Kevin McGrath, Head of the Business Defence team at Smith Partnership Solicitors, offers some insight into the complex world of fire safety and the circumstances surrounding the tragic Grenfell Tower incident.
Shortly before 1 am on the 14th June 2017 fire broke out on the 4th Floor of the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. Twenty four hours later when the fire was finally extinguished 72 residents were dead. For many experts in the fire safety industry the fire was a tragic but almost inevitable consequence of successive governments failure to prioritise fire safety.
Since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force there has been a seismic shift away from the old system of fire safety being policed by fire authorities by way of regular inspections and certification. There are 30% less fire safety officers than there were five years ago. The responsibility now rests firmly on business owners, landlords and what the order refers to as ‘the responsible person’ to ensure the safety of all those who use their premises. Get it wrong and lengthy gaol sentences and unlimited fines await.
Ensuring fire safety starts with the preparation of a comprehensive risk assessment by a suitably qualified expert but remember that it is not worth the paper it is written on unless you implement its procedures and act upon its recommendations. It should be reviewed at least annually and following major events such as renovation work. Regular maintenance of alarm systems, emergency lighting and fire fighting equipment is essential as is making sure the premises has the appropriate level of fire resistance throughout. Evacuation routes need to be properly maintained and regularly inspected and evacuation procedures clear to all concerned.
Remember that if the Fire Authority becomes involved, their default position is not to prosecute but to make sure that the premises are safe. Engage with them and act on their recommendations. If you are issued with an enforcement or prohibition notice make sure to employ suitably qualified contractors to carry out the remedial work required and do not ignore the deadlines specified.
Prosecution is the last resort but when it happens the consequences are often life changing. In the most recent review of sentencing in fire safety cases – R v Butt – the Lord Chief Justice confirmed that fire safety cases are always very serious and those who fail to discharge their responsibilities correctly can expect to receive gaol sentences and substantial financial penalties.
What is clear is that post Grenfell the courts will do everything they can to ensure that those responsible for fire safety take their obligations very seriously.
Smith Partnership’s specialist advisors can offer expert advice and guidance in times of real need. If you require any more information regarding this or any other Business Defence or criminal matter, please contact Kevin McGrath on 0116 247 2022.
If you’d like to find out more about the legal services offered by Smith Partnership, don’t hesitate to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, speak to a member of our team directly on 0330 123 1229.