply beyond the original recommendation of residential buildings 30m and above, to encompass residential buildings down to 18m. However, any new regime needs to be based on a holistic assessment of risk and avoid creating a two tiered standard of safety. At the heart of this should be the protection of vulnerable persons.
‘The NFCC would like to see buildings where vulnerable people sleep (such as hospitals, care homes, and specialised housing) included within the scope of proposed new requirements during the construction phase of buildings. We look forward to supporting government to gather evidence on risk in other types of buildings, and will be engaging extensively with fire and rescue services throughout the consultation.
‘Lifting competency across the board will be vital to achieving a greater level of safety and quality in the built environment. A national regulator could be beneficial in overseeing a system that appropriately regulates the competency of relevant professions in the sector. We are pleased the Home Office have requested evidence on Article 38 of the Order (maintenance of protection for Firefighters), which NFCC believes is not fit for purpose in its current form.
‘Article 38 provides that firefighting facilities are subject to maintenance, however at present there is no mechanism to require the installation of firefighting facilities where these have been left out in the first instance. NFCC would like to see this addressed.’
He concluded: ‘As we approach the second anniversary of the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire, NFCC look forward to engaging with fire and rescue services and Government further on the development of a new regulatory regime for building safety. The public’s safety is of the highest concern to NFCC and we will continue to advocate for measures believed to be in the public’s best interest.’
Vice chair Phil Loach agreed and added that ‘there are some aspects of the reforms where further detail is needed’, including the ‘key element’ of a proposal for a ‘new national regulator to provide oversight’. He commented: ‘The NFCC supports the principle of stronger and more robust oversight of the building regulatory system.
‘Although clear direction on the new proposed body has not been laid out, the NFCC would support a model that utilises local regulation, with a body that can provide consistent national standards and oversight of local delivery.’