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Is the Responsible Person playing with fire? Stop them lurking in the shadows, says BWF

Responsible person inspecting fire door

Exactly 10 years since new fire safety laws came into force in England and Wales, requiring a responsible person to be assigned to every non-domestic building, campaigners are calling for a public national register of the people with legal responsibility for fire assessments in buildings, to help tackle continued safety concerns.

The call comes after yet another major fire in a block of flats this week (Thursday 29 September 2016) – at least the third in the last six weeks – and the publication of new research which reveals that more than half of all tenants (59%) do not know who they should be contacting to report fire safety concerns about the building where they live.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order took effect from 1 October 2006, and changed the legal framework for property owners and managers.

Building owners, employers, landlords, head teachers, hotel managers, estates managers and many other people now shoulder the legal responsibility for fire safety, and are required to appoint a ‘Responsible Person’ for each building they own or manage.

The organisations behind Fire Door Safety Week – the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), BWF-Certifire and the Fire Door Inspection Scheme, working in partnership with the Government’s Fire Kills campaign – believe that there needs to be much greater visibility of the responsible person, in the same way that a first aider is legally required to be named on health and safety posters in many workplaces.

A free downloadable poster for use by landlords and building owners to address exactly this issue has been added today to the Fire Door Safety Week toolkit.

Hannah Mansell, spokesperson for Fire Door Safety Week, says:

“We continue to house some of our most vulnerable residents in buildings with inadequate levels of fire safety. The fire service regularly has to deal with problems such as fire doors hanging off hinges, breaches in structural fire compartmentation, poor installation and maintenance of life safety products, non-existent or outdated fire risk assessments and blocked fire exits. Knowing what we know about the potentially devastating consequences of an out-of-control fire, this situation is completely unacceptable.

“Worse still is the basic lack of information given to residents about how and where to direct their own observations and concerns about fire safety in the building where they live.

“The responsible person should not be a mystery person lurking in the shadows, but must be front and centre so that people know where to take their problems.

“Taking on board the concerns of residents, we have made available through Fire Door Safety Week posters that help identify the responsible person by name and provide the appropriate contact details. This empowers residents and building users to raise problems and ensures that those responsible for keeping them safe are made aware of issues directly. This doesn’t do away with the need for fire risk assessments, but supplements an effective process by harnessing the crowd to stay vigilant.”

Under the Fire Safety Order, the responsible person has to ensure that an annual fire risk assessment is carried out and in most cases, documented. The risk assessment has to demonstrate that adequate attention has been paid to all aspects of fire safety management, including active and passive fire measures, signage, means of escape and evacuation procedures. Where in-depth knowledge is lacking, the responsible person has a duty to engage someone with the relevant expertise to be able to implement or advise on key areas.

Recent tower block fires

19 August 2016 – 120 firefighters involved in a blaze in Shepherd’s Bush:

7 September 2016 – 72 firefighters involved in a blaze in Brixton:

29 September 2016 – 60 firefighters involved in a blaze in Portsmouth:

Fire Safety Order

Under the Fire Safety Order, the responsibility for maintaining fire safety in non-domestic buildings falls to the responsible person. By law, you are required to nominate a responsible person if you are:

  • Responsible for business premises
  • An employer or self-employed with business premises
  • Responsible for a part of a dwelling where that part is solely used for business purposes
  • A charity or voluntary organisation
  • A contractor with a degree of control over any premises
  • Providing accommodation to paying guests

The responsible person must:

  • Ensure that a fire safety risk assessment is carried out
  • Implement and maintain a fire management plan

Part of this risk assessment and fire management plan must consider the safe installation, maintenance and inspection of fire doors.

The person responsible for fire safety in Scotland is called the ‘duty holder’, while in Northern Ireland they are known as the ‘appropriate person’. However, the duties of this person, regardless of country, are the same: to carry out the fire risk assessment and ensure the safety of anyone using their premises.

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