Fire safety regulation update: Grenfell Tower Inquiry and proposed changes to the regulatory landscape

Written on 12 Nov 2018

Grenfell Tower Inquiry

The Public Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy continues to hear evidence in relation to what happened on 14 June 2017. The inquiry in ‘phase 1’, which is focused on establishing the factual narrative around the incident, will continue until December 2018. The inquiry will then move into ‘phase 2’ and examine wider issues around why the fire happened.

There is currently no timetable for phase 2 and therefore no indication as to when the inquiry will produce its final report. Further details can be found on the inquiry’s website.

Proposed changes to the regulatory landscape

Meanwhile, a separate review commissioned by government (the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt) has published its final report and has recommended significant changes to the current regulatory framework for fire safety. The main finding of the report is that the current system is ‘broken’ and ‘not fit for purpose’ and a move towards a simpler, outcomes-based regulatory framework is required.

The report focusses on High Rise Residential Buildings (HRRBs), which are defined as residential buildings of 10 storeys or more. However, the government will be asked to consider applying the report’s recommendations to other multi-occupancy residential and institutional buildings in the future.

The key recommendations arising out of the report are:

  • The introduction of a Joint Competent Authority (JCA), made up of the Health and Safety Executive, the fire and rescue authorities and local authority building control, to oversee enforcements;
  • More defined requirements around ‘safety cases’ being presented to the JCA for review and approval at certain ‘gateway points’ during the planning, design, construction and occupation phases of a building;
  • Clearer roles of responsibility and accountability for duty holders, taking inspiration from the structure of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, to be applied to entire life cycle of a building with an additional role of ‘building safety manager’ to be created when the building is in occupation; and
  • More teeth for regulators, through greater enforcement options and penalties for breaches of fire safety and mandatory self-reporting requirements for breaches by organisations.

Government response

The initial response from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was very supportive of the main findings and recommendations and it is anticipated that the government will shortly respond formally.

A further consultation, running until 14 August 2018, sought views on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on HRRBs. An additional consultation seeking views on a proposed clarification of the statutory guidance on fire safety as set out in Approved Document B (guidance to the Building Regulations) closes on 11 October 2018.

MHCLG also committed to making a more detailed statement to the House of Commons “in the autumn” on how it intends to implement the new regulatory system. We understand such a statement will be made imminently and that MHCLG intends to adopt most of the findings and recommendations within the report.

Osborne Clarke comment

We anticipate there will be wholesale change to fire safety regulation in the near future, looking at the whole lifecycle of a building (construction to occupation). However, businesses should not wait for government to introduce new legislation before taking action. We recommend that businesses take the following action now in anticipation of legislative changes in the future:

  • review whether adequate consideration is being given on projects at the early design/ pre-planning stage to fire safety, including the involvement of or consultation with fire experts/ the fire service in discussions and consideration of the impact of changes in design to fire risks on occupation;
  • think about whether the ‘safety case’ concept could be put in place on projects now, bringing together relevant documentation in a digital format;
  • examine current arrangements for resident engagement and consider putting together a ‘resident engagement strategy’ as envisaged in the report; and
  • take the opportunity in contractual documentation and leases to focus on roles and responsibilities.

Please contact one of the experts listed below to discuss what these changes could mean for your business.