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Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – Part 39

March 30, 2020 1:18 pm

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy whose aim is to give information on best practice in fire safety for facilities management personnel through this blog series. In part 38, LWF considered the offences possible under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. In part 39, we look at what defences can be given when charged with an offence under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

When a person is charged with an offence under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 the burden of proof falls to the accused rather than the enforcing authority. It is for the accused to prove that it was not possible for them to do more than was done to satisfy the duty of requirement.

It is, therefore, possible to mount a defence if the person can prove they took all reasonable measures, precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of such an offence. It should be noted that this defence cannot be used in cases of a breach of requirement to take general fire precautions for the safety of employees, or of the requirement for elimination or reduction of risks from dangerous substances.

While reversing the burden of proof for offences under the Order is the opposite to that used in normal criminal proceedings, it is in line with prosecution of offences under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, and there is case law to establish it does not contravene human rights. There is, however, some debate ongoing as some offences can be imprisonable and those arguing feel that the burden of proof is a contravention of human rights where a custodial sentence may be the outcome. So far, no challenge to the status has been successful and the law stands.

Ignorance of the law is no defence. The Responsible Person as defined by the Order will be held responsible for breaches, even where they are not aware of the requirements of the Order. It is for this reason that in organisations where no appropriately titled or experienced person is employed (e.g. a fire safety manager or health and safety manager), the Responsible Person is considered to be the most senior executive of the business. Offences can be brought against the body corporate and culpable individuals, not only the Responsible Person.

In part 40, LWF will look at the potential for appeals against offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.

Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings.

While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.

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