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IGNORING THE NEW RULES MAY INCUR GREATER LIABILITY OR LOSSES

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

THE REGULATORY REFORM (FIRE SAFETY) ORDER All businesses must review fire safety in light of the new regulations introduced on 1 October. Designed to simplify and streamline the system, the new rules replace or amend more than 70 pieces of existing legislation. For architects, this is likely to impact far more on their businesses as owners/occupiers of non-domestic premises than on their professional obligations when designing buildings.

The main aim of the new regulations is to shift the nature of fire legislation away from a prescriptive set of rules to a riskassessment-based approach, specific to particular premises. A key change is that the obligation to comply with the rules will now rest with the 'responsible person' who, in most cases, is the employer or the person who has control of the premises. For many businesses, responsibility resides with managers or the health-and-safety officer, but this will now extend to others; for instance, third-party occupiers of individual units within multi-occupancy premises.

Clearly, it is imperative that companies ensure their responsible person has been trained and is fully aware of the new regulations, and that other employees are clear about what is required of them. If responsibility has not been assigned and a fire occurs, businesses could find that they are facing greater liability or losses. Organisations should ensure that their fire-risk assessment procedures comply with the new requirements and guidance.

Tim Hill is an associate in the regulatory group at Eversheds LLP solicitors, Newcastle

INTERPRETING THE NEW PROCEDURES The new regulations introduced on 1 October were the most dramatic change in fire-safety legislation in 50 years, with more than 100 pieces of legislation withdrawn from the statute books.

It is a positive step for fire safety in the workplace.

A major alteration with this shift in legislation is that organisations must now appoint an individual who is accountable for fire safety, known as the 'responsible person'.

Previously, once a building owner had submitted an application for a fire certificate (a process which could take up to two years), the onus rested on someone else's shoulders. Now, the 'responsible person' must ensure General Fire Precautions are implemented to safeguard those who occupy a premises.

The use of the words 'fire precautions' in the act has a wide and varied meaning, covering more areas in fire safety than it implies. It is therefore wise for business owners to ensure that their actions are compliant with the act. One route is to engage a fire-safety consultancy to perform an assessment of the premises, which should include a fire risk assessment, a fire strategy, the creation or updating of fire plans, remedial specifications and a review of existing fire procedures. A fire-safety professional should also liaise with the local fire authority and negotiate with insurance companies.

David Webster is sector director of health and safety and fire-risk management (business units) at AYH

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