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ALL BUILDINGS EXCEPT SINGLEFAMILY DWELLINGS MUST BE ASSESSED

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

The fifth in our series of NBS Shortcuts looks at the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. On 1 October 2006, fire safety legislation changed under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. From that point onwards, with no transitional arrangements, fire certificates were abolished and ceased to have legal status.

Under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 certain classes of building - those with designated uses such as institutional, entertainment, recreational, teaching, research and workplaces, as well as some residential buildings (but not dwellings) - required a fire certificate.

This would be issued only after the fire authority had proved itself satisfied that the provisions for means of escape, fire fighting equipment and warning systems were all adequate. In December 1997, the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations came into force. They were amended in 1999 to take into account a wider range of premises. All this applied in England, Wales and Scotland.

But on 1 October 2006, fire-safety legislation changed under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO).

In one fell swoop these two substantial Fire Precautions Acts were replaced and around 118 other separate pieces of legislation were amended or replaced. In addition, the RRO only applies to England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland under similar but different requirements. In Scotland, for example, the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 (FSSR) are now in force. The differences between the FSSR and the RRO are slight - primarily concerning the need to reference Scottish Parliament documents as opposed to the RRO solely referencing UK Parliament legislation - but there are some important differences. For example, the FSSR addresses houses in multiple occupation and as such has a different definition of a 'domestic premises'.

The RRO defines domestic premises as 'premises occupied as a private dwelling (including any garden, yard, garage, outhouse, or common appurtenance of such premises which is not used by the occupants of more than one such dwelling)' (my italics). As such, it does not apply to domestic premises. The FSSR also does not apply to domestic premises defined as 'premises occupied as a private dwelling including specified parts used in common by the occupants of more than one dwelling' (my italics).

In Northern Ireland, the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 came into force in July 2006, but it contains little of substance as yet. It intends to phase in the various orders relating to definitions, responsibilities, powers, etc, over 2007.

In terms of both the Scotland and the England and Wales legislation, the main effect of the changes will be a move towards greater emphasis on fire prevention in all non-domestic premises.

The Fire Certificate is now a thing of the past and the government hopes to save around £1.7 million from the withdrawal of certification procedures alone. The main purposes are to:

? create a single regime for simplicity and ease of understanding;

? use risk assessment as a central means of fire prevention and mitigation measures;

? shift the burden of compliance, in order to encourage compliance;

? focus on those premises that present the greatest risk; and ensure that compliance responds to actual circumstances and that maintenance procedures are factored in.

The legislation covers 'general fire precautions' and other fire-safety duties which are needed to protect 'relevant persons' in case of fire in and around most 'premises'. 'Relevant persons' are those affected by a fire and used to refer to occupants and those directly involved in the building. Now it also means 'any person in the immediate vicinity of the premises who is at risk from a fire on the premises', such as passers-by and the owners of neighbouring buildings. They must be considered in your plans. Bear in mind that when it comes to speculative developments, some relevant persons (e. g. the actual user group) may be unknown!

Interestingly, a firefighter is not a relevant person. The Scotland and the England and Wales legislation requires fire precautions to be put in place 'where necessary', and to the extent that is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances to minimise harm and hazard to those relevant persons. In all workplaces with one or more employees, a full risk assessment and an emergency plan must be in place. Where there are more than five employees, those considerations must be recorded.

Responsibility for complying with the Fire Safety Order will rest with the legally designated 'responsible person'. In Scotland this position is known as the 'dutyholder' and in Northern Ireland the name and duties of this quasi-legal entity will not be decided upon until later in 2007. The responsible person must ensure that a fire-risk assessment has been carried out by a 'competent person' (one who is demonstrably competent so to do, having attended one or more courses). In a workplace the responsible person is most likely to be the employer or any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, e. g. the occupier or owner. In all other premises the person or people in control of the premises will be responsible. If there is more than one responsible person in any premises, all must take all reasonable steps to work together to produce a harmonious risk assessment.

