Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

October 4, 2016

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Is the Responsible Person playing with fire?


Ten years since The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order took effect from 1 October 2006 in England and Wales, 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 another major fire in a block of flats last week (Thursday 29 September) – 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 2006 legislation 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 which ran throughout last 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 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in structural fire compartmentation, poor installation and maintenance of life safety products, non-existent or outdated fire risk assessments and blocked fire exits.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.

Further information and advice for landlords and building owners is provided at www.firedoorsafetyweek.co.uk

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Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp
7 years ago

I think one of the major problems with fire safety is the legislation itself – it’s as clear as mud! For example, the definition of the ‘responsible person’ according to the RRFSO is fairly straightforward for a commercial property – the employer. However the ‘responsible person’ for domestic buildings it is somewhat nebulous because it could be the building owner, landord, letting agent or the organisation who carry out repairs and maintenance. The RRFSO is full of complex and poorly worded phrases often written in legal speak. This leads to people not fully understanding what is required. Although there is… Read more »

Simon Joyston-Bechal
Simon Joyston-Bechal
7 years ago

Building on Ray’s comment, what hope is there when the term ‘responsible person’ is so frequently misinterpreted as applying to an individual who is employed by the company or organisation that ought instead to be named as the ‘responsible person’. This is because it is not widely understood that ‘person’ in law means an individual or a company or organisation; and because the employee often named as the responsible person is not legally the employer and only has ‘control’ by virtue of his or her employment, which can of course be terminated at any time. This confusion seems to have… Read more »

7 years ago

Well said.
‘Person’ in law is not necessarily an actual person as we understand the term.
Even the Fire Service don’t seem to get this (or don’t want to, maybe).

Les Agate
Les Agate
7 years ago

Thank you for the article, I have a couple of concerns. 1. Where is the requirement for an annual fire risk assessment listed? I believe that the Fire Risk Assessment process is an ongoing exercise to address hazards as they become apparent. 2. I understand the Responsible Person to be the senior person within the organisation eg. the managing director of a limited company or the landlord of a block of flats. How can a Responsible Person be appointed? I understand that responsibility comes with the position and, although authority to carry out works can be delegated, responsibility stays with… Read more »

White Rose Fire Safety
White Rose Fire Safety
7 years ago
Reply to  Les Agate

There isnt a requirement for an annual fire risk assessment as stated in the article.

It should be reviewed annually as a minimum for good practice once the initial has been carried out and any findings acted upon.

The responsible person is normally someone such as the MD as you state, they can then appoint ‘competent persons’ to carry out any fire safety related duties but ultimately in law it all comes back to the overall responsible person so yes you are correct in your point.

Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp
7 years ago

The frequency of carrying out FRAs is for the duty holder to determine. The criterion should be based on the level of risk, although in practice it is usually shaped by other other factros, such as, the amount of FRAs and resources.

It may be possible to carry out a desktop review, rather than completing a new FRA in order to ensure the details within the FRA have not changed and the level of risk remains the same. It is also an opportunity to check whether the remedial works in the FRAs have been carried out.