Making fire-risk assessments the responsibility of building owners or managers, the legislation caused considerable apprehension among end users – and still does nearly a decade later.
Len Manning of Hochiki Europe, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fire detection products, has kindly sought to assuage some typical concerns raised by facilities managers and others responsible for arranging fire-risk assessments.
Has the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) improved levels of fire safety since it was introduced?
Len Manning, Hochiki Europe: The answer is very simple – yes.
For those new to the industry, the RRFSO was introduced to simplify, rationalise and consolidate the law on fire safety in buildings. Previously, there were nearly 100 regional and national acts and statutory instruments regarding fire safety provision, some of which were inconsistent or out-of-date.
When it became law on 1 October 2006, the RRFSO 2005 represented a major step change in protecting occupants within buildings. The requirement for a dedicated ‘responsible person’ or team that ensures that premises are risk assessed and that any installed life safety equipment is fully maintained and fit for purpose, has been one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent times.
Does being a responsible person require specialist knowledge?
Not necessarily. However, it does require a certain level of understanding about the causes of fire, how to prevent it and what to do in the event of an emergency.
When it comes to carrying out a risk assessment, a responsible person or member of the premises management team can complete a suitable training course. Alternatively, there are a number of professionals who can do this on your behalf. If you use external resources to conduct a risk assessment that you will be responsible for, you should satisfy yourself that they are suitably competent and qualified to conduct it.
It sounds as if the RRFSO has made fire prevention and safety uniform across all types of premises. Is this so?
While in theory there should be the same rigorous and thorough approach to assessing risk and the potential for danger within any building, this is simply wishful thinking.
Although some individuals wilfully neglect their responsibilities, others are simply unaware of the extent of their duties. While the former are far more overt in their flouting of the law, the fact is that ignorance is just as much of a problem.
In order to address this, far more emphasis is now placed on the role of the responsible person following the tragic events that took place at Rosepark Care Home in South Lanarkshire, when a fire broke out in a cupboard, spread through the building and led directly to the deaths of 14 elderly residents.
Attempts to prosecute the owners for alleged fire safety breaches failed, due to a loophole in the law that meant that as they had dissolved their partnership they could no longer be prosecuted.
However, in November 2012, Lord Wallace introduced a bill to close the loophole and ensure that dissolving a partnership will no longer protect the responsible person from prosecution in such cases.
I have a small business and only employ two people. Does the RRFSO affect me?
Yes – you will need to carry out a risk assessment. The answer would be the same even if you had just one employee.
Should emergency lighting be included in the risk assessment process?
The fire risk assessment will also identify the requirement for emergency lighting. The RRFSO states that the responsible person or premises management team must ensure that ‘the premises and any facilities, equipment and devices provided in respect of the premises are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair’.
Emergency lighting is included, as its function is to indicate a clear means of escape and provide illumination along such routes to allow safe passage to an exit and ensure all points of emphasis are illuminated.
What are the consequences to the responsible person for failing to comply with the RRFSO?
Any failure that leads to loss of life, personal injury or damage to property could lead to prosecution. Those convicted will experience the full weight of the law – minor penalties include a fine of up to £5,000, while major penalties can have unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.
There is a growing portfolio of cases that demonstrates the seriousness of the issue.
Take, for instance, the Nottinghamshire businessman who was found guilty of a failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
His crimes included failure to comply with an enforcement order, failure to ensure an effective means of escape from the premises, failure to ensure that exit routes were clear at all times, failure to provide adequate emergency lighting in emergency routes and exits, and failure to ensure that the non-automatic fire-fighting equipment provided was easily accessible, simple to use and indicated by signs.
He was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years, ordered to do 180 hours unpaid work and had to pay £4,000 in costs.
I’ve just changed the use of my building. Do I need to carry out another risk assessment?
Yes. The responsible person or premises management team is required to conduct a risk assessment as soon as changes are made in the workplace which have an effect on the fire risk or people at risk. Otherwise, it should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
Where can I get more information about the RRFSO and being a responsible person?
Industry leading life safety equipment manufacturers offer a range of advice on the subject and Hochiki Europe’s Emergency Lighting Considerations for Responsible Persons continuing professional development (CPD) seminar provides an overview of what is required when it comes to emergency lighting systems and the responsibilities under the RRFSO.
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Richard, although I emphasise with you with respect to the demise of the fire (safety) departments having served as both a fire safety officer and now run a consultancy business I can quite happily state that the FSO is bringing many more premises into the fire safety legislative arena than were previously included. The main problem at this time is unqualified and unscrupulous fire risk assessors who are jumping onto the bandwagon/charter to line their own pockets with little regard for the RP. A further problem is that the majority of RPs are completely unaware of their responsibilities and Len is trying to educate some of them in his article.
The certification process (FPA) was outdated, failed to include many of the higher risk premises within its scope and often premises with certificates were not re-inspected for many years after the certificate issue. A well run fire safety office now has to prioritise its audits according to risk and this is resulting in many more prosecutions under the RRO than there ever were under the FPA - my old borough FS team put three people in jail for contraventions under the RRO in premises that wouldn't have been inspected under the FPA, including one as a result of a fatal fire.
And I fully agree with Andy with respect to competency - in my opinion a fire safety engineer should have a relevant fire safety degree to be seen as qualified - not just a few years spent in a fire safety office.
Hi Andy. the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council laid out a definition of competence, and it seems that when put to the test the traditional model of a mixture of a qualification, training and experience is what is being used. There is no specification as to the required levels of these categories, just that all three must be present. This recognises that someone with a qualification and no experience is not "competent". It also means that someone with lots of experience but no qualification is also "not competent". What is important is to distinguish between "competence" and "capability".
