New Fire Regulations For Northern Ireland Requires Property Owners To Adopt A "risk-Based Approach" To Fire Prevention

10 February 2011

On the 15th November 2010, Part 3 of the Fire and Rescue Services (NI) Order 2006 became law in Northern Ireland. Within 24 hours of the introduction of this new fire legislation, a devastating fire ravaged commercial premises in Belfast's Boucher Road damaging three stores and affecting another nine retail outlets. The Pound Stretcher store was so badly damaged that it had to move to temporary premises whilst the unit was demolished and is being re-built. Unfortunately, in the run-up to Christmas, the loss of business, loss of stock, damage to property, compensation claims and potential increased insurance premiums, is likely to have cost these retailers in excess of one million pounds.

Those within the property service industry had anticipated the arrival of these new regulations, and in general had made preparation for the impact of this far-reaching legislation. However, it is believed that some landlords and or "responsible persons" are either unaware or are choosing to ignore their responsibilities under this new legislation. Those that choose this path do so at their own peril, as not having a fire risk assessment could be construed by their insurance company as a breach of terms and conditions of the insurance policy. This could prejudice any insurance claim, and compromise their position even when it has no bearing on the loss and is not relative to the claim!

This change in Fire Safety Legislation brings Northern Ireland into line with England, Scotland and Wales. It replaces and simplifies the existing fire safety legislation for non-domestic premises. This is achieved by using a modern risk-based approach to fire prevention. Quite simply, it means that any person who has some level of control in premises (i.e. the 'responsible person') must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire, maintain fire fighting equipment and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire.

This will in most instances be documented within the "Fire Risk Assessment" report. If an office block has a communal area and four tenants, then each tenant requires a fire risk assessment, which is interfaced with the landlord's fire risk assessment for communal areas and fire escape routes.

In summary, anyone who controls commercial premises or who is the responsible person for a section of a building has a legal duty to comply with this new legislation. Duty holders or the sole occupants are responsible for making sure that a fire risk assessment is carried out. This must be conducted by a competent person and be reviewed on a regular basis or when a change occurs. This replaces the previous requirement for fire certificates in commercial premises.

Unfortunately, incidents of this nature and on this scale do happen all too often and can result in huge financial not to mention potential human losses, which is why it is imperative to implement these new regulations immediately and fully. Trading times are tough and operating margins are being squeezed like never before, however, it could prove all too costly for your business not to acquire and implement your fire risk assessment.

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