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Fire safety measures: the law

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to virtually every structure, with the exception of private homes.

The law states that anybody who has responsibility over a building must take reasonable efforts to decrease the risk of fire and ensure that people may evacuate in the event of a fire.

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017, the government issued a draft Building Safety Bill on July 20, 2020. The draft bill is the latest in a series of steps taken by the government to improve fire safety in high-rise residential buildings, including the introduction earlier this year of the Fire Safety Bill. The draft bill overhauls the present fire safety system by imposing new responsibilities aimed at increasing responsibility, transparency, and supervision of fire safety throughout the life of a building, as well as tougher penalties for failure to meet those responsibilities. Part of these new responsibilities is the duty to ensure that fire safety measures are built into buildings, including the inclusion of passive fire safety measures.

What are passive fire safety measures?

The number one priority in the case of a fire is to save lives by limiting the spread of flames and smoke.

Passive fire protections are designed to limit fire and smoke spread and include measures such as cavity barriers, penetration sealing and fire compounding. Creating building compartments is also a key factor in passive fire protection, whereby sections are created within buildings to keep a fire in one compartment. Such protection is either provided by the materials from which the building is constructed or is added to the building to enhance its fire resistance. Passive measures resist the fire, compartmentalise its impact, protect the building’s structure and give building users time to escape.

How we can enhance your contracts

Fire safety is an ongoing duty in which all interested parties must comply with on any construction project. When negotiating construction contracts, it is important that this duty “flows down” the contractual chain. For example, within a typical JCT Design and Build 2016 contract, employers should ensure that their employer’s requirements sufficiently include the requirement to include passive fire safety measures on a project. The effect of this is that the contractor will then be under a responsibility to ensure that these passive fire safety measures are built into the contractor’s proposals and are then adequately included in the final construction design. Similarly, fire safety duties extend to employer’s agents and their appointments should specify that they are also under a duty to check and ensure that the contractor has complied with the employer’s requirements and has implemented various passive fire safety measures in the final design.

To ensure that these responsibilities “flow down” the contractual chain, Clarke Willmott can review and make amendments to existing employer’s requirements, JCT contracts, and any appointments of employer’s agents / project managers. Crucially, the need to make sure that each document being amended “speaks” to the other contractual documents in a project is key. It is important that each party in a construction build understands and co-operates with others in terms of fire safety. Without amending contracts in this manner, there is a risk that ambiguity will surround who exactly takes on the responsibility for ensuring that passive fire safety measures are met.

Written by Ross Grant-Smith.


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