This article describes how building legislation in England and Wales influences the fire safety of buildings in occupation.


The Building Act 1984 set out the framework for Building Regulations to be made, and for Documents to be Approved providing practical Guidance. Approved Document B provides practical guidance on how to comply with the functional fire safety requirements set out in the Building Regulations 2010, which were made under the Act.

Building Act 1984

The Building Act 1984 is the primary buildings legislation in England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regimes which will be described separately).

Section 1 provides the Secretary of State with the powers to make regulations for the purposes of securing the safety of people in buildings with relation to the design, construction and demolition of buildings, and the services fittings and equipment provided in connection with buildings.

It is these powers that allow the government to set out building regulations, laying out the fire safety design requirements for buildings.

Section 6 provides the Secretary of State with the powers to approve documents providing practical guidance on the requirements set out in Building Regulations. Though Section 7 makes clear that failing to comply with an approved document is not in of itself an offence, but in proceedings would point towards liability, where compliance would point towards non-liability. These presumptions change the emphasis - where the defender can show that the approved document was implemented, the pursuer or prosecutor must prove that the law was broken. Where the approved document was not implemented, the defender must prove that it was not.

Section 15 Places a duty on the local authority to consult with the Fire and Rescue Authority prior to relaxing requirements set out in Building Regulations in relation to:

  • structural fire precautions
  • means of escape

Building Regulations 2010

The Building Regulations 2010 are secondary instruments made under the Building Act 1984. Regulation 4 requires building work to comply with schedule 1, while Regulation 6 requires material changes in use to conform to parts of schedule 1, including for fire safety purposes parts B1,B2,B3,B4(2) and B5.

Schedule 1 sets out the functional requirements for safety in buildings:

  • B1 - Means of warning and escape
  • B2 - Internal fire spread (linings)
  • B3 - Internal fire spread (structure)
  • B4 - External fire spread
  • B4(2) - (roof only)
  • B5 - Access and facilities for the fire service.

Approved Document B

The functional requirements set out in Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations are high level, goal setting objectives.

To provide a detailed means of achieving those objectives HM Government has published two volumes of Approved Document B which set out a design specification to comply with the functional requirements. Approved Document B (fire safety): Volume 1 - Dwellings Approved Document B (fire safety): Volume 2- Buildings other than dwellings


  1. The requirement in respect of approved documents set out in Section 7 of the 1984 Act is to comply with the document at the time in force. As such there is no requirement to improve the fire safety design of buildings as the specification strengthens within future editions of Approved Document B.
  2. The law applies to new buildings, or to buildings when they undergo material change. So again, unless there is a material change to a building, no requirement to upgrade the fire safety design is triggered.
  3. For this reason a number of other guides and standards have been produced for the management of fire safety in buildings post-occupation, we will return to look at these in a subsequent article.


Some proposed alterations to buildings will degrade or remove existing fire precautions. According to Regulation 3 of the Building Regulations that alteration will be material, and therefore building work, if it causes B1,B3,B4,B5 (or part M, access) to be not complied with where it had been, or to be less complied with.

This is a significant protection - as it requires building notice and plans to be submitted for alterations that remove or degrade provisions under Regulation 12.

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