The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has welcomed the extension of the debate regarding fire risk assessments and their role within high rise dwellings following the Face the Facts programme broadcast by Radio 4 on 7 January.
The programme, part of an investigative consumer series by presenter John Waite, focused on the absence of fire risk assessments in tower blocks in the wake of the Lakanal House fire in London in which six people died in July 2009.
The FIA consider that, as a piece of investigative journalism, the BBC programme was reasonably well balanced. More specifically, the FIA applaud the measured position taken by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), as expressed by Iain Cox, particularly in respect of the risk posed by high rise flats, which Mr Cox very eloquently put into context The people at the very greatest risk are those in the flat or compartment of origin and there must be an alarm system there to tell them they've got a fire and for them to get out. If the building's built properly everybody else should be able to stay put. If the building isn't built for that then you should have a different evacuation procedure. And it really is for the responsible person - the owner, occupier, manager or whatever - of those premises to consider that. High rise blocks are not implicitly dangerous in themselves but if you're making assumptions about how they're built which are wrong then that can be a danger.
While the FIA agree that it is unacceptable for any Responsible Person (as defined by the Fire Safety Order in England and Wales) not to have carried out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment for any premises within the scope of the Order, it should be borne in mind that the duty to carry out fire risk assessments for the common parts of blocks of flats did not arise until 1 October 2006 (unless the premises constituted a workplace), and that no such duty exists in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, over the forty years or more in which high rise flats have existed throughout all parts of the UK, there is no significant history of multiple fatality fires involving occupants beyond the flat of fire origin; indeed, the attention focussed on the fire at Lakanal House has arisen from the very fact that the circumstances in which people tragically died were extremely unusual.
The FIA also acknowledge the amount of work involved in carrying out fire risk assessments in the case of any landlord with a large portfolio of properties. Indeed, it is noted that, when a fire, reputedly involving a £1,000,000 loss, occurred at the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh, an executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government, in May 2009, the College were, at the time, in the process of reviewing fire risk assessments across the College site. No fire risk assessment had been undertaken for the building in question under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order; a previous fire risk assessment, undertaken in December 2004 under previous legislation, was still in place, notwithstanding CLG guidance to Responsible Persons that, following the introduction of the Fire Safety Order in 2006, the Responsible Person would need to revise a risk assessment carried out under previous legislation.
The membership of the FIA includes many organisations that are capable of assisting Responsible Persons to undertake fire risk assessments for their premises. Such organisations are signatories to the FIA Code of Practice for fire risk assessors, which requires that the work of carrying out fire risk assessments is only carried out by persons competent to do so.