An officer from the London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority arrived unannounced at a neighbouring Victorian mansion block of flats and issued a notice requiring emergency lighting, a smoke/fire alarm system, signage and fire doors be fitted within 3 months with the threat of prosecution if the works are not done.
We are petrified they will similarly arrive at our building. Whilst all of this is laudable, it takes no account of statutory consultation procedures nor the ability of lessees to pay what would amount to thousands of pounds. Works of this nature would usually be planned as part of a major works program prior to redecoration.
Do they really have the ability to do this?
The FPRA replies:
My guess is that such drastic enforcement action of the The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which was approved by Parliament on 7 June 2005, and has been law since 1st October 2006, would have been due to a failure to provide the authority with a Fire Risk Assessment by the ‘responsible person’ of the block concerned although there may have been other intelligence that the London fire service where made aware of?
The new legislation puts greater emphasis on fire prevention in all non-domestic premises, including communal parts of blocks of flats but NOT the flats themselves.
Fire certificates have now been abolished and have no legal status.
Responsibility for complying with the Fire Safety Order will rest with the ‘responsible person’. On an estate like yours this will probably be the Freeholder or alternatively this may be the persons who may have control of the communal parts of the premises perhaps the Managing Agents or Company Directors?
If there is more than one responsible person in your premises, all must take all reasonable steps to work with each other.
The ‘responsible person’ will have to carry out a fire risk assessment which must focus on the safety in case of fire of all ‘relevant persons’.
In your case that will probably be residents and visitors (including contractors) to your building. It should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as the disabled and those with special needs, and must include consideration of any dangerous substance likely to be on the premises. Your fire risk assessment will help you identify risks that can be removed or reduced and to decide the nature and extent of the general fire precautions you need to take to protect people against the fire risks that remain.
There will always be a balance to be struck between conflicting priorities within any estate.
If you employ five or more people must you record any significant findings of the assessment? I would however, strongly recommend you always keep records of any assessments that are made.
In my own block we faced a similar situation regarding emergency lighting so we consulted our Local Authority Fire Safety Advisor who provided us with free advice and made a number of recommendations themselves, some conflicting with our findings of the risk assessment.
The FSA can either be found at your local Council Building Control department or the local Fire and Rescue Service. Our local fire brigade offer a free service for each property which includes smoke alarms and emergency plan ‘means of escape’. We were strongly advised not to fit battery smoke detectors in the communal areas or fire fighting equipment.
I have included the short version of the Government to the new law and the full 127-page guide is available from the Department of Communities and Local Government web-site. I have also attached details of the free fire safety checks that are on offer in my own area your local fire service will tell you if they offer a similar service.
My personal view in your situation would be to discuss the various options with your managing agent and Freeholder after you have consulted the local fire service. I would add that it is important to ask the fire safety advisor to document any advice to you so you can present this to your Freeholder/Managing Agent.