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CROSS Safety Report

Responsible Person failed to react appropriately to a smoke control system failure

Report ID: 1237 Published: 20 May 2024 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A Responsible Person (RP) registered a defect relating to an eleven-storey residential building with a single protected firefighting staircase on the fire and rescue service (FRS) portal. After this however, they did not act upon the defect.

As the issue involved life safety systems throughout the building being defective, the evacuation strategy (stay put) was not believed to be appropriate until the defect was rectified. In the event of a fire, this could have potentially put residents at risk.

Key Learning Outcomes

For Responsible Persons/Accountable Persons:

  • Where essential fire safety provisions are compromised, a competent person must undertake an urgent assessment of the risk the failure presents. This should include a review of the Fire Risk Assessment
  • After this, appropriate risk reduction/mitigation measures should be taken

For regulators receiving defect reports:

  • Fault or defect reports to portals should generate a message stating that, when logging a fault, the RP should ensure that their Fire Risk Assessment has been reviewed and remains suitable and sufficient, or is amended to reflect any corrective actions needed

Full Report

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The Responsible Person (RP) for an eleven-storey residential building with a single protected firefighting staircase, registered a defect on the fire & rescue service (FRS) portal. This was as required by the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, specifically regulation 7, which relates to essential firefighting equipment. 

The defect reported was that the automatic opening vents (AOVs) of the mechanical smoke extraction system were stuck in the closed position. An engineer had been out to see the system, but was unable to carry out the repair due to the failure of the power supply unit. This power supply powered the interface for the AOVs on all floors. The engineer stated they were waiting for a part and could not fix the system for several days.

the systems in place to support a stay put strategy had failed

A FRS officer contacted the RP to raise concerns over the risk the report presented to residents. Due to this fault, the building's escape route could be compromised in the event of a fire. The officer discussed the risks and advised that the Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) needed an urgent review with mitigation action taken. As the systems in place to support a stay put strategy had failed, the mitigation discussed was a change of the evacuation strategy from stay put to simultaneous evacuation until repairs were able to be carried out. 

Following significant work by the FRS, the RP eventually expedited a review of the FRA and put in place a waking watch until the smoke control system was fixed.

Expert Panel Comments

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An Expert Panel comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-US Expert Panel page.

This report highlights the need for RPs to be fully aware of their responsibilities under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), as clarified by the Fire Safety Act 2021, and for England amended under the Fire Safety England Regulations 2022. Further information can be found at the government's collection page, Fire safety: guidance for those with legal duties

It is important to highlight that the defect reporting process to the FRS does not alter or amend the need for the RP to have in place a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment that reflects the premises as it is. As soon as such a significant defect was identified, the RP should have instigated an immediate review of the FRA by a competent person.

The legal duty to maintain the FRA as a ‘live’ document applies throughout the UK. In England and Wales, these requirements are imposed by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (as amended). In Scotland, similar requirements are imposed by the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 in conjunction with the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006. In Northern Ireland, the requirements are imposed by the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, in conjunction with the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.

It is good to note the FRS identified the risk and questioned the RP

This review should assess the overall risk now posed, considering all fire safety measures holistically. The FRS officer was correct in highlighting this to the RP. What is of concern, is that it took the FRS officer to identify this via the report made to them, rather than the RP being aware of their responsibilities and acting accordingly.   

It is good to note the FRS identified the risk and questioned the RP, ultimately persuading the RP to take appropriate mitigation measures. The Expert Panel assume some of these conversations included the possibility that enforcement action might be taken if the RP did not undertake mitigation measures.

It is ultimately the responsibility of the RP to ensure the FRA of the premises is reviewed

RPs should be aware that when the FRS (where they are the enforcing authority of the FSO) think the risk is high to relevant persons, they may issue an Article 31 Prohibition Notice for part of or all of the premises. Enforcing authorities do not take these decisions lightly and are fully aware of the impact this has on residents and other stakeholders. However, where the risk is so high, and cannot be mitigated, this may be an appropriate course of action. 

It is ultimately the responsibility of the RP to ensure that the FRA of the premises is reviewed. When that review identifies that a change from a stay put to a simultaneous evacuation policy is required as interim mitigation, it is also the responsibility of the RP to make sure this is carried out.

Advice on how to support such a temporary change, can be found on the National Fire Chiefs Council's page, Simultaneous Evacuation Guidance (High-rise).

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