Q&A: In the sale of a commercial property where there are no employees, members of the public, or third parties, is there a requirement for a fire risk assessment?

Q&A: In the sale of a commercial property where there are no employees, members of the public, or third parties, is there a requirement for a fire risk assessment?

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The statutory regime for fire prevention and fire safety in respect of commercial premises is set out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO 2005), SI 2005/1541. SI 2005/1541 places a duty upon the ‘responsible person’ for each premises to observe such general fire precautions as are reasonably required in the circumstances to ensure that the premises are safe.

The 'responsible person' must carry out suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which the 'relevant persons' are exposed in order to identify the precautions to be taken and must keep such assessments up to date.

Who is responsible?

The responsible person in a workplace is the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, eg the occupier or owner and in respect of all other premises is the person or people in control of the premises.

If a landlord has an obligation to maintain or repair any part of the premises or in relation to the safety of the premises, he will be considered to be in control of the premises to that extent. He may, therefore, be the responsible person as well as his tenant in relation to the demised premises. He will also be responsible for the common parts of a multi-let building such as offices or a shopping centre. Both parties are under a duty in such instances to take all reasonable steps to work with each other.

Application to all premises

Pursuant to SI 2005/1541, art 6, all premises are covered except the following:

  • domestic premises
  • an offshore installation
  • a ship, in respect of the normal ship-board activities of a ship’s crew which are carried out solely by the crew under the direction of the master
  • fields, woods or other land forming part of an agricultural or forestry undertaking but which is not inside a building and is situated away from the undertaking’s main buildings
  • an aircraft, locomotive or rolling stock, trailer or semi-trailer used as a means of transport or a vehicle for which a licence is in force under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 (VERA 1994) or a vehicle exempted from duty under that VERA 1994
  • a mine, other than any building on the surface at a mine
  • a borehole site.

‘Premises’ are defined in SI 2005/1541, art 2 as follows:

‘...“premises” includes any place and, in particular, includes—

(a) any workplace;

(b) any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft;

(c) any installation on land (including the foreshore and other land intermittently covered by water), and any other installation (whether floating, or resting on the seabed or the subsoil thereof, or resting on other land covered with water or the subsoil thereof); and

(d) any tent or movable structure;’

Accordingly, a commercial premises which does not fit in one of the defined categories in SI 2005/1541, art 6 will be subject to the duties and responsibilities imposed by the SI 2005/1541.

What are the duties owed?

Pursuant to SI 2005/1541, art 5(2):

‘Where the premises are not a workplace, the responsible person must ensure that any duty imposed by articles 8 to 22 or by regulations made under article 24 is complied with in respect of those premises, so far as the requirements relate to matters within his control.’

The duties imposed by SI 2005/1541, arts 822 include the requirement to carry out a fire risk assessment. See generally: General precautions in regard to fire: Halsbury’s Laws of England [627].

What is the penalty for non-compliance?

Failure to comply with the provisions or any notice served under them is a criminal offence which could result in a fine or up to two years' imprisonment.

For further guidance on fire safety, see Practice Note: Landlords and fire precautions.

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