Fire Safety Bill


Call for Written Evidence Fire Safety Bill


The Fire Sector Federation generally accepts the rationale and is supportive of the Bill. The current challenge we see with the Fire Safety Bill as proposed stem from a lack of clarity and may therefore lead to misunderstanding in terms of action.

The focus of our comments is firstly to seek clarity to remove unintended consequences arising from the use of terms that require specificity. Secondly our comments highlight concern that a widespread rapid introduction will place the public at some risk from unsatisfactory fire risk assessments undertaken by incompetent persons due to lack of regulated control and capacity.


The following points are raised in respect of Article 6:

Paragraph 1 (A) - The definition "Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises…………." offers clarity and is supported. It focuses attention to the wider domestic dwelling stock of premises as well as those in high rise residential buildings that have been the subject of most scrutiny.

The fact there is no height qualification in this definition does not change what has arguably been in practice since the inception of the RR(FS)O; the requirement to undertake actions such as fire risk assessment and maintenance of fire safety in low rise multi-tenanted buildings.

However, concern exists around the definition and the application to common building types. For example, semi-detached houses, terraced houses under a common roof or apartments in historic houses, that hitherto may not have been considered would on first reading be covered within this definition, adding considerably to the number of assessments and the need to educate and guide many additional ‘responsible persons [1] ’. At the same time expanding the scope of the buildings falling under the enforcement activities of the Fire and Rescue Services increases markedly. Clarity is therefore needed to ensure the correct focus of the Bill is understood.

Paragraph 1 (A) part (a) - The definitions themselves also raise questions of interpretation. The use of terms like "external wall" and "structure" whilst conveying purpose are in application ambiguous and therefore may lead to costly time wasted debating the terms.

Consequently, the use of the word ‘structure’ although purposeful is not supported if it is not better defined for application. It is not the intent that is necessarily questioned. It is supported in the context that it signals a need to understand both the impact the "structure" itself has on a fire, as well as a fire on the structure, from a fire assessment viewpoint. It is not hard to see that this would ensure that all combustible structures are considered. It is suggested a more refined definition of structure is needed.

A building’s engineered structure contains numerous elements – floors, walls, beams, columns, etc. – that can be constructed in an extensive number of ways with differing materials. The impact all these elements may have on fire growth and spread is readily recognised and avoiding or at least mitigating combustibility and reducing the fire load in all structures is welcomed.

However, conducting an assessment of structure can require considerable skills and resources. An intrusive physical inspection may be needed to gain access to elements that are deep within the building requiring the removal of ceiling and wall surfaces, fabrics and decoration, and other membranes or finishes. Detailed investigations may then be needed to review specification and test data to ascertain performance to standards. All to ensure and conduct a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.

This demands skills and time that require additional competent expertise to be employed to support a risk assessment, which stretches further the current limited fire risk assessor capacity. It would also result in greater expense for the owner who actually owns the risk.

Achieving closer definition of clarity of purpose and application is therefore needed. If a remedy to this through the Bill is not achievable swift action in respect to the guidance used to inform how this process should be undertaken must be forthcoming as the existing guidance is out of date.

Paragraph 1 (A) part (a) – The prior comment highlights that extending the legislation to "the buildings structure and external walls..." is a significant new approach. This brings into question transitional arrangements as existing fire risk assessments, which focus on common parts, will be unsuitable and insufficient contrary to existing requirements [2] . This will give rise to additional work to manage the large volume of impacted premises [3] against the limited number of existing fire risk assessors with the appropriate skills and competency. In so doing it also raises multiple questions over effective application and demands a suitable transitional period for owners to address these new requirements.

Paragraph 1(A) part (b) - Clarifying "all doors between the domestic premises and common parts…" is supported and helpful. Most existing fire risk assessments cater for this requirement although again the capacity issues mentioned previously remain a concern.

It should be noted that there can be significant practical difficulties in conducting ‘common parts’ assessments, which to undertake correctly requires access to both sides of the door, requiring cooperation from tenants and residents. This challenge arises from the ownership perspective with the duty attached to the responsible person but door ownership possibly residing with leaseholders and tenants.

A question then arises regarding the implementation of any remediation works required in clarifying who has responsibility for this action. A clarification of the legal responsibility would avoid further ambiguity.

