LFB welcomes fire safety bill publication

23 March 2020

London Fire Brigade (LFB) said that the bill would ‘provide greater clarity’ as well as ‘improve fire safety’ for buildings in England and Wales.

In the government’s announcement, it stated that the new bill would build ‘on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes, and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again’. In December last year, the new government’s Queen’s Speech saw building safety and fire safety bills introduced, with the fire safety bill supporting findings from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase.
 
These include ‘main benefits’ such as providing residents with ‘reassurance’ on fire safety and making it clear that building owners and managers know they are ‘responsible for assessing the risks of external walls and fire doors’. A clarification that the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO] ‘includes the external walls of the building, including cladding’ as well as ‘fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy’.
 
‘Relevant enforcement powers’ to hold owners and managers ‘to account’ would be strengthened, while a ‘transitional periods’ for these roles, the responsible person and the fire and rescue services (FRSs) would ‘assist’ in placing infrastructure. In January this year, more details were released including the requirement for building owners to ‘fully consider and mitigate’ the risks of external wall systems and individual flat doors, as these changes would ‘make it easier to enforce’ where owners have not remediated combustible cladding ‘by complementing the powers under the Housing Act’.
 
The government is also set to work alongside local authorities and support ‘enforcement options’ where ‘there is no clear plan for remediation’, as building owners are ‘responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe’. Most recently in February, it was revealed that the government would include a requirement in the bill for fire doors in all flat blocks to be checked every three months, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) asking building owners if quarterly inspections were ‘feasible’.
 
The bill was introduced to ‘improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales’, and ‘builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes’. It will amend the FSO to ‘clarify’ that the responsible person or dutyholder for multi occupant residential buildings ‘must manage and reduce’ the risk of a series of elements.
 
These include the structure and external walls of a building, including cladding, balconies and windows, and entrance doors to individual flats ‘that open into common parts’, with this clarification to ‘empower’ FRSs to take action ‘and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant’. It will also provide a ‘foundation’ for secondary legislation to ‘take forward’ the inquiry’s recommendations.
 
These cover responsibilities of building owners and managers of high rise and multi occupant residential buildings, including ‘regular’ lift inspections and reporting results to FRSs; and ensuring evacuation plans ‘are reviewed and regularly updated’, as well as personal evacuation plans being in place for residents ‘whose ability to evacuate may be compromised’.
 
Others include ensuring that fire safety instructions ‘are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand’, and ensuring that individual flat entrance doors ‘where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding’ comply with current standards. The bill will also give Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick the power to amend lists of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the FSO ‘by way of secondary legislation’.
 
The government noted that this would enable it to ‘respond quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings’. In its response, LFB ‘welcomed’ the bill’s publication, and cited the extension of FRS enforcement powers over multi occupant buildings as evidence that this clarification ‘will empower’ FRSs to take enforcement action ‘and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant with their responsibilities for the outside of buildings, as well as the inside’.
 
Dan Daly, LFB assistant commissioner for fire safety, commented: ‘We are pleased to see these amendments to the [FSO] and the clarity it provides with regards to the exterior of buildings and  individual front doors which open into common parts. With so much concern around cladded buildings across the country, we welcome this clarification in legislation which will enable us and other fire and rescue services to take action against those responsible for building safety where necessary to ensure that people are safe in their homes.’
LFB welcomes fire safety bill publication