The fire safety requirements in Schedule 1 of the Building Regulations are laid down so that new buildings are constructed with enough safeguards to ensure that, if a fire occurs, the people inside the building will be able to escape, or be able to stay where they are until the fire is extinguished, and that other buildings in the vicinity will not be adversely affected. The recommendations in Approved Document B (Fire Safety) take the size of the building, the occupant type and the use of the building into account to provide guidance on the level of fire resistance, the size of compartments, the size and number of staircases, the maximum distance to be travelled before a place of safety is reached, the number and size of doors and the facilities and access for the fire service to name but a few. A new building designed and constructed to meet the requirements of the Building Regulations for Fire Safety should therefore be a safe building in the event of fire.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO for short) replaced about 70 pieces of fire legislation and is concerned with the life of the building from the time of occupation. The purpose of the RRO is to define the responsibilities of the occupiers of the building to provide general fire precautions, keep a check on the activities within the building, remove, reduce or control fire risks, train staff in fire procedures and maintain and test fire safety equipment. A building can be perfectly safe until people are introduced into it and the RRO is the piece of legislation which aims to outline how to manage the activities and people within a building to ensure that in the event of fire, everyone remains safe. When you are designing a building you have to comply with the requirements of the Building Regulations for Fire Safety but do you also have to consider the RRO?
The Building Regulations already consider the occupant type – sleeping or awake, familiar or unfamiliar with the building. They take into account the type of building – residential, industrial, office, assembly and recreation – and therefore the type of activities which will be taking place there. The height of the top floor and the extent of the footprint of the building are also taken into account, the guidance suggesting greater levels of fire resistance for a greater number of floors or a building which operates a phased evacuation policy.
The RRO looks at what actually happens in the building when it is occupied so, from this viewpoint, we can improve our designs by asking sometimes basic questions to make sure that the building includes features that will assist in the safe running of that building. In a student accommodation building with a single stair – where will the post be put – pigeon holes at the base of the stair would be convenient but not ideal in a sterile staircase therefore make provision for post to be stored in the common room which is fire separated from the staircase. In schools and bars call points can be misused therefore consider hinged covers, alarmed covers, CCTV or the sighting of call points in staff areas at the design stage to limit false alarms when the building is occupied.
In conclusion, the Building Regulations are there to ensure that fire safety is considered in the design of buildings and the occupants, type of activity and size of the building are all taken into account at the design stage. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order is concerned with how the building is actually used and managed. There is a cross over between the two and therefore it is essential for good communication at the design stage so a holistic view can be taken and some aspects of the future use of the building can be addressed.