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March 21, 2012

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Let’s help the ‘responsible person’

Some of the provisions of Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 can be confusing for the ‘responsible person’. Chris Hughes, examines what can be done to help this group of people caught in the firing line of fire safety legislation.

Under current law, the landlord, manager or employer is presented with a daunting task when it comes to fire safety. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) says they “must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and implement and maintain preventive and protective fire safety measures”.

He or she must “make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed’ for the purpose of identifying fire precautions they need to take”.

How are responsible persons to understand and find their way through these requirements? They are the people on whose decisions the safety of people and property rest, but they are too often neglected or not considered in the decision-making process.

hard hats plans and building
Developers are required to provide responsible persons with fire safety information on completed buildings

After all, they are the ones who have to answer charges in court or answer to fire safety officers about the fire safety measures and systems in the building in question if something goes wrong. There are growing numbers of instances where individuals have ended up in court for not complying with the Order by simply not following the process of risk assessment.

If death occurs in a fire, corporate manslaughter or gross negligence manslaughter charges may also be brought and attributed to corporate or individual gross negligence. Injuries may result in health and safety prosecutions.

Even larger businesses, also included as the responsible person for the purposes of the RRO, have been prosecuted and severely fined over recent years for failing to follow the provisions of the legislation.

Guilt can be established simply for putting people at risk, whether or not there is actually a fire. Nor is it a defence that an employee or someone nominated by a company has made a mistake. The test is whether you have adequately managed the potential for harm if there was to be a fire.

The Building Regulations 2010 – under Regulation 38 – require any developer to provide the responsible person with a full set of information on the fire safety elements which will be built into any structure. This enables the responsible person to complete the initial risk assessment, required by the RRO, to be in place from the day of occupation, and there is no latitude given here.

Again, the responsible person needs to be aware of this requirement, particularly in these days when new modern materials may well be used. It is only fair, therefore, that responsible persons should have access to good information which provides them with an easily understood process in how to manage fire safety in their buildings.

As members of the cross-industry group helping to lead this initiative, we believe a simple guidance document would be a first step to help fulfill their needs and cover the logical steps they need to take and consider. This guidance would cover best practice in key criteria including design of the building, installation, management, inspection and ongoing maintenance.

The cross-industry group has agreed to explore ways of further developing voluntary guidance for the responsible person, which could be developed as a form of building management guidance for the longer term.

To demonstrate its commitment, and to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the responsible person, Exova Warringtonfire has created a new dedicated online microsite on behalf of the group, Make Britain’s Buildings Safe.

Fire risk assessors
Meanwhile, a new document setting out competency criteria for fire risk assessors has been introduced and this is welcomed by all in helping to raise standards.

Published by the fire risk assessment council, this sets out the criteria that could be used by professional bodies and third party certification bodies to register or certificate fire risk assessors, and also by organisations providing fire risk assessment services.

The document sets out broad criteria for fire risk assessors of both ‘simple buildings’ – where the fire risk assessor might, for example, be an employee of the occupier – and ‘complex buildings’, which will require higher levels of knowledge, understanding and preferably experience on the part of the fire risk assessor.

As this document suggests, fire risk assessment of buildings is not a straightforward matter, so how is the landlord, owner or manager to interpret and find their way through it?

In its recommendations, the cross-industry group has advised that further examination is needed to help guidance of recognised good practice for the provision of suitable and sufficient fire safety measures in the design and construction of buildings in the first place.

However, the responsible person needs guidance which is logical – and easily understood throughout the process – whatever the scale and scope of the building they are responsible for to enable safe and robust management of buildings.

Chris Hughes

Chris Hughes is certification manager at Exova Warringtonfire.

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