Prompted by our latest seminar (MISSION Possible: The fire and access protocol) and some of the issues highlighted during the event, we have investigated further recent trends in fire safety management and enforcement.

While the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RR(FS)O) has been in place for over a decade, there have been a number of standards, guidance and approved documents that have come into being since. Not all seem to say the same thing, so what is right for your organisation?

Here are some recent trends you may want to consider:

1. How is fire being enforced currently?

Having reviewed the published notices for fire enforcement of the 33 London areas (32 boroughs and the City of London) over the previous two years (2014 to 2015), the headline figures are:

  • Total failure notices issued across all boroughs were 5,272. That is an average of 7 a day.
  • While the average failure notices per area (on these figures) is 159, in reality they ranged from 731 (Tower Hamlets) to 0 (Bexley).
  • Other areas with over 200 failure notices issued included, Camden (453), City of London (242), Hammersmith and Fulham (203), Islington (285), Kensington and Chelsea (243), Newham (224) and Westminster (523).

Although having not yet looked at the figure for other Brigades, it is likely that the same disparities between areas and authorities will exist.

2. What are the main areas of non-compliance?

Over 60% of the total failure notices issued related to just 5 articles of the RR(FS)O. Surprisingly - or perhaps unsurprisingly - these all related to long standing life safety issues, that you would expect dutyholders to have an appreciation and understanding of. They were:

  • 879 (16%) against Article 14 Emergency routes and exits
  • 680 (13%) against Article 9 Risk assessment
  • 678 (13%) against Article 11 Fire safety arrangements
  • 606 (11%) against Article 13 Fire-fighting and fire detection
  • 595 (11%) against Article 17 Maintenance

In comparison to a previous review of these figures (2010 -2012), Articles 9 and 11 remain in the top five, where Article 15 (Procedures for serious and imminent danger and for danger areas) and Article 21 (Training) which were 4th and 3rd respectively have dropped 6th and 8th.

3. Fire fines how do they compare with health and safety?

The introduction of the health and safety sentencing guidelines has seen a significant change in the fines being issued for these offences in comparison to those fines for fire offences. In 2016, 19 fines in excess of £1,000,000 were issued for health and safety related offences, a number of which related to non-fatal injuries.

To date in the UK, Southwark Council's £570,000 fine this year for the fatal fire at Lakanal House in 2009 is the biggest we are aware of. Some of the others include:

  • Following a non-fatal fire at the Oxford St Store in 2007, New Look received a then record £400,000 in 2009 for "significant failures" which "constituted a risk of death and serious injury".
  • Shell International was fined £300,000 in June 2009, for significant failings in fire safety at the Shell Centre.
  • The Co-operative Group was fined £210,000 in 2010, after pleading guilty to 6 breaches of fire safety at its store in Shirley Road, Southampton in 2007.
  • The Chumleigh Lodge Hotel in Finchley was fined £210,000 in February 2012, for neglecting fire safety laws which were identified in an inspection of the property subsequent to a fire there in 2008.
  • A former owner of the Radnor Hotel in Bayswater fined £200,000 in March 2015, for flouting fire safety laws following an inspection of the property in 2001.
  • Surinder Rana was fined £160,000 in May 2015, following a fatal fire in August 2011 at a property she rented out in Hounslow.

Whether the level of fines for fire offences will change with the health and safety trends, remains to be seen.

4. Who might the interested parties in your fire management be and what are they looking for? (Thought from the seminar)

When considering your fire safety management, while life safety is of course a priority for all, you should also give consideration to the extent to which interested parties are involved in the management of fire and the particular areas of concern they have.

With life safety a start, fire could also affect or be affected by, legal compliance, the building(s), stock/assets and finance.

Interested parties could include, employees, the duty holder, the fire risk manager, responsible person, building control, insurer, enforcing officer, fire risk assessor and tenants.

All these interested parties will be looking to mitigate, avoid, transfer or accept different aspects and have a procedure or process in place to that effect. The best fire management systems recognise all and identify the best way of accommodating them.

5. Occupation density - What is right for you?

Approved Document B (Fire safety - Volume 2 - Buildings other than dwellings) and (BS 9999:2017 Fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings. Code of practice) both serve a similar purpose, but don't necessarily agree on some of the detail. Whether, maximum numbers of people and minimum door widths, or, occupancy and floor spacing factors, the numbers do not always stack. For example:

  • BS 9999: 2008 Table 10 "Examples of typical floor spacing factors" stated - for an Administration office it should be 5m2 per person.
  • Approved Document B, Appendix C Methods of Measurement, Table C1 “Floor spacing factors”, states for an office it should be 6m2 per person.
  • BS 9999: 2017 Table 9 "Examples of typical floor spacing factors" now states - for an office depending on whether the density is high, medium or low, the floor spacing factors can vary between 4m2, 6m2 and 10m2.

Interestingly and as a further balance, L24 the Workplace, Health, safety and Welfare) Regulation 1992 Approved Code of Practice states:

"97: In most workplaces 11 cubic metres (11m3) of space per person should be taken as a minimum. This calculation should not take into account ceiling heights in excess of 3m. A space of 11m3 per person may be insufficient if much of the space is taken up with furnishing or equipment."

Even during its publication the 2017 version of BS 9999 recognised it "offers a half-way house between the base standard of Approved Document B and the advanced approach offered by bespoke fire engineering."

As a business, it's important that you recognise the lines you have to work within, from a building, building population and activity perspective, with your fire risk assessment, policies and procedures and have a thought out and reasoned outcome against these.

In reality therefore, it is both exact science and fine art.

Assurity Consulting are leading experts in workplace health, safety and environmental Compliance, and have helped organisations of all sizes and industries review and update their fire management strategies and create robust working documents. For more information on our services, and how we can help you, please contact us on tel. +44 (0)1403 269375 or email us.