The seemingly relentless introduction of new legislation and regulation continues with the Fire Safety (England) Regulations (“FSR”) which come into force in January 2023.
While that is a good six months away, the obligations set out in the FSR – which make law a number of the recommendations in the Phase 1 Grenfell Inquiry – will place an additional burden on already stretched fire safety resources. The obligations are significant and property owners who are responsible persons for the purposes of the RRFO and the Fire Safety Act need to start thinking about resourcing and managing these new requirements as soon as possible.
The requirements for high rise residential buildings in particular will in many cases require a full survey of both the external wall system and the overall building to ensure the information obligations are met. In many cases, this information will not be immediately available (or available at all) and will have to be obtained retrospectively through a combination of both physical inspection and digital modelling.
While the Government intends to publish Guidance later this year, the FSR itself is relatively clear about what is needed. It would, in our view, be unwise to await the publication of the Guidance before thinking about the steps needed to meet the FSR’s requirements. The obligations are onerous and for those building owners who have a large portfolio of high rise residential buildings it is inevitably going to mean having to employ staff to carry out the new responsibilities. Although to a certain extent some of the information will be available as a result of fire risk assessments undertaken for both the RRFO and Fire Safety Act, there are ongoing obligations of inspection (and rectification where required) that for many organisations simply will not be possible to fulfill through existing resources. Spare a thought too for the fire brigades who will need to set up and manage IT systems for receiving, reviewing and dealing (were necessary) with information in respect of high rise residential buildings.
Although the FSR does not contain specific timeframes for compliance, the fact is that when it comes into force on January 2023 the obligations will immediately become legally enforceable under the RRFO. It is for this reason that organisations should start looking at resourcing the new requirements now.
The FSR provides three separate regimes. The first is for high-rise residential buildings that are 18 meters or more above ground level. The second is for multi-occupied residential buildings over 11 meters in height, and the third is in respect of all residential buildings. In this article, we consider the requirements for each category of residential building.
High Rise Residential Buildings (“HRRBs”)
The requirements for HRRB’s can be summarised as follows:
The Information Box and what it Must Contain
- The responsible person must install a secure information box to hold the information required by the FSR and ensure that it is easily accessible to the fire service. The information box must be inspected annually to ensure it remains secure and contains the necessary information;
- The box must contain the details of the responsible person and any person authorised by the responsible person who has access to the building as part of their role in managing the facilities within the building.
- The box must include a record of the design and construction of the external wall systems on the building including details of the materials used. It must also include a copy of the fire risk assessment undertaken in respect of the building generally as well as for the purposes of the Fire Safety Act 2022. Where those assessments identify a risk in the external wall system, details of the mitigation measures in place to reduce that risk must also be set out. Where there is a significant change to the external wall system the risk assessment(s) will need to be updated.
- The responsible person must prepare a detailed floor plan showing the location of all passenger and fire-fighting lifts (where these are present) along with the location of all fire fighting equipment within the building (wet and dry risers, sprinkler and smoke control systems). Where each floor plan is the same, the plan will have to make clear the floors to which it applies. If the floor plans are not the same, they will need to be included in the plan.
- In addition to the floor plan, the responsible person must prepare a single page building plan that is designed to provide the fire service with an ‘at a glance’ summary of all the main fire fighting information. It must include:
(a) the environs of the building;
(b) details of the use of the building, for example for commercial or residential purposes;
(c) access for fire and rescue appliances;
(d) the dimensions of the building;
(e) information on the number of storeys of the building and the number of basement levels (if any);
(f) information regarding the presence of maisonettes or scissor section flats;
(g) inlets for dry-rising mains;
(h) inlets for wet-rising mains;
(i) the location of shut-off controls for any sprinklers;
(j) access points for the building;
(k) the location of the secure information box;
(l )the location of the controls for any smoke control system;
(m) the location of any firefighting shaft;
(n) the location of main stairways in the building;
(o) the location of the controls for any evacuation alert system.
- Where there is a change of layout within the building, the floor and building plans must be updated. In addition to being physically placed in the information box, this information must also be sent to the fire service electronically.
Lifts and Essential Fire Fighting Equipment
- Every month the responsible person must undertake a written check of the firefighting lift within the building along with the wet and dry risers, the sprinkler and smoke control systems, along with the common alarm systems and door closers linked to them. Where any issue is identified with these it must be rectified as soon as possible. Where it cannot be rectified with a 24-hour period following discovery the responsible person must report the fault by email to the fire services and then confirm again by email when the fault has been rectified.
- The responsible person must ensure that the building contains clear marking identifying the floor number and the number of each residential dwelling. The markings must be visible in low level conditions or when illuminated by a torch.
- In addition to carrying out a fire risk assessment in accordance with the Fire Safety Act (that includes fire doors) the responsible person for a HRRB and any building above 11 metres must undertake a written annual check of the fire doors to entrances of domestic premises. Where access cannot be obtained to an individual dwelling the written record must explain the steps taken to try and obtain access. The responsible person must also check every fire door between the communal parts of the building every three months. For both categories of fire door, it is a specific requirement to check that self-closers are present and working.
- For all three categories of building the responsible person must provide residents with relevant fire safety instructions (i.e. not to disturb self-closers etc., or to prop open communal fire doors) along with information about the importance of fire doors.