‘Suitable and sufficient’? UK regulation of post-construction fire safety
Baker, Alfred James
There have been considerable reductions in UK fire deaths and casualties over the last fifty years, but on-going innovation in the built environment means that fire risks need constantly to be reappraised and addressed. This innovation takes the form not only of new materials and architectural approaches, but also of new methods of fire safety regulation. While existing research has addressed many aspects of this innovation, one crucial area has been neglected: that of post-construction fire safety regulation. This thesis examines this topic focusing on how fire safety is maintained during the life times of buildings. All new buildings have fire safety features that are a requirement of design approval, but these need to be maintained and used appropriately for the remainder of the building’s operational life. The key development in UK post-construction regulation in recent years has been the shift towards self-regulation in which the onus is on duty holders (usually the employer) to assess and maintain an appropriate level of fire safety. This thesis documents the emergence, rationale, and operation of this system, and addresses key issues and concerns with the way it functions. In particular, the efficacy of the current UK approach to post-construction regulation depends on the capacity of duty holders to carry out suitable fire risk assessments, either themselves or by employing suitable fire risk assessors. However, this hinges not only on whether a sufficient number of assessors have sufficient competence, but also on the ability of the assessor to understand the intended functionality of the original fire safety design, approved in the pre-construction phase. In addition, the system relies on external oversight by the fire and rescue services for high-risk premises, and this thesis explores the way that this fire and rescue service role has evolved, and its current rationale for deciding which premises are sufficiently high risk to audit. Drawing on interviews with key actors such as fire safety engineers, fire safety managers, fire risk assessors, and fire safety enforcement officers, the thesis unravels this complex system of regulation. This analysis suggests that the system at present has internal inconsistencies that call into question its effectiveness, highlights the concerns of many of those central to the operation of the regulation, and provides evidence from serious fires and other regulatory breaches to support the conclusion that UK post-construction regulation could be more effective.