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The Regs: Fire risk assessments

Geoff Wilkinson analyses Fire Risk Assessments and Regulation 16B Fire Plans

Readers may be aware that the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has recently launched a ‘non-compliance costs’ campaign to address the issue of non-compliance with air conditioning inspection requirements and f-gas legislation. CIBSE rightly points out that high levels of non-compliance mean businesses are missing out on the combined benefits of reducing running costs and carbon emissions.

However, there is a far more worrying trend for your clients which comes as Fire Brigades step up a campaign to enforce the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, by imposing hefty fines and damaging their reputations.

These cases are not just affecting small back street operations, but have involved some household names that would shock the public and shareholders alike. One such recent case involved the Co-operative Group for what a judge described as ‘a lamentable approach to fire safety’ at its Hampshire stores. The fine including costs amounted to £210,000 for a total of six breaches of fire safety law.

But shoppers thinking of switching to Co-operative’s rival Tesco would fare no better, as Tesco has been fined £95,000 plus £24,000 costs for a similar breach at its Barnet Store.

However, the record penalty goes to another high street giant – New Look – with a staggering £400,000 fine and £136,052 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of fire safety legislation, following a serious fire at its Oxford Street store in London.

Yet, perhaps the most staggering statistic is that Eland House, the London headquarters of Communities and Local Government (the department responsible for fire safety policy) was itself served with an enforcement notice under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) earlier this year for, among other things, ‘failing to provide essential fire safety information to staff’.

So what has this to do with architects? Well in 2007, the Building Regulations were extended by Regulation 16B which required the deposit of Fire Safety information with the Building Control Body (BCB) prior to the issue of a completion certificate.

The information required should include the ‘as built’ plan, indicating details of fire protection and escape, stating any design assumptions for the use or the management of the building, especially where design is at variance to Approved Document B.

The enforcement of Regulation 16B by BCBs has been variable to say the least, however, architects should be advising clients of the need to produce these drawings to hand over to their staff and/or Fire Risk Assessor, and ensuring that they are included in the handover documentation. This could result in extended commissions, as clients often fail to appreciate the legal requirements for these drawings, and don’t necessarily retain the architect to produce as built drawings.

I spoke recently to Iain Cox, director of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) who said ‘CFOA believes that the safety of the public – and of fire-fighters – will be compromised if the requirement to gather and pass on fire risk information is not met.

‘All too often we find occupiers have no idea about the principles of fire safety the building they occupy is based on. We are not calling for new regulations – they already exist – we are calling for people to meet their obligations under the law.’

  • Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants and vice-chair of the CIOB Building Standards Faculty

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