One of the most important pieces of legislation to come out of the Grenfell fire, the new Fires Safety (England) Regulations 2022, comes into force on 23 January 2023.
Under the new Regulations, a responsible person – usually a managing agent or similar – is required to provide information and carry out checks on fire safety for all buildings over 11m (or 5 storeys) which contain at least two domestic premises.
The biggest requirement – and one that may cause some practical problems – is the provision of information to the fire and rescue authorities, in both hard copy via a secure information box attached to the building itself, and electronically to the authority as soon as the Regulations come into force. The reason it may cause a problem is that information not only includes contact details for the responsible person and others, but documents showing the floorplans for each floor and the design and materials used for the external walls of the building.
Many of these buildings are decades old. Even if the architects are still in practice it is extremely unlikely that this information will have been kept – or that it would be electronically stored in a way that was readable with current technology. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005 – from which these Regulations arise – make non-compliance with the Regs a criminal offence. There is a defence that compliance was not reasonably practicable, but it is yet to be seen if “the architect couldn’t find it” is considered a reasonable defence. Certainly, the public response may not be favourable to such an excuse when simply undertaking a new survey of the building would have been an option.
For construction designers, it is now even more important that as-built drawings and specifications are correct and saved, as clients will be requiring this information both in the first instance and in order to mark up later changes.
The specific information required to be produced and distributed to the authorities and residents is information not only on the design and materials of the external walls but the level of risk identified in connection with them (under Article 9 of the 2005 Order) and what steps have been taken to mitigate those risks (such as a waking watch). This information has to be kept up to date, so if there are changes in the risks associated with particular materials or design the responsible person needs to be aware of them. Industry awareness and CPD have become truly essential.
The floor plans to be provided must show the layout of each floor with lifts, evacuation lifts and essential fire-fighting equipment marked. It must show, on a single page, the environs of the building, details of the use of the building, for example for commercial or residential purposes, access for fire and rescue appliances, the dimensions of the building, information on the number of storeys of the building and the number of basement levels (if any), information regarding the presence of maisonettes or scissor section flats, inlets for dry-rising mains, inlets for wet-rising mains, the location of shut-off controls for any sprinklers, access points for the building, the location of the secure information box, the location of the controls for any smoke control system, the location of any firefighting shaft, the location of main stairways in the building, and the location of the controls for any evacuation alert system. Essential fire-fighting equipment also includes outlets for dry-rising mains, outlets for wet-rising mains, smoke control systems, and suppression systems.
In addition to providing this information, the responsible person has to undertake monthly checks and rectify problems with lifts and essential fire-fighting equipment (and if not rectified within 24 hours then notify the authorities), ensure that there is a clear way of finding signage on each floor together with information on evacuation and what to do in the event of a fire, and, for buildings over 11m or 5 storeys, they need to check fire doors on individual residential premises every 12 months and on communal areas every 3 months. Instructions must also be given to residents to keep fire doors shut and not to tamper with the self-closing mechanisms.
Clearly responsible persons need to be fully aware of their new obligations and ready to implement all the measures by the 23 January 2023.