The lessons of history: In the first part of a two part report Professor Rosemarie Everton takes a detailed look back at the recent history of fire prevention legislation, claiming that there are several lessons from the past that we would do well to take note of.(Risk Management)

IN AN ANNIVERSARY YEAR IT IS appropriate to look back. In this piece, which is the first of two parts I am asking the reader to see along a pathway stretching over three decades to the period immediately preceding the advent of the Fire Precautions Act, 1971 (1). I would invite him or her to revisit that advent, the circumstances which followed it, the emergence of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations, 1997 (2), and the circumstances which, in their turn, both followed upon those regulations, and lead up to the appearance of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, 2005 (3).

I make the invitation in the light of the interest which is currently being taken in the faring of the modernised approach to the 'fire challenge' (including that of the order). So far as the order itself is concerned, I think its history yields an insight worthy of consideration.

Looking Back

In 1969, there occurred a fire at the Rose and Crown Hotel in Saffron Walden in which 11 people sadly died. Not long after, the Fire Precautions Act, 1971, was passed. For some while there had been criticism of the fragmented state of fire safety legislation which lay outside Building Control, and the criticism had led to calls for rationalisation. The official view was that law regarding fire should be split into two branches--building regulations to deal with new and altered premises, and a new act passed to deal with premises once occupied (4).

The 'new act' passed, ie the 1971 Act, was designed gradually to render obsolete much of the existing fragmented fire safety legislation, and to replace it with a consistent regime. To this end, it established a system based on an extended concept of certification. It set out a lengthy list of uses of premises any of which the Secretary of State might, by means of an order, designate as a use requiring a fire certificate. …

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