The Home Office has published the Fire Safety Act Commencement Prioritisation guidance, to be used by 'Responsible Persons' in complying with their duties under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), as amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021 (FSA). It sets out guidance and appends a Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool to assist Responsible Persons to comply with their duties under the legislation.
The FSA was introduced following the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017. It seeks to ensure a tragedy like Grenfell will never happen again, by increasing the requirements for fire risk assessments, as well as making it easier to take enforcement action against Responsible Persons, who are required to carry out risk assessments and take any necessary action to negate the risks. Responsible Persons are defined in the FSO as an employer (if the building is used as a workplace), a person with control over a building or those who own the non-domestic parts of a building.
In May of this year, prioritisation guidance was published along with commencement of the FSA to assist Responsible Persons to ensure they comply with their responsibilities and update fire risk assessments to include external walls. The FSA clarified that, where a building has two or more sets of domestic premises (e.g. a block of apartments, or a house converted into two flats), the FSO applies to the structure and external walls of the building, including balconies, windows and cladding; and the doors between the residential parts and common parts of the building.
The Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool
The guidance focusses on and appends a Fire Risk Assessment Prioritisation Tool. This can be used by Responsible Persons to determine the priority of their building in terms of reviewing their fire risk assessments. It can be used to help Responsible Persons demonstrate how they have taken the relevant steps to comply with the FSO and FSA.
It is important to know that this tool is not a fire risk assessment and it cannot be used as a risk rating tool for buildings. It is intended to help Responsible Persons identify what steps to take. This guidance only applies in England.
The tool arranges buildings into five priority tiers, depending on the scores achieved on the tool. The action that should be taken depending on the tier is:
- Tier 1 – immediate action should be taken to engage a fire risk professional to advise and update the risk assessment
- Tier 2 – the Responsible Person should take action as soon as practically possible to engage a competent professional and update the fire risk assessment
- Tier 3 – reflecting the availability of competent fire safety professionals (who should be prioritising buildings identified as falling within tiers 1 and 2), the Responsible Person should appoint a professional to advise on actions to take
- Tier 4 – there are some risk factors and the Responsible Person may seek to bring forward reviewing the risk assessment for the building
- Tier 5 – buildings scoring in this tier have very limited risk factors so Responsible Persons can place these buildings as the lowest priority to review the risk assessment, ensuring that duties under FSO as amended by the FSA are considering when completing the review
Compliance with the FSO and FSA and enforcement
There is no legal requirement to follow this guidance or to use the assessment tool, but courts may consider it when deciding whether a Responsible Person has complied with their duties. As fire and rescue authorities are obliged to enforce the FSO/FSA, it may be useful for Responsible Persons to be able to demonstrate, using the prioritisation tool, the steps they are taking to comply with their responsibilities. This is particularly the case if the relevant authority serves an enforcement notice, which could lead to prosecution should the Responsible Person fail to comply with the notice.
While the guidance and use of the tool is not compulsory, it is a useful way to ensure Responsible Persons are doing all they can to ensure they are meeting their obligations under FSO and FSA. The tool asks broad questions, with some questions allowing the option for Responsible Persons to answer "don't know", so it can be completed quickly. Underwriters may wish to consider requiring policy holders to complete this tool and ensure action is taken in accordance with the priority tiers when insuring against fire damage.