What can conveyancers learn from the Grenfell Tower tragedy?
The inquiry into the cause of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire will almost certainty focus on the role of the Freeholder and Management Company and investigate any failings on their part.
In the meantime what steps as conveyancers can we take to ensure clients are well informed of the risk of fire when purchasing a flat in a high raise building.
To begin with, we should all be asking to see the risk assessment and checking when this was last updated as well as checking that any recommendations have been followed.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 became law in October 2006 and introduced significant change to workplace fire safety responsibilities. It also simplified the legislative regime by bringing all fire safety legislation together into one Order. Essentially it introduced the need for employers, building owners and occupiers as ‘responsible persons’ to carry out, implement and maintain a fire safety risk assessment. That is someone who has been trained to do so!
A 5-step fire safety risk assessment checklist is available to help ‘responsible persons’ carry out and implement a risk assessment in their premises.
All non-domestic premises including the common or shared parts of blocks of flats or houses in multiple occupation are covered by the Order, and may be inspected by their local Fire and Rescue Authority. Under the Order, Fire and Rescue Authorities have a statutory duty to ensure compliance and enforce the requirements where necessary.
As well as the check-list setting out what is required within an adequate risk assessment, an on-line form is available to help check the extent to which the assessment will comply with legislation.Fire risk assessment guidance:
If the seller is not able to supply it the seller should be asked to obtain an assurance from the Freeholder/Management Company one will be sought and made available within a reasonable period of time.
Health and Safety legislation has the allowance of ‘reasonable steps’ being taken to comply. If there is a plan in place to assess at some stage in the future this may help to avoid immediate enforcement action and it might therefore be wise to ask the seller to provide confirmation from the Freeholder/Management Company that there is at least a plan in place to undertake the assessment.
If the client is to acquire an interest in the Freehold/Management company then there is a need to warn the client of the risk of enforcement for so long as it takes to supply the assessment.
What other steps can be taken?
The following additional enquiries should also be considered.
Is there a sprinkler or other fire suppression system installed? More than a million people are living in council owned tower blocks with no sprinkler systems. In all newly constructed blocks taller than 30m sprinklers need to be installed, though surprisingly not in common areas.
Has the building undergone refurbishment and if so was the fire risk assessment updated?
Is the property cladded and if so does the cladding contain a plastic or mineral core? It is understood cladding with a plastic core was used in the West London tower.
Has the relevant Fire Service visited and inspected the building and when did the last inspection take place?
Our job as lawyers is make sure we can obtain the right type of information to enable our clients to make informed decisions before they commit to make a property their home. The risk of fire and fire mitigation measures will clearly in the light of this tragedy be in the forefront of all of our minds.