RRO enforcers get a taste of their own medicine

It is the irony of all ironies that on Monday, June 07, 2010 following a request under the freedom of information act, it was disclosed that Eland House the London headquarters of Communities and Local Government – the government department that orchestrates fire safety policy in England and Wales – has been served with an enforcement notice under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 .

In a further twist the enforcement notice, dated 16 February 2010 results from a fire safety audit carried out on 26 November 2009 by the Crown Premises Inspection Group which is responsible to the government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, whose unit is based – where else but in Eland House.

The report issued by the inspector from the enforcing authority, the Crown Premises Inspection Group was witheringly critical of the fire safety provisions in the building stating:

“The concepts of ‘responsible’ and ‘competent’ persons, and the duties placed upon those persons under the Order, appear not to be understood within CLG premises”.

The enforcement notice goes on to list no less than 13 breaches of the 15 Articles of the RRO relating to the duties required of the responsible person. At that time this was presumably John Denham the then secretary of state for Communities and Local Government. Deficiencies found included what was termed the “unacceptable” policy that no one should use portable fire extinguishers in the building, the inability of the building to support the phased evacuation strategy, inadequate arrangements to ensure visitors and contractors are accounted for in an evacuation and inadequate means of escape for the number of people likely to occupy the building.

Even though Eland House is listed as Crown premises it is still subject to fire safety legislation including the RRO. Inspection and enforcement procedures are similar to those applied to commercial premises but that is where the similarities end. Crown Immunity means the responsible person cannot actually be prosecuted for the offences committed. So John Denham can sleep easy in the certain knowledge that a fine on the scale of the £400,000 metered out to New Look for less serious misdemeanors is not heading his way any time soon.