Paragraph (1B) - This clause amendment refers in further detail to ‘external walls’ which as previously mentioned raises most concern over interpretation and application.

Significantly many of the actions post Grenfell Tower undertaken by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government relate to external wall cladding. The Ministry shortly after the tragedy convened an Expert Panel who supported extensive cladding tests and issued advice to owners, which they consolidated in January 2020.

The government’s advice lays out clearly and in depth what cladding was researched and tested as well as highlighting other factors that need to be taken into account in a fire risk assessment of the external wall risk.

Although the Bill does not directly associate itself with the extensive but self-limited work by the Expert Panel it does fundamentally extend inclusion to all buildings with two or more domestic premises. The scope is therefore expanded way beyond residential high rise buildings risking serious misinterpretation of what was outlined by the government as required for fire safety improvement. [4]

For the purposes of Building Regulations, external walls [5] have also been defined to bring into place the Ban on Combustible Materials in High Rise Residential Buildings; this was needed as external walls are recognised to be a complex part of a structure and for the application of the Regulations to be effective a clearer definition was needed.

Prior to the Grenfell tragedy external walls and cladding had generally not been assessed during fire risk assessments since the RR(FS)O was enacted in 2006. Requests for comment and opinion has however greatly increased over the past three years and markedly so since the introduction of an External Wall Survey [6] form (EWS1) was released by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to help ‘free up’ a stagnated home market late last year.

This in turn has highlighted the need for additional competency and qualification to complete such assessments to meet the requirements of the EWS form. The inclusion of external walls has deepened concerns within industry about the competency of risk assessors themselves to conduct the necessary examination with parts of industry suggesting "a fire risk assessor will wish to exclude assessment of the fire performance of external wall construction and cladding from the scope of the fire risk assessment carried out under the Fire Safety Order" [7] .

Introducing the EWS1 as also shown a further impediment, which is the lack of willingness of many Insurance companies to provide Professional Indemnity insurance to cover fire risk assessors who want to carry out this work, even though they are competent to do so. This has already had some impact and could seriously affect the number of fire risk assessors and fire engineers available, including those who want to do this kind of work.

In new buildings all of the assessment factors can and should be covered by appropriate expertise from the outset, although during construction lack of product availability and care with installation can impact to the point where the final building is markedly different from the original design.

In existing buildings many other practical matters arise like access, fire stopping openings and internal cavities, availability of product information and specified test data, etc. such that a range of experts in engineering, procurement, testing and design are needed to operate as a team to conduct the risk assessment.

The Building Regulations had envisaged in Regulation 38 [8] a situation where all this necessary fire safety information would be made available to the responsible person on completion or before occupation. This was intended to allow during the life of the building ‘information relating to the design and construction of the building or extension, and the services, fittings and equipment provided in or in connection with the building or extension’ to be available that would have enabled the process of risk assessment to be manageable.

However, in application, Regulation 38 has been a singular unenforced failure and reliance that any building is in fact constructed as originally designed or detailed cannot be relied upon.

The Bill’s external walls requirement is therefore an extension of scope that has serious and wide-ranging implications. This has resulted in debate and discussion to find solutions that assist in balancing likely demand with capability and capacity.

Demand and Capacity

The inclusion of structure and external walls does extend the original scope of the RR(FS)O in a retrospective way into defined buildings because of the duty placed upon responsible persons to review risk assessments to ensure they remain up to date [9] . This was something not foreseen or expected by industry given the government’s funded remediation of building cladding systems had concentrated hitherto on high rise residential buildings.

Although this extension of scope is very understandable post the Grenfell Tower tragedy and from fires in lower rise buildings subsequently, it does obviously present a consequential challenge given the relatively small cadre of fire engineers and risk assessors available.

Reviewing fire risk assessments on buildings over 18 metres, where the government’s own estimates indicated 11,500 or thereabout buildings, was thought manageable by existing teams of fire engineers, assessors and others. This is justified by the ongoing success of the government funded remedial work [10] where reportedly ‘progress is being made’ [11] .

However as identified external walls have already created capacity and capability concerns as outlined above when insurers and lenders refused to fund mortgages and RICS, to try and free up the housing market, created the EWS form to formalise the assessment or at least indicate no remediation was required. This has accelerated discussions to seek an outcome to manage what may become an overwhelming demand for qualified assessors.

