UK Government releases new fire safety bill

New government legislation is set to improve fire safety in England and Wales. Put in place to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the new bill places a legal requirement on the owners of residential buildings to inspect all fire doors and cladding. This comes in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the subsequent inquiry.

Grenfell recommendations

The proposed change to the existing legislation is a result of recommendations made by Sir Martin Moore-Bick during phase 1 of the inquiry. The initial report recommends that statutory checks be made at not less than three-monthly intervals. Under the new bill, fire and rescue services will be empowered to hold building owners to account and enforce the checks if necessary.

There was some initial reluctance from the government to make fire door checks a legal requirement, seeming to recommend only that routine checks be made. But the new bill is intended to swiftly implement the Grenfell recommendations and significantly increase fire safety.

Other recommendations from phase 1 of the inquiry include:

– Regular lift inspections
– Ensure entrance doors where unsafe cladding is in place comply with fire safety standards
– Clear and easy to understand fire safety instructions
– Review and regularly update evacuation plans

This bill is seen as a stepping stone towards implementing secondary legislation to fully implement these recommendations.

Does the bill go far enough?

While industry bodies cautiously welcomed the legislation, others feel that the checks don’t go far enough when it comes to high usage fire doors in public areas or those that have a vital role in fire safety. Should fire doors at risk of damage or in particularly vulnerable and high risk areas be subject to a risk based approach rather than a time limited one?

By throwing the responsibility for fire door checks onto building owners and FM professionals, it remains to be seen to what extent government will play a regulatory role in fire safety going forward. A Building Safety Bill has been promised with provision for a new building safety regulator but in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis it’s uncertain when such legislation will make it onto the statute books.

Implications for facilities management

So what are the implications for FM managers and how can industry professionals implement fire safety in their buildings? Responsibility for fire door inspection looks set to become a statutory duty for all managed residential buildings which is why implementing best practice for fire safety now will put you ahead of the game.

Routine maintenance should already be in place, ensuring that building assets don’t deteriorate and present a fire risk. Regular and consistent fire drills and other safety routines will ensure that you and your team have access to safety equipment and be skilled in its deployment should the worst happen. Storing relevant information in the cloud so it’s accessible to professionals and residents alike is another smart step in implementing best practice in fire safety for your building. Planning for emergency traffic flow through your building will help residents move safely towards emergency exits.

Taking a risk based approach to fire safety in your residential building will ensure that you’re already future proofed. And building owners and managers now have the clarification they need to better safeguard their residents.