Comment by: Neil Yates
Focus area: Fire safety regulation
Regulator concerned: Fire safety (Fire Authority)
I have run a fire safety consultancy since 1977 and am giving my objective view of the enforcement of the Fire Safety Order based upon the 3,000 properties we are involved with
1. The majority of responsible persons know they must undertake a fire risk assessment but are not aware of the other articles they must comply with.
2. The majority of “fire consultants” in the UK do not advise their Clients of the depth of duties set out in articles 8-22 and 24.
3. Many “fire consultants” and companies do not have adequate competence to undertake fire risk assessments; they will not train to the standards recommended by the FIRE RISK ASSESSMENT COMPETENCY COUNCIL – Competency Criteria for Fire Risk Assessors until they ar forced to by legislation. Poor advice will continue to be given to responsible persons.
4. Due to current fiscal restraints many responsible persons do not comply with their duties when identified as failings in a fire risk assessment.
5. None of the organisations approving persons as fire risk assessors are accredited to do so and more organisations are popping up with good web sites offering approvals for a few hundred pounds! Approving organisations should be UKAS accredited.
6. Fire authorities enforcement has improved since 2006 but there are many enforcement officers that issue onerous requirements in enforcement notices. We argued with one fire authority for nearly two years against such requirements and finally the fire authority agreed with my fire risk assessment and solutions to overcome deficiencies. For my time the cost to Client would have been £25,000; due to fire officers incompetence!
7. The Chief Fire Officers Association document: “Collected Perceived Insights Into and Application of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 For the Benefit of Enforcing Authorities” has many onerous items that will cost companies several hundred, maybe thousands of pounds for compliance. For example: to record all significant findings: the CFOA is advising that fire risk assessment reports should show all significant findings including a fire protected staircase installed and a fire alarm installed etc. This appears to be well over the top causing the risk assessor to spend a lot more time to identify and list such items, at additional cost. If a staircase is not to a satisfactory standard, or a fire alarm is non-operative that is significant and action necessary should be recorded in the fire risk assessment report. This can only be fully explained by discussion.
8. The duty to train employees to fight fires is onerous and dangerous. A small retail shop basement and ground floor with three employees on duty – a fire starts; should the staff tackle the fire after receiving brief training a year previously, or should they clear the public and themselves from the premises and call the fire service to the incident? The answer is the latter common sense; however we have had enforcement officers insist on training so a fire can be tackled. The cost to a retail outlet with three persons to train their staff to tackle a fire is about £300 to £700 according to the training company; for a company with 700 outlets this is £210,000 to £490,000! Do we wait for a life (employees) to be lost when tackling a fire before reviewing the enforcement on training?
9. Unnecessary compliance activity, I believe that the bad examples of this are from two areas (three if we add inexperience enforcement officers):
The non-competent “fire consultants” who offer to undertake a fire risk assessment for cost or less in order that they can quote to undertake the work that they recommend in the risk assessment report. Their quotes are often much higher cost than an open tender, and there are often too many items recommended – 10 extinguishers when just 2 are sufficient.
The service companies that pay their engineers commission to “find” defects. A 1999 installed fire alarm system needs new smoke detectors due to their age, the maintenance company tells the Client that the system must be upgraded to the 2008 British Standard, or a new system installed.
In my opinion the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 needs a thorough review as the current enforcement is becoming far more onerous to SMEs than the Fire Precautions Act 1971. I have not included the Fire Precautions Workplace as an enforcement legislation as that was a disaster from inception to end. The concept of self-regulation is good but the understanding by responsible persons is generally poor, the professional advice available in the private sector is generally poor, and the enforcement is adversarial with enforcement officers reluctant to admit they are wrong, which many times they are.
The particular areas of the legislation that I believe should be reviewed are employee training including methods of training, maintenance, and fire safety arrangements. Also to be reviewed is the Chief Fire Officers Association document: “Collected Perceived Insights Into and Application of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 For the Benefit of Enforcing Authorities”, with a view to reducing the strict levels of enforcement promoted to inexperienced enforcement officers.