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RRO and the responsible person: Defining the 'who'and the 'what'

23 January 2013

With the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) having been in place for more than three years now, Keith Minster, considers the impact that it has had on the workplace Introduced in October 2006, it completely ch

With the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) having been in place for more than three years now, Keith Minster, considers the impact that it has had on the workplace Introduced in October 2006, it completely changed the regulatory landscape,by pulling together many of the previous scattered legislative demands on business operators under a new risk assessment-based fire safety regime. Central to this was the requirement which would, in future, sit on the 'responsible person' to conduct a full fire risk assessment, in order to identify and resolve any associated fire hazards.

It is an offence not to comply with the requirements of the legislation, with the guilty person liable to a fine or even a custodial sentence. Yet the impact so far would seem to have been patchy, with the need to drive greater understanding of both the nature of the obligation and how to ensure compliance.

There has been a steady stream of successful prosecutions, indicating that the regulations have teeth. Offending businesses have been taken to court, for example, where no risk assessment has taken place, fire doors have been wedged open or there has been a lack of emergency planning. The new regulations have been applied to large and small firms alike, with a number of six figure fines already imposed on companies who have failed to meet their obligations under the RRO.

Independent accreditation Today, it is thought that as many as one third of business operators are still unaware of their responsibilities under the RRO. In some larger organisations, for example, the role of 'responsible person' is divided up between different departments or divisions and it is not clear within the organisation as to where particular obligations lie.

However, this should no longer be the case as unlike earlier, more fragmented legislation, the role of the 'responsible person' under the RRO is now clearly defined. As a result, it is much easier for the regulatory authorities to determine responsibility and apportion blame in the event of a failure to comply with the regulations.

Having established who the ultimate responsible person is - generally the employer or premises owner - the issue then arises as to how that responsibility can be discharged to the satisfaction of the courts.

In the event of a fire-related incident, the responsible person must show that adequate precautions were taken. Such proof is best represented by a risk assessment file or log book, which shows how the premises has been examined and assessed in providing adequate fire safety protection.

This raises the issue of the level of experience required by the person appointed to assess fire safety. It is unlikely that the responsible person will have the necessary level of technical competence to make an effective assessment themselves and so will need to work with a specialist third party in order to produce the necessary report identifying any risks associated with the existing fire safety systems and the recommended corrective actions.

The problem the responsible person faces is how to choose an appropriate provider from the huge range of businesses offering risk assessment services. The key to meeting their obligations is to adopt fire safety solutions and providers that have been independently accredited.

This does not absolve them of culpability in the event of a breach in complying with the terms of the RRO.

However, working with consultants, installers and fire safety equipment providers who have been independently accredited is likely to provide strong evidence of compliance. More importantly though, it will provide a superior level of protection to users and visitors alike, by minimising the risk of a fire safety problem arising in the first place.

Keith Minster, is the sales manager UK and Ireland, Morley-IAS by Honeywell