It does seem like splitting hairs over terminology, but it is helpful. A qualification is important, but so is training and so is experience. As you say, FRA's should be carried out by properly qualified individuals - but therein lies a problem - what is "properly" qualified?
At the FPA we would consider our qualifications robust, and of course there is the NEBOSH qualification, and there are others just as carefully put together. However, and I promise you this is true, I have seen 2 providers who offer half a day training after which they claim the learner will be "competent"! Half a day!? And by definition, no training course can make someone "competent" as you cannot teach experience. So any training course worth its salt should be aiming to make people capable. The competence comes afterwards with any luck as they gradually build up experience.
The problem with the FSO is that too many people think that they can carry it out themselves and think they are "the competant person".
I would'nt survey a house so how come i can do a fire survey!
This does need clarification. On the continent a competant person is descibed as someone who is qualified but here it seems a competant person is someone who has a position of office manager or common sense.
Fire Risk Assessments need to be conducted by properly qualified individuals- with certification and proper indemity insurance.
Have to say I am fed up with people who do not know their history on fire safety making the party line statement, the FSO is a charter for Consultants and suppliers of equipment to provide services and equipment that may well not be needed or is just inadequate. The FSO is an abortion of legislation and swept away good robust pieces that did not cause confusion, in fact there is more today than ever before. What it did do was allow Fire Authorities to get rid of or dramatically reduce their qualified fire safety officers. There has been an increase in fires where fire safety is poor or non existent and in time we will regret this FSO when we have an incident where there is a loss of life. If it is so good why can't I MoT my car?
Hopefully one day day good sense will prevail and reintroduce certification and proper fire safety officers.
Ironically enough, whilst you are correct in stating that there was a failure to provide adequate emergency lighting in emergency routes and exits in the Nottinghamshire case, it is worth pointing out that this was picked up in the FRA - and the owner did go and purchase the required equipment. During the inspection it was found that not only was the EL still in its boxes, but it was these boxes that were blocking the fire exit and escape route......
@Steve Skarratt : Apologies for breaking into and reviving an old debate, but both 'qualifications' and 'experience' are poor yardsticks as measures of competence. In my humble opinion, they are merely useful as supporting evidence of competence - they are not actual measures of competence.
I have encountered time-served people (to all intents and purposes, what you would call 'experienced') in all walks of life, who also have qualifications of the highest order, and I would still regard some of them as lacking competency.
Experience is only of any value if you reflect on it and learn from it. Qualifications are only any good if you are able to apply what you learn. Too many people simply sleep-walk their way through their lives and careers.
The only way of measuring competence is by results.
@AndyLuke Again: I'll apologise for reviving an old debate, but there are issues that I have been wrestling with over the last few weeks and months. The point that I would like to pick up on here is not really the certification point - I have addressed that elsewhere - a piece of paper that follows a 1-day or 3-year course does not make a person 'competent'. The point I would really like to pick up on though is 'indemnity insurance': since when did indemnity insurance make a person 'competent'!? It simply doesn't. Indemnity insurance simply provides peace of mind for the client. A negligent assessment performed by an incompetent (or even a competent) person is still a negligent assessment. Indemnity insurance simply means that there is someone with the financial resources to pick up the pieces for the victim of the negligent assessment.
In fact, even where there is indemnity insurance, if the 'competent person' is not competent, there is always the possibility that the insurer will refuse to indemnify the insured.
Essentially what I am saying is that indemnity insurance is even less of an indicator of competence. You would hope, however, that an insurer will only agree cover for a competent person - but if the so-called competent person has not been candid and honest... well... where does that leave you?
@RichardBaker1 : I was a serving firefighter when the RRFSO 2005 was introduced and I was very apprehensive about it. I know from doing inspections that the only time most businesses gave any thought to their fire precautions was when an inspection was scheduled and/or taking place. And I know from talking to small business owners now, in what will be deemed to be low-risk premises, few - if any of them - have done anything about a FRA.
The argument that the RRFSO 'swept away' over 70 pieces of legislation and brought everybody/everything under a single umbrella - supposedly simplifying matters is just nonsense. The fact that we are still arguing about 'competence' is evidence of that.
And you only really need to look at the BIG companies that are frequently in contravention of the RRFSO to know that it has been a step backwards in terms of employee and public safety: just read the Court of Appeal judgment in the New Look case.
The recent Department of Business, Innovation and Skills report (Aug 2013) suggests that the enforcement teams are skeletal in size and that there is a real problem in terms of adequate resourcing - and that is only going to get worse as the austerity cuts bite further and deeper in the FRS budgets.
I am gravely concerned that we are at real risk of throwing away all of the hard-earned lessons of the past - the legislation that was born out of commercial and industrial tragedies. I hope that we are not going to see a return of tragedies of that magnitude - but I genuinely fear that we may.
Richard, first of all sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. When I agreed to contribute to this article I researched a number of sources, so I am not towing the "party line". They all had a similar conclusion that since the FSO was introduced there has been a "significant" reduction in the number of fires. I do not think that this is a coincidence, although you may disagree. Certainly your response does not contain any real evidence to the contrary although you state
"There has been an increase in fires where fire safety is poor or non existent " . This is not what I have read or had experience of.
If you evidence then please cite the references so that I can read up on them. In my opinion I think that it has been a good move to make employers more accountable for the fire strategies within their own boundaries. With more people involved in the process, there is a greater understanding and spread of knowledge of the risks, and this must surely be a good thing.
I do however concede that to use this as an excuse to reduce qualified safety officers is a definite step in the wrong direction. The system only works if you have adequate policing and measured punishment to the offenders. This policing should be the role of qualified fire safety officers, and having enough to do this is obviously important. Having made that comment I am not in possession of any figures as to the reduction of fire officers following the introduction of the FSO.
A good article I read recently is in the link below.