Health and safety legislation for residential properties is becoming more complex and, for this reason, it is an ongoing critical issue. The penalties of non-compliance could be severe.
The communal parts of blocks of flats are “places of work” for the staff and contractors that take care of the buildings. Therefore, they need to comply with multiple pieces of legislation such as the following:
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
- The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
The managing agent, the Residents’ Management Company (RMC), or the Right to Manage Company (RTM) may be held accountable if the communal areas do not follow the Health and Safety Regulations. The legislation requires that sufficient health and safety risk assessments, as well as fire risk assessments should be carried out in all residential buildings and should be reviewed regularly. Fire safety risk assessments, in particular, are considered supremely important since the Grenfell Tower tragedy. These risk assessments will determine the likelihood of a fire occurring, and the severity and impact that fire could have. It should also identify what, if any, control measures or remedial works are required to reduce or eliminate the hazards. The “responsible person”, that is either the managing agent, the Residents’ Management Company (RMC), or the Right to Manage Company (RTM) should implement the measures indicated by the assessments to adequately reduce the risk in the property. The regulations are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, local authorities, as well as the Fire and Rescue Services.
The cost of inspection, remedial or maintenance work that might be needed, such as replacement of communal doors, fire extinguishers, means of escape, will likely be funded via the service charge, depending on the terms of the lease. As a result, RMC Directors may start looking for cheaper alternatives to carry out the assessments due to the sometimes already high costs that leaseholders are charged with.
Why is it important to comply with Health and Safety Regulations?
Since the communal parts of residential buildings are considered to be places of work by the Courts and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it is really important that they are compliant with the Health and Safety Regulations, as non-compliance may lead to fines or imprisonment. Therefore, if a cleaner, gardener, managing agent or repair contractor works in a block of flats, then freeholders and Resident Management Companies, just like employers, should protect the contractors who take care of the building, as well as individual leaseholders, tenants and visitors by carrying out risk assessments.
Moreover, leaseholders who wish to sell their property are likely to be asked for proof that a fire risk assessment and an asbestos survey has been carried out in the building and, as a result, many flat owners are unable to sell their properties because they are not able to provide such evidence.
Additionally, practising good health and safety in your building can save you from future expenses that might occur in case of an accident since the cost of an accident will always outweigh the cost of assessments that would have prevented that accident in the first place.
Finally, it is morally right to prevent people who live or work at your property from suffering from the negative consequences of an accident, by being proactive and carrying out adequate assessments on time and reviewing buildings regularly.
How to choose an assessor?
Choosing the right assessor might be overwhelming given there are quite a few things that need to be taken into consideration. Going for the cheapest option is not always the answer as sacrificing quality over price is not advisable when it comes to health and safety issues for various reasons.
The first thing to check is that the assessment is going to be completed by a competent professional. That is, the appointed contractor should have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience in carrying out the requested assessment. This can be demonstrated through professional qualifications and evidence that verify the skills and experience required. Moreover, the contractor should also provide evidence that they have adequate arrangements for the management of health and safety. Additionally, asking for proof that the contractor is registered with their respective professional body adds some extra credibility to their skills since the majority of professional bodies require a form of assessment or demonstration of a specific level of competency from their members.
Cheaper providers might not be adequately qualified to carry out risk assessments and are therefore not in a reliable position to advise on any actions that need to be taken as their advice may potentially lead to dangerous consequences for residents. HML’s in-house assessors, on the other hand, are trained, experienced and qualified assessors who perform health and safety and fire risk assessments for more than 1,000 properties each year.
In addition to the contractor’s competency and qualifications, another thing to consider is insurance. Contractors should have adequate insurance in place. That is an employer’s liability (casualty) insurance, public liability and professional indemnity insurances. The coverage of the insurance should be proportionate to the scale of contract but setting a minimum expectation is highly recommended. Some assessors, however, may not have the required insurance in order to reduce their price. As a result, customers are expected to undertake all the risks of the venture instead, which could result in large liability claims, should the consultant’s advice result in an accident or incident.
Last but not least, a heavy focus should be made on the industry experience and the quality of work that assessors deliver. The cheaper providers may specialise in a different industry and so they may lack experience in dealing with risk assessments specifically in residential buildings. Moreover, there are cases whereby some contractors did not carry out bespoke risk assessments but a generic one instead, or worse they implemented desk top surveys without even attending the site. Lack of follow-on service is another issue that clients of cheaper providers have usually to contend with. As a lack of back office employees, may result in slow or no response.
B-hive’s team of experts can provide professional inspections followed by “easy to follow” reports.
Health & safety should never be ignored or dismissed simply because it can be thought ‘too expensive’. The cost of failing to comply if there is an accident or injury could be far greater. Therefore, you need to choose your support wisely.