Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
March 18, 2015

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FSF Urges Government to Clarify Fire-Safety Responsibilities in Wake of Westminster Debate

The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) has urged the government to rethink fire-safety legislation following a recent debate on on the issue in the Houses of Parliament.

Brought to the House by Jonathan Evans MP the debate, which took place in Westminster Hall on 3 March, spotlighted the tragic case of Sophie Rosser, who died in August 2012 following a blaze at her London Docklands flat, Meridian Place.

Evans said he wished to “to examine the adequacy of the current legislative framework as it relates to fire safety”, which exposed a “lack of clarity about who is accountable for the implementation of fire safety laws.”

Backing the MP’s comments the FSF noted that the debate once again highlighted the apparent fragmentation in fire-safety processes in the built environment. Other notorious fires at Lakanal House, Shirley Towers and Atherstone-on-Stour also…

fsf brian robinson“The tragic case of Sophie Rosser unfortunately reminds us that there is still failure surrounding maintenance and management responsibilities for fire safety in buildings today,” said FSF Chairman Brian Robinson.

“The weaknesses highlighted in the recent Westminster Debate are issues witnessed regularly by members of the Fire Sector Federation who consider clarification of the law; improved competence in risk assessment; effective enforcement of required standards; recognition of credible research and action to reduce false alarms must be prioritised on the agenda of the two Ministers’ responsible (Fire and Building Regulations) post this May’s election.”

During the debate, Mr Evans stated that the inquest into Sophie Rosser’s death found that the fire alarm at Meridian Place had not been working for two years; there were issues with the self-closing fire doors; the building had been constructed with inadequate smoke ventilation shafts; and there had been only one fire risk assessment since 1997.

He suggested that this was not an isolated case and highlighted a litany of common issues with fire doors, obstructed means of escape and insufficient attention given to provisions in the fabric of UK buildings to protect against fire. He also raised concerns about false alarms from automatic fire detection systems and a lack of sprinkler provision in UK buildings.

“I want to draw the attention of the House to what my constituents and many others regard as a gap in the existing legislation and practice. Are responsibilities and roles clear? Are they understood? Do they get discharged in practice?” he asked.

In response to Mr Evans’ concerns, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Stephen Williams MP defended the existing legislative framework. He referred to the Housing Act 2004; the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005; and the guidance in Approved Document B of the Building Regulations. He also referred to the Government’s Fire Kills initiative, which aims to ensure that householders have clear advice on what to do in the event of a fire.

While noting that Government was committed to a review of Approved Document B in 2016-17, he insisted that the legislation and available guidance was fit for purpose, declaring that the issue was not with the legislation and guidance but with “the observance of such guidance.”

Acknowledging that investigation following an incident may be a “complex and time-consuming process”, Mr Williams declared that the “enforcing authorities have wide powers to take action against the full range of organisations whose actions or failures may have contributed to compliance failures.”

He concluded that it is “our duty constantly to remind our constituents that guidance and regulation is there. We believe that it is fit for purpose, but if it is not followed, tragic consequences can result.”

A copy of the Hansard record of the debate and details of the Sophie Rosser case are available on the FSF website, www.firesectorfederation.co.uk

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It is the observance of the legislation that is the issue and how do you get people to observe? Enforce and educate; both of which take money and need coordinating. Sadly new initiatives and guidance are not forthcoming from the sector and the fire service are stretched and under resourced. There are many many housing providers with substandard stock and substandard fire precautions in that stock; thankfully not that many fires test those buildings or precautionary measures. However if you drove your car with bald tyres, a light out and defective brakes, if stopped by the police you could expect… Read more »

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