What is the Fire Safety Act?
The Fire Safety Act 2021 amends the Fire Safety Order 2005, and along with the draft Building Safety Bill, is part of a collection of new legislation in response to the recommendations within the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and Hackitt Review. One of the key changes from the Fire Safety Act is that External Wall systems and Resident flat entrance doors must now be included in a building’s risk management plan.
What is the current status of the Fire Safety Act?
Following agreement by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords on the text of the Fire Safety Bill, it received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. Therefore, The Bill is now an Act of Parliament (law) and relevant guidance is expected to be released early 2022.
Who does it apply to?
The Fire Safety Act currently applies to all sleeping accommodation, and this covers communal areas of managed blocks as well. Presently, it applies to all buildings of any size or height that are located in Great Britain (excludes Scotland).
What does The Fire Safety Act mean for…
Under the Fire Safety Act 2021, all duty holders, which includes the Freeholder (and their agent), now have a definitive legal obligation to ensure that the residents’ entrance doors are suitable and sufficient for adequately preventing the spread of fire. This means that, those responsible for the communal area will now need processes to ensure that the leaseholder’s fire doors are sufficient and remain that way.
In buildings over 11 metres an urgent inspection of all fire doors to ensure that they comply with applicable legislative standards is recommended, with a system of regular inspections implemented. This should include the routine inspection ensuring self-closing mechanisms are fitted and in working order. As a Freeholder or Managing Agent, you can no longer be satisfied with simply asking Lessee’s that they ensure compliance. As a duty holder, you must ensure it yourself.
This is further explained below; please note that this information reflects the current direction of the debate on future fire door regulation as detailed on the Fire England website. This could therefore be subject to drastic change depending on the outcome. Regulations coming soon.
External Wall Systems
While the combustible cladding on the outside of Grenfell Tower was the most significant factor in the fire, it was not the only reason for its rapid spread. From the Public Inquiry into the fire, it has become evident that other elements of the design and construction of the external walls were also contributory.
The Fire Safety Act 2021 has now established that external walls fall within the scope of the Fire Safety Order. Therefore, any Fire Risk Assessment of a multi-storey, multi-occupied residential building needs to include consideration of the potential for fire spread via the external walls of the building. Current external wall surveys are benchmarked against standards for new buildings but this has created problems for owners of existing buildings. This is because external walls on these buildings cannot necessarily be expected to conform to current guidance for new buildings. Proposed guidance for the assessment of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats applies a risk-based approach using fire risk appraisal and assessment (FRAA). This will be identified in your Fire Risk Assessment and will not only consider the fire performance of external wall systems and its configuration but the existing fire strategy for the property.
External walls of buildings, of any height, should not assist the spread of fire. Balconies made with combustible materials are a potential source of rapid fire spread on the external wall of residential buildings. Building owners should therefore ensure that they understand the materials used in the construction of balconies. This will enable them or their competent advisor to better understand the associated risk of external fire spread and take appropriate action to manage this risk. They should also ensure that any risks arising from balconies are considered as part of the Fire Risk Assessment and information provided to residents. Where there is doubt over the materials used, or risk presented, building owners should seek professional advice.