Have concerns been raised in the past about key fire safety laws?

Published: 28th Jun 2017

In brief

Claim

Labour introduced the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order in 2005, which was criticised by the coroner’s report following the Lakanal House fire in 2009 criticised the order.

Conclusion

Concerns about the Fire Safety Order (introduced by the Labour government in 2005) were raised by the inquest into the Lakanal House fire. It was concerned that people carrying out fire risk assessments weren’t necessarily qualified enough and about the scope of the new rules.

“In 2005, it was a Labour Government who introduced the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order … this was commented on in the report on the Lakanal House fire; it criticised that 2005 order, which had been put in place by the Labour government.”

Theresa May, 28 June 2017

The main law on fire safety for businesses in England and Wales is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which came into effect in 2006 under the last Labour government. The key aim, when it was introduced, was to consolidate the existing legislation on fire safety into one place.

One of the provisions of the new legislation changed the rules on how buildings are assessed for fire risk and this is what the Prime Minister is talking about.

Before 2006, the rules were more complicated. In some cases, local fire brigades issued fire certificates to businesses when they were satisfied the premises met the required standards (and issued notices requiring changes where they weren’t).

The 2005 Order replaced the need for fire certificates with a risk-assessment approach, where a ‘responsible person’ (usually whoever is in control of the premises) has to ensure that a fire safety risk assessment of the building is carried out. If they’re not able to carry one out, this is done by a ‘competent person’ who needs to have “sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities” to carry it out properly.

The inquest into the Lakanal House fire in 2009 unearthed concerns that there weren’t strict enough requirements for people conducting risk assessments to be qualified to do so, and for buildings to undergo the checks. The Coroner also told the government in 2013 that “there remains uncertainty about the scope of inspection for fire risk assessment purposes which should be undertaken in high rise residential buildings”.

Concerns about the 2005 Order were also raised by a Lords Committee which remarked ahead of its publication: “The Committee is concerned that there is a risk that the proposed fire safety regime (based on self-assessment) would not maintain the necessary protection provided by the current fire safety regime (based on fire safety certification).”

Of course, this doesn’t mean the Order was responsible for this fire or the more recent one at Grenfell tower. The public inquiry that’s been announced into the recent tragedy will cover the reasons in depth.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of Prime Minister's Questions. Read the roundup.


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