The review was carried out by BSi, supported by a fourteen-strong steering group and a revised version was released on 31st December 2020. The new PAS 79 was released in two parts; Part 1 for premises other than housing, and a brand-new Part 2 focusing on housing.
What are the key changes?
- Firstly, PAS 79:2012 was a guide, whereas PAS 79-1:2020 and PAS 79-2:2020 are codes of practice, of which are notably easy for the user to read and understand. The documents state that this change in status is simply to recognise this, noting that guides are not usually of such a nature as to sustain a reliable claim of compliance.
- PAS 79-1:2020 gives recommendations on how to carry out fire risk assessments that will protect the occupants of non-domestic premises, e.g. employees, contractors, visitors and members of the public. The scope now excludes blocks of flats, sheltered housing, extra care housing, supported housing and certain houses in multiple occupation (i.e. those falling within the scope of the relevant fire safety legislation), all of which are now covered in PAS 79-2:2020.
- PAS 79-2:2020 gives recommendations and corresponding examples of documentation for undertaking, and recording the significant findings of, fire risk assessments in housing premises and parts of housing premises for which fire risk assessments are required by legislation. It is worth noting that there will be a requirement to refer to both parts of PAS 79 for mixed use buildings i.e. with shops/offices at the base of a building, and residential apartments on the top floors.
- Pre-occupation fire safety assessments are defined within the new code of practices and states that the term is not to be confused with the fire risk assessment required by fire safety legislation and described in PAS 79-1 and PAS 79-2.
- It has come as no surprise that there is even greater emphasis on competence of fire risk assessors and refers to future competence standards due to be released as a result of the Hackitt Review of building regulations and fire safety. It seems to be forgiving of fire risk assessor experience and judgement to make recommendation that may deviate from current standards/guidance, taking travel distances as an example. However, this is counterbalanced by noting that fire safety specialists with experience only in the design of new buildings might not possess an appreciation of standards which older buildings were constructed to (and therefore the possible acceptability of such standards, if still compliant).
- Recommendations for blocks of flats, sheltered housing and extra care housing are provided for Types 2, 3 and 4 fire risk assessments, as defined in the Local Government Association and the National Fire Chiefs Council guidance. However, PAS 79-1 and PAS 79-2 is primarily concerned with the Type 1 fire risk assessment (non-destructive) required for compliance with the relevant fire safety legislation in England and Wales.
- There is new and more detailed information of the ‘stay put strategy’ normally adopted in blocks of flats and maisonettes, and this term, is now defined within PAS 79-2. However, a warning is included in respect of the potential risk to residents if a ‘stay put strategy’ is inappropriately abandoned.
- Reference is made to evacuation alert systems for use by the Fire and Rescue Service in blocks of flats and maisonettes, which are the subject to the new British Standard; BS 8629.
- Reference is also made to person-centred fire risk assessments in specialised housing, though specific recommendations in relation to these fire risk assessments are outside the scope of PAS 79-2.
While focussed primarily on housing it is likely further changes in relation to commercial buildings will also occur. Fire is certainly an issue to keep in mind for 2021 and beyond.