Our estimates suggest that there are currently 400 or so third party 'registered' fire risk assessors. Registered in this context refers to individuals who belong to a professional body that maintains a list (register) of those in its membership who are accepted as capable to conduct assessments. The term third-party refers to the process known as accredited third party certified (ATPC) which ensures another body, usually either the UK Engineering Council or the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, has oversight of the professional body’s competency assessment process.

In the Fire Sector Federation’s opinion, and in that of those in responsible industry seeking to support the improvements suggested by Dame Judith Hackett in the Building a Safer Future [12] , using ATPC registered individuals is an essential assurance for the public that those assessing their building regarding fire risk are competent to do so. Beyond the list of registered assessors, of whom a half or so are also fire engineers, it is estimated there are perhaps another 400 APTC independent assessors.

In addition over many decades there are also many thousands of people who have had some level of fire risk assessor training. Often these individuals work in more controlled and constrained circumstances for their employer or may operate as independent assessors. The standard of this group is infinitely variable and ultimately lacks the APTC public assurance. They may however be ‘competent’ to assess small low risk buildings.

Options as to how best to manage volume, capacity and capability are necessary and discussions are underway to find solutions. The options could include phasing the work, placing highest risks first using selection techniques that consider risk factors like occupants and their vulnerability, construction materials and height, etc. It is recognised that these options may create tension in application both legally and practically and will need further detailed exploration.

An alternative option might be to segregate out external walls from the overall assessment when identifiable features, like combustibility, or unknown construction exists. Codifying these risks within a systematic and defined examination process, similar to the way the government has approached remediation in high rise residential buildings cladding, could then become a formalised part of a building’s golden thread of occupant protection and satisfy the RR(FS)O duty.

What appears essential is some form of filtering to support and permit the responsible person to first gain an informed opinion as to whether there is likely risk from the external wall construction, especially one arising from combustible materials, and to then allow either a simplified fire risk assessment to be continued or demand that a more detailed expert review be undertaken.

Approached in this way the burden failing on owners and the responsible person may be minimised without undue risk to the public. Those higher risk buildings judged to require an in depth inspection could then have both time programmed for the higher level fire risk assessment and precautionary protective measures put in place to cover the interim period, between the initial opinion and the actual assessment.

Ensuring assessments are conducted at an appropriate level to ensure public safety is paramount.

Given that, certainly for the foreseeable future, overall demand may be expected to exceed availability of ATPC fire risk assessors; there is a need for a balance to be made between complex and simply risks; concern about the inferiority of some risk assessments remains; and reducing and avoiding a regime that inhibits the self-assessment of many low fire risk buildings is important, having some form of differentiation might be beneficial.

Another approach could be, using the commonly recognised 11 metre height as a possible delineation reference point, that all buildings above that height require a ATPC fire risk assessor. Effective application would require that either Article 18-(1) of the RR(FS)O be amended or that statutory guidance was given to ensure this height standard was applied.


The inclusion of the elements comprising "external walls" and the "structure" is supported as being part of holistically managing the threat of fire to a building. Although laudable it raises serious concern about the sufficiency of competent fire risk assessors to meet the demand. A situation could be created that prevents duty holders and the public receiving sound advice and that might engender a further rise in unsuitable assessors offering their services.

There is also a skills gap with few assessors having the expertise or competence to assess complex external wall systems. Satisfying demand with capable capacity requires a transitional period and solutions. Solutions are suggested that include prioritisation, segregation, tiered management and codified standards of assessments. All are judged worthy of further exploration, including amendment of Article 18-(1).

Overall and at the very least greater clarity and up dated statutory guidance is essential.

Ensuring public safety based around the aim, to create and maintain a building’s golden thread of fire safety, is critical and our comments are made to reflect this position.

June 2020

[1] RR(FS)O 2005 Article 3

[2] RR(FS)O 2005 Part 2 Article 9.-(1)

[3] Home Office Impact Assessment No IA HO0365

[4] House of Commons Briefing Paper 8787 27 April 2020

[5] The Building (Amendment) Regulations 2010. SI 2018 No. 1230.



[8] The Building Regulations 2010. SI 2010 No. 2214. Part 8. Regulation 38

[9] RR(FS)O 2005 Part 2 Article 9.-(3)





Prepared 26th June 2020