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Insight

The Introduction of The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022

23 Jan 2023

James Hymers

James Hymers

National Discipline Director

The built environment holds a high level of responsibility when it comes to health and safety, which covers more than the safety of those carrying out physical work. Design and ongoing management of assets must be firmly rooted in meeting and exceeding health and safety requirements, with specialists having to continually adapt to the latest in safety legislation. As the long-awaited Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 come into force on 23 January 2023, director and head of health and safety James Hymers discusses the changes this legislation enacts and its implications for the wider construction industry.

The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022

The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, in the government’s words, ‘seek to improve the fire safety of blocks of flats in ways which are practical, cost effective for individual leaseholders and proportionate to the risk of fire.’ The changes create legal requirements for Responsible Persons (RPs) in relation to mitigating the risk to people within residential buildings, which are defined as:

Multi-occupied residential buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises, with specific requirements required for;

  • High-rise buildings that are at least 18 metres tall or has at least seven stories
  • Buildings greater than 11m for which there are specific requirements for fire doors.

Within the requirements for multi unit properties, the RP must provide information and instruction in respect of fire safety and the use of fire doors to residents.

For high rise residential buildings the RP must inform the fire and rescue services to assist in planning for and responding to a fire in their building, covering details including materials and building floor plans. They must also:

  • Provide relevant fire safety instructions to their residents on how to report a fire and what a resident must do once a fire has occurred
  • Provide residents with information to the importance of fire doors in fire safety
  • Undertake best endeavours to carry out annual checks of flat entrance doors and carry out quarterly checks of all fire doors in common areas
  • Undertake monthly checks on lifts intended for firefighter or evacuation use; reporting any defective lifts or firefighting equipment as soon as possible with all records made available for residents
  • Install and maintain a secure information box in the building with their contact details and hard copies of building floor plans
  • Provide record details of external wall systems, their design, materials, risks and mitigation measures
  • Install signage that is visible in low light or smoky conditions – to identify flat and floor numbers within stairwells and to assist with wayfinding in an emergency

Fire regulations play part of a bigger picture

While the topic continues to take a huge focus of the conversation following the Grenfell Tower disaster, it is important to note that fire safety is not – and should not be – a siloed part of overall health and safety. It is a critical safety concern that must be examined as part of every action, from design materials through to interior layouts and building management post-occupancy.

There are wider pieces of legislation coming forward that demonstrate the interconnectivity of all safety considerations. This included the Building Safety Act, which is the primary article that allows for these changes to be made, has been a key driver for overall building safety improvements in recent years and formed the legislative response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report.

The act takes forward a number of Dame Judith Hackett’s review recommendations and governs how we keep people safe in buildings through clear guidance and increased requirements. Crucially, it is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, but widens the responsibility it covers, building out from workers when at work under the Health and Safety Act 1974, to the users of buildings in general.

Having received Royal Assent and becoming an Act of Parliament in 2022, the act’s journey has proved to be an ever-evolving process with far reaching implications on the health and safety landscape. It has been a key driver for a number of ongoing changes, with the Fire Safety (England) Regulations being one thread of the overall health and safety improvements being worked on across the industry.

Ensuring compliance to future fire safety legislation

With fire safety measures being in place to minimise the risk of injury or fatalities in the event of a fire, getting it right is crucial and naturally means that legislation will develop over time, including some more reactionary changes. While as experts in the field we know what good looks like, without a crystal ball to tell us exactly what building safety regulators will look for in the future, or how legislation may continue to develop. There will be an evolving challenge for clients and project teams in terms of materials selections.

Solid client briefings must form a part of the process to identify the key goals and outcomes, along with the considerations that must be made to get there and how our insight as built environment specialists help them stay ahead of upcoming legislative changes.

A continuing challenge will be a level of ambiguity as the common standard is developed and as different bodies require different levels of information. A level of agility must remain in place as the industry continues to work with government on the central goal – delivering high-quality built environment assets that are fit-for-purpose and safe.

For example, in the past month, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has detailed that it wants to ‘achieve an appropriate level of safety’ through amendments to Approved Document B, part of the official safety guidance that sits alongside the Building Regulations. The proposed mandate would see second staircases become mandatory for all residential buildings taller than 30 metres.

This is a clear demonstration that standards are continuing to developto situations as they arise, to which we must then adapt our processes. This means looking ahead, advising our clients not just on the fire safety elements, but on the wider implications for design, cost and programme for the whole scheme.

For instance, the adherence to this fire safety mandate for a second staircase – within a building with a small footprint – will reduce the number of overall units it can house. The subsequent considerations and adaptations must be explored in detail with the client – for example, does the reduction negatively impact affordable housing allocation?

If so, this can have an onward planning permission implication requiring additional floors to reallocate affordable units – thereby creating significant cost and programme increases. All of this presents opportunity for innovative design and for the supply chain to develop new products and solutions.

Our expertise will be heavily relied upon by clients in these instances to help realise their goals in the best manner possible, and with a multi-disciplinary offering, we are able to pull on the key specialist resource for any situation that arises.

A positive outlook for fire safety

We expect to see fire safety dominate a lot of conversations, particularly as the common standard is developed further while maintaining a bespoke solution approach to individual schemes.

With the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 now having been introduced, things are becoming clearer, more specific and detailed in their requirements. This creates less ambiguity in the design detail and minimum standards required that previously could be interpreted to suit the needs of a specific project.

More consideration must be given to potential design risks, placing greater focus on the assessment and application of meaningful solutions, which will ultimately drive better quality outcomes.

With a shared approach to data, more competency of design standards, better building control and closer monitoring of building products, we as an industry can collaborate across design and delivery teams– getting things right for clients and creating better outcomes for the end-users of the schemes we develop.

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