The regulations ("RRFSO") are non-prescriptive: they simply require property owners to do their own "Fire Risk Assessment" (FRA), and then to put in "appropriate" and proportionate fire precautions, bearing in mind the size of the "undertaking", the risk posed by its use and nature, and the number of people using the premises.
The regulations apply to almost all properties visited by the public ("domestic premises" are excluded), including (on the Government's own interpretation) ALL properties where anyone stays for even one night on a paying basis, if it is not their own home.
The regulations as written are broadly sensible. It is clear that they were not intended to create onerous new burdens - in fact they were intended as a deregulatory measure, and the Government's advance "impact assessment" predicted that they would save industry money.
The problems arise in the way the regulations are being interpreted and enforced by the dozens of different local Fire & Rescue Authorities in the UK.
In more detail:
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the "RRFSO") came into force in England and Wales on 1st October 2006. Click on the cover image (above right) to open the full online wording in a new window.
The Government department concerned is the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
For Scotland, click here.
It is important, when interpreting the detail of the RRFSO, to bear in mind that this was a deregulatory measure which has brought in a new self-assessment regime to replace the old "Fire Certificate" regime. It is expressly not intended to place onerous new burdens on businesses or render whole categories of small businesses economically unviable.
The Order states that "the Secretary of State is of the opinion that this Order does not remove any necessary protection or prevent any person from continuing to excercise any right or freedom which he might reasonably expect to continue to excercise".
Unlike the old (1971) regime, it is not prescriptive - ie the new regulations do not oblige any owner to put in any specific fire precautions.
Rather, they oblige every owner to carry out their own "suitable and sufficient" Fire Risk Assessment (FRA), and (if they have 5 or more employees) to record their FRA, and then in the light of their FRA to make "appropriate" fire safety arrangements, having regard to the size and the nature of their business.
The RRFSO is very specifically intended to be proportionate, ie to fully take into account the size and nature of each business; it requires owners to take "such general fire precautions as may be reasonably required in the circumstances of the case" (Part 2, Section 8.1.b). These (fire safety) arrangements must be "appropriate, having regard to the size of [the owner's] undertaking and the nature of its activities" (Part 2, Section 11.1). The words "so far as is reasonably practicable" appear three times in section 12, as does "appropriate to the nature of the activity or operation".
In section 13 (Fire-fighting and fire detection), the Order requires the owner to provide fire-fighting equipment "to the extent that it is appropriate" - and this is further clarified as "having regard to the dimensions of the premises, the equipment contained on the premises, the physical and chemical properties of the substances likely to be present and the maximum number of persons who may be present at any one time" (in the small home-based businesses not previously subject to the 1971 requirements, the number present will be very small - between one and six people for small B&Bs, for instance, apart from the owners).
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the "RRFSO"), which came into force in England and Wales on 1st October 2006. Click on the above cover image to open the full online wording in a new window.