The risk assessment and emergency plan should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as the disabled or temporarily disabled, and must consider any dangerous substance likely to be on the premises. As with statutory health and safety obligations, fire-risk assessments should identify the hazards; the risks that can be removed or reduced; and the nature and extent of the general fire precautions needed to protect people against residual fire risks. In the past, if there hadn't been a material change, the fire and rescue service couldn't demand upgrades on buildings with fire certificates even if the certificates had been obtained, say, 50 years previously. Now they can.

Risk assessments must be carried out on all premises and buildings other than dwellings in single occupation. The fire and rescue service may visit the property, but they will not carry out a risk assessment - they will simply audit the procedures in place. In general, the competency expressed in the assessment will determine the level of suspicion, driving more detailed physical inspection.

The government has written a set of guides that describe in some detail what is needed in order to comply. These cover a variety of buildings and even though there is a considerable amount of duplication, each includes a range of very helpful diagrams showing the typical layouts for emergency egress; as well as various escape distances to suit occupancy rates, demographics and building classifications. They also include generic fire risk assessments and maintenance checklists.

The graph showing the likelihood of a fire occurring in a given building type (see page 41) may be used to prioritise the level of detail applied to a building's emergency plan. Note, for example, that industry/warehouses has five times the risk of a fire occurring than a school or office. The fire and rescue service tends to prioritise its inspection resources accordingly.

Even though fire-ghters aren't deemed to be relevant, architects should consider the practical implications of poor design on their call-out efficiency. Firefighters carrying heavy equipment are helped in their duties by accurate directional signage; clear and accessible alarm indicators (to help pin-point the location of the fire); minimal obstructions in the form of security gates, etc, that may require cutting equipment; uncomplicated access routes; and ensuring that risers and hydrants are located in convenient and obvious positions.

Austin Williams is the author and illustrator of NBS Shortcuts. For more information visit www. thebuildingregs. com

DAILY CHECKS (NOT NORMALLY RECORDED)

ESCAPE ROUTES

Can all fire exits be opened immediately and easily?

Are fire doors clear of obstructions?

Are escape routes clear?

FIRE WARNING SYSTEMS Is the indicator panel showing 'normal'?

Are whistles, gongs or air horns in place?

ESCAPE LIGHTING Are luminaires and exit signs in good condition and undamaged?

Is emergency lighting and sign lighting working correctly?

FIREFIGHTING EQUIPMENT Are all fire extinguishers in place?

Are fire extinguishers clearly visible?

Are vehicles blocking fire hydrants or access to them?

WEEKLY CHECKS ESCAPE ROUTES

Do all emergency fastening devices to fire exits (push-bars and pads etc) work correctly?

Are external routes clear and safe?

FIRE WARNING SYSTEMS

Does testing a manual call point send a signal to the indicator panel? (Disconnect the link to the receiving centre or tell them you are doing a test) Did the alarm system work correctly when tested?

Did staff and others hear the fire alarm?

Did any linked fire protection systems operate correctly (e. g. magnetic door holder released, smoke curtains dropped)?

REFERENCES

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005), The Stationery Office BRE Certification Ltd (2006) 'Requirements and Testing Procedures for Radio-Linked Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Equipment', Loss Prevention Standard, LPS 1257: Issue 10 BS 5839-6 (2004) 'Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems for Buildings. Code of Practice for the Design, Installation and Maintenance of Fire Detection and Fire Alarm systems in Dwellings', British Standards Institution BS 5839-9 (2003) 'Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems for Buildings. Code of Practice for the Design, Installation, Commissioning and Maintenance of Emergency Voice Communication Systems', British Standards Institution Simon Ham, (to be published June 2007) 'Guide to Part B of the Building Regulations', NBS J A Purkiss (2006) 'Fire Safety Engineering Design of Structures' Butterworth-Heinemann Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (2003), 'Fire Engineering; (Second edition)', CIBSE Guide E

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