On 1 October 2006 the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 (RRO) came into force and, in doing so, replaced the previous fire safety legislation. From the end of October 2005, fire certificates were abolished and ceased to have legal status.
According to the Government, the purpose of the RRO is to make the law easier to understand and comply with and, in doing so, reduce incidents of death, injury and damage caused by fire.
The most recently published statistics reveal that there were over 40,000 fires in non domestic buildings in the UK last year, and that there were 20 fire deaths in non domestic premises in the year to June 2005.
Who needs to comply?
The RRO applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space. By way of example, it will apply to:
- offices and shops
- factories and warehouses
- care homes and hospitals
- community premises and places of worship
- communal parts of shared properties
- pubs, clubs and restaurants
- hotels and hostels
The RRO will not, however, apply to people’s private homes, including individual flats in a block or house.
Who is responsible for complying with the RRO?
The responsibility for complying with the RRO lies with the “responsible person”, who can be anyone who has a degree of control over certain areas or systems. In the workplace, this will be the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, for example the owner or occupier. In all other premises the person or people in control of the premises will be responsible.
Although in many instances the identity of the responsible person will be clear, there will be other occasions when there will be two or more people who have some responsibility and will therefore be jointly responsible. In this case they will need to work together to ensure compliance.
What is required under the RRO?
Under Regulation 8, the responsible person must take such general fire precautions as is reasonably practicable to ensure both the safety of employees and others. In order to identify what steps to take the responsible person is required under Regulation 9 to make a “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment. Most employers and landlords will already be familiar with the concept of fire risk assessments as a result of their current obligations under the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Amendment Regulations 1999. These risk assessments will need to be reviewed in light of the RRO, which requires various matters to be given special consideration. These include:
- The size of the business and the nature of its activities
- The existence of any dangerous substances
- Whether people aged under 18 are or will be employed
- That the premises is equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment, fire detectors and alarms
- That routes to emergency exits are clearly marked and not obstructed
- Information must be provided to employees, including details of the risks identified by the risk assessment and the preventative and protective measures put in place
- That employees be provided with adequate safety training, for example in the use of fire equipment and how to respond in the event of a fire.
Whilst the responsible person may delegate the task of preparing the risk assessment to some other competent person, they will still be responsible in law for complying with the RRO.
Importantly, the risk assessment should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it is up to date. The responsible person will have to re examine the risk assessment if, for any reason, it is suspected to be no longer valid. This would normally include, by way of example, when there has been an accident or a ‘near miss’.
What happens if you fail to comply?
Enforcing authorities (principally the Fire Authority but also, in certain circumstances, the Heath and Safety Executive) have the power to issue an Enforcement Notice requiring steps to be taken to remedy the failure or, if there is a serious risk of injury, a Prohibition Notice restricting or preventing the use of the premises until specified steps have been taken.
It is also an offence punishable by way of a (potentially unlimited) fine or to imprisonment for a period of up to 2 years or both if one fails to comply with the requirements of the RRO.
Further information and guidance on the RRO can be obtained from www.communities.gov.uk.
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