Recently a refreshingly common sense judgement by the Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor regarding a dispute over an alleged non-compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) helped clarify a key issue for the responsible person with regard to Fire Risk Assessment.
The dispute centred around the interpretation of article 10 of the Order and the principles of fire prevention set out in Part 3 of Schedule 1 to the Order which includes “adapting to technical progress”. This can be a nightmare given advances in fire safety technology and the frequent upgrading of Building Regulations that often follows. At worst the fire safety provisions implemented under a compliant fire risk assessment by the responsible person one day could be in breach the next if such changes were routinely enforced retrospectively.
In the case at issue a fire safety authority had demanded that the owners of a 215-bedroom hotel built in the 80’s, fit intumescent strips and smoke seals to its bedroom fire doors as required by current Building Regulations in order to satisfy its legal obligations under the RRO. They did so without even visiting the site. The responsible person on behalf of the owners challenged this as unnecessary as their fire risk assessment indicated that existing fire safety provision was such that little or no safety benefit would result. In addition at the time of building and thereafter until the introduction of the RRO the Hotel held a valid fire safety certificate and the doors complied with the regulations then in force.
The Chief Fire and Safety Officer agreed with the Hotel owners and in doing so clarified a key issue in that there is no requirement under the Fire Safety Order for a responsible person to comply retrospectively with provisions relating to new buildings and alterations under the Building Regulations.
Also significant was his comment that in this case, the installation of intumescent strips and smoke seals on the bedroom doors would not be justified given “the potential expense involved.” Owners will be encouraged to see real world pragmatism creeping into official thinking on fire safety. In the end the parties agreed that it was sufficient for the owners to note the absence of intumescent strips and smoke seals in their fire risk assessment together with justification for their omission.
It should be stressed that the ruling was based entirely on the circumstances of the hotel in question which in all other respects had excellent fire safety measures in place, but it does show that a professional fire risk assessment that properly considers all factors in proportion to the margin of risk reduction achieved can prevent wasteful or needless expense. If you don’t have a fire safety expert in house a qualified fire risk assessor is the first port of call.