For obvious reasons, there has been a massive amount of coverage of fire safety matters in the press and social media over the last few months. So much has been said about product testing and certification: Who is responsible for what? Where’s the money going to come from? etc. Most of this is related, of course, to high rise residential buildings – both social housing and private sector – and much in relation to external cladding and sprinklers.
But is there a problem with how this discussion is being conducted?
Our specialism is fire doors and we’re happy to see awareness of their role growing as a result of recent coverage. However, I notice a worrying trend amongst people I meet that, whilst their understanding of the role of fire doors might be growing, their grasp on the details of their responsibilities is not. It seems to me that many people are waiting for some kind of directive from someone in authority to tell them if they need to take any action or not.
The problem, as I see it, with the way the discussion has been conducted so far is that many participants have either been deflecting responsibility or making excuses for inactivity; specifically in relation to fire doors we have seen doubt cast on the test houses and the certification process. This has resulted in a concerning loss of faith in the system.
Then, when this was clarified, we had government & local authorities prevaricating and disputing who should be paying for replacing fire doors and some (Kensington & Chelsea) even claiming that they couldn’t source certificated fire doors because they had been removed from the market (a claim swiftly rebutted by the British Woodworking Federation).
The reason this a problem is that this discussion affects only a small proportion of relevant buildings (as defined by legislation), but most of the people I meet are in the commercial sector and their views are influenced by it. Many ‘responsible persons’ out there actually have limited understanding of what they actually need to do in order to comply with their legal obligations for fire safety (as I did when I was in their position many years ago), but they seem to have adopted a limbo like state while they wait for some kind of clarity on the subject.
The truth is there has been clarity for the last 14 years – since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (England & Wales) and the Fire (Scotland) Act, both of 2005.
Under these two laws, if you are responsible – to any extent – for a relevant building then YOU MUST TAKE GENERAL FIRE PRECAUTIONS.
Specifically, you must:
- Implement a suitable maintenance regime to ensure relevant equipment is kept in an efficient state
- Appoint one or more competent persons to assist in undertaking preventive and protective measures
No “ifs”, No “buts”
None of the recent discussions have any bearing on this and if you haven’t done either of these two things then you are not only compromising the safety of the occupants of your building, but you are exposing yourself to prosecution – and as tolerance wears thin, the frequency of prosecutions is rising.