Fire safety for common parts of blocks of flats is governed by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (known as the FSO). The legislation came into force for the first time in October 2006; a key component is the requirement for a fire risk assessment. In fact much of the actions you may take under the order will be based upon this initial assessment.
The FSO applies to all parts of a block of flats, other than within the individual flats.
The FSO imposes duties on persons who may include freeholders, landlords, managing agents and contractors who maintain fire safety measures and those who carry out fire risk assessments.
With that in mind, here are a few things you may want to know before you begin:
- You can do the risk assessment yourself or hire a specialist. Most residential block owners choose the latter.
- Responsibility always lies with the responsible person – not external assessors. It is the responsible person who will be liable for prosecution from an inadequate risk assessment.
- Ensure that the person conducting the risk assessment has adequate experience, particularly in carrying out fire risk assessments of your type of building.
- If the responsible person employs 5 or more people the risk assessment must be documented. The minimum information which must be recorded includes:
- The measures that have been taken, or that are in progress to meet the FSO standards.
- The action plan – including what actions will be taken to achieve compliance.
- Persons or groups of persons identified as at risk by the fire risk assessment.
- There is no legal requirement for a particular style or format in recording the findings however there are recommended templates available. There are also certain assessment formats you may wish to consider and request from your specialist such as PAS 79.
- Risk assessments involve a degree of access to sample flats – There might be a need for access to be provided.
- The goal of a risk assessment should be a suitable action plan with steps to improve fire safety where needed
- Action plans should include a timescale for recommendations as well as their priority.
- There are 4 different types of fire risk assessment applicable to purpose built blocks of flats in the UK.
- Type 1 risk assessment (most basic to satisfy FSO reqs) – common areas only
- Type 2 risk assessment – common areas only (destructive), may be required after completing a type 1 risk assessment which identifies possibility of structural deficiencies which could lead to a spread of fire. This is usually a one-time risk assessment.
- Type 3 risk assessment – common areas and flats (non-destructive). This exceeds the FSO requirements, considering arrangements for escape and fire detection. A type 3 assessment may be called when there is suspicion to believe there may be serious risk to residents in event of a fire (such as in an aged flat).
- Type 4 risk assessment – common areas and flats (destructive). This is the most comprehensive type of assessment and is most likely when ownership of a block of flats changes hands and there is little or no documentation on work which has historically taken place.
- Fire safety within flats themselves is outside the scope of the FSO. The required assessment does not include measures to protect residents from a fire in their own flat. However limited entry to a sample of flats will normally be required to ensure there is not undue risk to other residents in event of a fire.
The key difference between destructive and non-destructive fire risk assessments is that destructive checks look at materials which may be of concern, particularly in older buildings, whereas non-destructive does not. A destructive assessment may require an external contractor in addition to the fire risk assessor. Note that these assessors do not tend to perform this construction work themselves.
The FSO says that inadequate safety measures which place people at risk of serious injury or death in the case of a fire are deemed as an offense. It is the principle aim of such fire risk assessments to remove such risks and as such, their importance cannot be underestimated.