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Fire Safety Review

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1996

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will report on the interdepartmental review of fire safety legislation and enforcement, and on the implementation of the general fire safety aspects of the EC framework and workplace directives.

The review was established to examine what scope there might be for rationalising relevant legislation and enforcement arrangements while maintaining or improving standards of fire safety. It found that there were overlaps in present legislation and enforcement arrangements which could impose burdens on business and create uncertainty. Consultation on the report showed that while there was general agreement that existing legislation should be simplified and made more coherent, there was no consensus on what precisely should be done to effect those improvements.In the light of the consultation exercise we have decided,

  • that fire safety should, in general, be treated separately in legislation and that its enforcement should rest principally with fire authorities;
  • that the outstanding fire safety elements of the EC Framework and Workplace Directives will be implemented by regulations to be made under the European Communities Act 1972; we believe that the minimum safety standards required by the Directives broadly reflect the safety standards required by existing legal obligations on employers and therefore that the good employer has nothing to fear from the proposed regulations;
  • that monitoring, control and supervision of the fire safety aspects of the risk assessment and of the other actions that the regulations require employers to take will be the responsibility of fire authorities;
  • that Section 9A of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 will be disapplied by the regulations to the extent its provisions overlap with the specific requirements of the regulations;
  • that the powers provided under Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 will be applied to the enforcement of the Fire Precautions Act 1971, to improve further the fairness, transparency and consistency of the supervision and control of the Act's requirements;
  • to consult, by July, on widening the scope for fire authorities to exempt premises which do not constitute a high risk from the need to have a fire certificate;
  • to consult on a revised fire certification system based on risk assessment to target it more accurately at premises where there is a high risk of loss of life from fire;
  • to invite the Health and Safety Commission to review in parallel the operation of the Fire Certificates (Special Premises) Regulations 1976 (for which it has policy responsibility);
  • to commence consultation in June 1996 on the elimination of overlaps between the physical fire standards in national legislation and fire safety provisions in Local Acts and bylaws;
  • to review physical fire standards and codes of practice to ensure greater consistency and simplification for business. We shall commence consultation in the Autumn;
  • to bring forward proposals by the summer to amend the building regulations to cover certain physical fire precautions currently covered by fire certification to provide a one-stop shop for developers;
  • to clarify the respective responsibilities of building control and fire authorities with the aim of streamlining current arrangements to help reduce costs for developers.

We are issuing today for consultation draft regulations intended to give effect to our remaining obligations under the EC Framework and Workplace Directives. The draft regulations will be made under the European Communities Act 1972. The draft aims to avoid imposing unnecessary burdens and so, where appropriate, follows as closely as possible the language of the Directives to ensure that the regulations go no further than strictly required. The duty imposed on all employers by the Directives to conduct a risk assessment for their workplaces has generally been implemented by the management of health and safety at work regulations of 1992. Employers will be able to carry out the fire safety element of the risk assessment either as an integral part of an overall risk assessment, or may undertake it separately.

Where an employer fails to comply with any duty in relation to fire safety, the fire authority may apply to the courts for an order requiring compliance or if the breach is a serious one, may issue an enforcement notice. If the breach is deliberate, reckless and is serious, the employer can be prosecuted.

The powers provided under Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 will be applied to the Fire Precautions Act 1971 by means of a statutory instrument to be laid before Parliament by the end of 1996 and we shall identify other fire safety legislation where these powers could apply. The proposed new regulations to give effect to our Community obligations will also incorporate the principles underlying these powers.

We intend that rationalisation and simplification of the fire safety regime to reduce burdens on business while maintaining necessary safeguards, should be a continuing process. Subject to an analysis of the costs and benefits, we will be looking for further opportunities to rationalise both law and practice.

Copies of the consultation document, which includes the draft regulations, are being placed in the Library.