Fire safety in buildings: What has changed since Grenfell?
James Cullen, Associate and Head of Building Surveying at George F. White, talks the importance of Fire Safety through Risk Assessments and mitigating risk.
Grenfell Tower fire, one of the most significant fire events we’ve seen in recent years, led to 72 fatalities. Almost two years on and there seems to be very little change in attitude towards building fire risk assessments with many being overlooked, or worse still, not even considered.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates minimum fire safety standards and requires a ‘responsible person’ to be in charge of fire safety in non-domestic buildings, and also buildings where people are employed.
The responsible person will typically be the employer, or, any other person who has control to some extent; if the building isn’t a work place, then any person can be designated the ‘responsible person’.
The responsible person is required to carry out certain fire safety duties on a regular basis; these include ensuring general fire precautions are satisfactory and that there’s a fire risk assessment in place (with any action points raised being implemented). If more than five persons are employed, the risk assessment has to be a written.
In my experience, the fire risk assessment process, and fire safety as a whole in buildings, is often overlooked by those who are ultimately responsible. Despite this, the risks associated with fire safety negligence can be fatal. In light of recent tragedy, fire safety should be at the forefront of our minds and by following the auditing process correctly, risks can be mitigated.
Evidently, this is not the case. I often find that building owners and responsible persons leave themselves open to considerable risk of negligence and provide buildings which are not safe regarding fire. I am pleased to say the attitudes of social landlords have been positive in light of tragedy, ensuring the risk assessment process is carefully considered, yet, this proactive attitude has not been so apparent within the private sector. In my experience, fire risk in buildings spans far wider than combustible cladding, despite such a key focus on this construction element in the media, and it is important to) consider a wide range of building components and management issues as part of a compliant audit.
Advice and Action Points to Mitigate Risk:
- Conduct a thorough fire risk assessment;
- Action all points outlined in the risk assessment, ensuring any remedial works are inspected and approved by a qualified risk assessor. Note – action points will have a recommended implementation time/action by date;
- Ensure the assessment considers all critical aspects of the structure and building management;
- Review the risk assessment annually and following any indicant, near miss, fire or before and after any building works;
- Always review and revise the fire risk assessment if a change of use is proposed in a building. The fire strategy and risk profile may often be different should the building use alter to some degree, impacting fire safety considerably;
- Appoint the right people. It’s essential that the person conducting the risk assessment is skilled, trained and qualified to complete such a task. It’s often the case that individuals label themselves as fire risk assessors without having the above, leading to negligence, failings and non-compliance. Always look to appoint an RICS regulated chartered building surveyor with a supplementary qualification and experience in fire risk assessment in order to be sure you are advised correctly.
Remember, if the above process isn’t completed with due diligence, in the event of any fire you could be liable for all consequences involved, be it financial, building damage, reputation, injury or even fatalities. As a special offer, we’ll be offering 10 per cent off all fire risk assessments instructed in May.