It seems to be quite a commonly held view that responsibility for fire safety rests solely with the occupier of a property, but this is often not the entire picture, particularly in a multi-let building where other parties may also have an element of responsibility. I thought it would be worthwhile to put together a short summary of the key points under Scotland's current fire safety regime.
- The current regime is based on the principles of risk assessment, and the requirement to take steps both to prevent fire and to mitigate the effects of a fire, so as to ensure the safety of persons.
- The current regime applies to nearly all non-domestic premises in Scotland, along with those houses in multiple occupation which require a licence and also premises used for child-minding.
- Any person with any degree of control over premises covered by the regime is likely to have some responsibility for fire safety. This responsibility will be in direct proportion to the level of control - the more control, the greater the responsibility. In addition, an owner will always have some responsibilities, and an employer will always retain responsibility for the safety of its employees.
- More than one person can have fire safety responsibilities for certain premises. So for any one property, the owner, any tenant, the employer (if not the owner or tenant) and any property manager or contractor with maintenance or fire precautions related responsibilities at a property may each have fire safety responsibilities for that property. They must co-operate with each other and co-ordinate their fire safety measures.
- Anyone who has responsibility through having some degree of control must undertake a fire safety risk assessment in respect of the premises to the extent of that control, and needs to consider the outcome of that assessment and take appropriate action as necessary.
- The fire safety risk assessment must be reviewed regularly and updated if required.
- The risk assessment must be recorded in writing (electronically or on paper) if a licence or registration is required for the premises, or if the Fire Authority has served a notice requiring a record to be kept, or where an employer employs 5 or more employees.
- Premises covered by the fire safety regime may be inspected or audited by an enforcement officer (normally an officer of the local Fire & Rescue Service) to ensure that the law is being complied with.
Who is "in control"?
The question that arises most often in relation to the fire rules is who is "in control" of premises. The fire rules do not define "control" but it is clear that any owner, employer, tenant or other occupier, or person with contractual obligations either to maintain or to repair the property or to install or maintain fire precautions could all be in a position to exercise a degree of control that would result in them having obligations under the fire rules. Only a property occupied and traded from by a sole trader owner, who manages the property himself, is likely to have only one person "in control".
An owner is always "in control", but the obligations on him under the fire rules will depend on the extent to which the owner's control over the property has been restricted. If the owner has granted a lease to a tenant who is operating a business from the property, then both the owner and the tenant will be "in control" - but the owner's ability to control what happens on the property has been significantly reduced, so its obligations under the fire rules are also reduced in line with its control.
Further information and guidance are available on the Scottish Government web pages on fire law including a fire safety guidance booklet which explains the procedure for carrying out a fire safety risk assessment as well as the main rights and responsibilities of anyone covered by the legislation.