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NEW FIRE REGULATIONS: Responsibilities and Liabilities Update.4
(LWF issue regular updates covering topics specific to the implications of the new fire safety regulations on your business operation).
The New Law
The new law (The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) came into effect on the 1st October 2006. It is enacted through the Regulatory Reform Order (RRO), which in itself is legislation intended to enable the Government to amend existing legislation without the need to follow the full process of law enactment through Parliament. The Government’s intention for the RRO is to cut ‘red-tape’ and ease the legislative burden on commerce and industry generally. To reduce the possibility for confusion of Orders made under the RRO, the fire safety law is referred to as the ‘Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO).
The FSO made under the RRO is criminal law. Responsibilities for fire safety apply to the majority of premises in which persons are likely to resort with the exception of single residence properties and other minor use occupancies such as ships, offshore establishments and mines. The responsibility for fire safety is placed with the ‘Responsible Person’ who can be defined as the individual who has control over the premises. In many cases this may be the employer. In others it may be the owner, or a shared responsibility between owner / Landlord and tenants who further divide responsibility between ‘common parts’ and demises and between physical fire precaution provision / maintenance and fire safety management.
In general application and indeed following a serious fire incident, the enforcing authority (local fire brigade) will appraise the Fire Safety Management System (FSMS) put in place by the Responsible Person. The way in which the responsibility is devolved (as applicable) will be examined and this will be assessed when compared to the competency of the individual to who the responsibility is assigned. An organisation cannot devolve responsibility without ensuring the training necessary to impart the appropriate competency for the task. If it does, any investigation will revert up the chain of devolved responsibility until a level of management competency is reached, most likely the Board of Directors or equivalent. The individual rather than the ‘corporate body’ may be liable if negligence is involved and in extreme cases the spectre of ‘corporate manslaughter’ will in the future be ever present.
Implications to the Individual
Only time and ‘case law’ will make the outcome of prosecutions clear for breaches of the FSO. Our interpretation is that provided an individual follows guidelines set by the organisation (such as undertaking fire risk assessments) and provided everything that is reasonable to be done, is done, then it is unlikely that individual prosecutions will follow. If however gross negligence is the proven case (such as falsification of records, wilful neglect of responsibility), then individuals rather than the corporate entity may find themselves with a heavy fine or imprisonment and of course, a criminal record.