Fire safety & legal responsibilities

If you are an architect preparing the design for a new building or a retrofit, having an appreciation for and working knowledge of the latest fire safety legislation will ensure compliance and ultimately save lives.

The latest government statistics show a 10 per cent increase in fire incidents in England, with 170,000 incidents recorded in 2013-14, 275 of which resulted in fatalities. Of the recorded fires 47,500 were in buildings and 31,200 in residential dwellings.

Ensuring that all buildings meet the latest regulations in terms of fire safety and specifying adequate fire safety products and solutions should therefore be of paramount importance for architects.

Regulation and legal responsibilities

The legal requirements for fire safety will depend on whether the building is being constructed in accordance with standard government building regulations or to British Standard BS9999, which offers a ‘barter’ option, giving greater flexibility to the standard regulations.

The government standard Building Regulations 2010, Document B, describes the fire safety regulations for all buildings in England.

For dwellings considered to be houses ‘in multiple occupation’, it is important to recognise that you will have additional responsibilities under the Housing Act 2004.

Once the building is occupied, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 comes into effect, which was designed to put an end to prescriptive fire safety and to hand control over to the ‘Responsible Perso’; deemed to be the owner, employer or occupier. The Fire Safety Order applies to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales, including the common parts of blocks of flats and houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

The Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2005 (DDA) on 1 October 2010. Where an employer does not make provision for the safe evacuation of disabled people from its premises, this may be viewed as discrimination.

Architects should therefore recommend fire safety systems and/or products to make certain that disabled and hard of hearing building occupants are made aware of a fire alarm sounding and are able to evacuate the establishment quickly and safely. It is often a combination of equipment, as beacons for example, can’t be relied upon in bright light.

High-risk buildings

Multi-occupied properties which have three or more storeys hold the greatest fire risk, according to studies. This includes hostels, managed or sheltered accommodation, houses that are converted into flats, purpose built multi-storey buildings and flats above shops.

This higher risk is related to the high occupancy factor, due to multiple ignition sources (cookers, heaters, fires, smoking), potential for vulnerable occupants and lack of fire prevention measures. Although only about two-thirds of fires occur in dwellings, these account for over 80 per cent of both fatal and non-fatal casualties.

Fire doors

According to government building regulations, the majority of fire doors should be fitted with a self-closing device. Fire doors are installed to protect the safety of building occupants by preventing the dangerous spread of smoke and fire, provided they are closed. In this way they make sure people have a protected route to get out of the building, and they protect the building and its contents against the spread of damage.

Research carried out by Fireco showed that 64 per cent of premises visited by the fire service found fire doors wedged open, a practice that can prove devastating as the case of the Rosepark Nursing Home in South Lanarkshire showed. After years of research and test fires, it has been proven how effective fire doors with self closers would have been in this case.

Architects should also be aware that all new care home buildings are required to have free swing door closers attached to all bedroom doors.