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Who’s responsible when passive fire protection fails?

Louise Frost, a senior marketer at Door Controls Direct, discusses the factors that influence accountability for passive fire protection in the built environment

When it comes to safeguarding lives and property, passive fire protection plays a pivotal role. Passive fire protection encompasses a wide range of architectural and structural elements designed to limit the spread of fire and smoke. These include fire-resistant materials applied to structural beams, fire doorsets, cavity barriers, fire-stopping compounds, and more.

The primary objectives of passive fire protection are twofold: to protect occupants by providing them with a safe means of escape during a fire and to minimise property damage.

When passive fire protection is effective, it can buy valuable time for both occupants and the fire rescue services (FRS). It provides a facility’s users with time to safely evacuate and for the FRS to contain the blaze before it spirals out of control.


The key stakeholders in the battle for accountability are:

Building Owners: Often the first to be held accountable when passive fire protection fails. They are responsible for ensuring that their properties meet safety regulations and standards. Failure to do so can lead to fines and even imprisonment.

Architects and Designers: Those who plan and design buildings play a critical role in determining the effectiveness of passive fire protection. If a building’s design inadequately addresses fire safety requirements, architects and designers may be held liable for any resulting failures.

Contractors and Builders: Those responsible for the physical construction of a building must ensure that the materials and techniques used for passive fire protection adhere to standards and regulations.

Regulatory Authorities: Government agencies responsible for setting and enforcing building codes and fire safety regulations also play a role in accountability. If regulations are unclear or insufficient, or if they are not rigorously enforced, the effectiveness of PFP measures will continue to be compromised.

Manufacturers of Fire Protection Products: Companies that produce passive fire protection products must ensure that their products meet stringent safety standards. If their products are found to be defective or substandard, they may be held liable for any failures.

Occupants and Users: In some cases, occupants and users of a building may also be accountable if their actions or negligence contribute to a fire or hinder evacuation efforts.

Employers: The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 section 3 includes employers under the banner of ‘responsible person’ “if the workplace is to any extent under his control”.


Several complex factors contribute to the challenges of assigning responsibility when passive fire protection fails:

Regulatory Ambiguity
Building codes and regulations can vary significantly by region and are subject to frequent updates and revisions. This can lead to ambiguity in compliance requirements and challenges in determining whether a building adheres to the applicable regulations.

Human Error
Errors can occur at various stages of the construction process, from design to construction. With people involved at every stage, no matter how automated some processes are, it’s inevitable. Identifying which party is responsible for a specific error can be challenging, as it often involves multiple stakeholders.

Aging Infrastructure
As buildings age, passive fire protection systems can deteriorate and become ineffective. Determining whether the responsibility lies with the original builders, subsequent maintenance contractors, or the current owner can be complex.

Cost-Driven Decision-Making
Cost considerations lead to compromises in passive fire protection measures. Deciphering whether cost-cutting decisions were made knowingly or unknowingly is a point of contention. A lack of regular inspections and maintenance also contributes to PFP failures.


The battle for accountability often plays out in the legal arena, with lawsuits and court decisions shaping the landscape of responsibility. Legal cases involving passive fire protection failures set important precedents, influencing how responsibility is assigned in future cases.


While assigning accountability after an incident is important, preventing passive fire protection failures in the first place is the primary goal. Here are some steps to consider in order to promote accountability and enhance fire safety:

Stringent Regulations: Governments and regulatory bodies must ensure that building codes and fire safety regulations are clear, regularly updated, and rigorously enforced. This includes regular inspections and compliance checks.

Education and Training: Architects, designers, contractors, and manufacturers should receive comprehensive training on fire safety and passive fire protection. This education should emphasise the critical role they all play in ensuring building safety.

Maintenance and Inspections: Building owners should prioritise regular maintenance and inspections of all fire protection systems, active and passive, to ensure they remain in good working condition.

Ethical Decision-Making: Stakeholders should prioritise safety over cost-cutting measures. Ethical decisions need to be made that prioritise the well-being of occupants and property, sourcing products that meet all of the required standards, from a dependable supplier, and having them installed by qualified trades.

Industry Collaboration: Architects, contractors, manufacturers, and regulatory authorities should collaborate to create industry best practices that promote effective passive fire protection.

By implementing stringent regulations, promoting education and training, and prioritising ethical decision-making, we can enhance passive fire protection and, ultimately, save lives and protect property. The battle for accountability should serve as a reminder.

In association with https://doorcontrolsdirect.co.uk

About Sarah OBeirne

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