Fire safety enforcement: a hostage to fortune: as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order is about to come into force (next April) consolidating over 60 disparate pieces of fire law, a leading fire safety expert asks whether enforcement and self compliance is driven by economic factors rather than public safety.(Fire Safety)

ONE OF THE ISSUES THAT has concerned me for some time is the future for fire safety enforcement and whether it is to be a hostage to fortune that is to be driven more by Fire and Rescue Service economic factors than a need to maintain the current levels of public and employee safety from fire beyond their homes. I will try to set out my concerns and perhaps you might consider them and draw your own conclusions because I doubt that there are any firm answers to this conundrum. There may be parallels to be drawn, however, with other areas of general health and safety legislation, notably rail safety.

Welcome Order

In April 2006 the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order will come into force. It will be the first major piece of fire safety legislation to emerge in 35 years and will in England and Wales repeal and replace the simple and effective, but administratively burdensome, Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the unfortunate and Largely ineffective Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (as amended).

At long Last the Order will put one statutory fire safety regime in place. It will be a regime which is similar to that imposed by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and which is sometimes known as self compliant regulation. It will be enforced by the fire and rescue authorities. Where the Order is superior to the 1971 Act is that it allows the fire and rescue authorities policy making flexibility to target their enforcement activities against high risk premises, rather than being driven by applications for fire certificates. I believe that this is to be welcomed.

Nevertheless, as a result of the undoubted effectiveness of the 1971 Act in dealing with workplace and hotel/guest house fire safety, one of the many factors that concentrated the minds of the men and women that formed the ODPM committee created to provide expert advice on drafting the Order was how to ensure that both public confidence in a serf compliant statutory system and public safety would be maintained at the levels that they were under the UK wide system of fire certification. …

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