23 February 2015
On 8 March 2015, it will become law for ALL residential properties in France to have at least one smoke alarm fitted.
The French Ministry of Housing estimates that only 2% of the 33 million homes in France currently have smoke alarms, with between 600 and 800 people dying in house fires every year.
Compare that with England, where 89% of homes have smoke alarms, with 258 deaths
Furthermore, seven out of 10 blazes start at night in France, after people have gone to bed, a figure that has led the ministry to believe that the number of fatalities would be halved if smoke detectors were fitted.
The legislation, approved in 2010, calls for one battery-powered alarm to be installed per home, with the recommendation that it is ‘solidly fixed to the highest point in the room’ in a corridor or hallway leading to rooms that are used regularly.
Although there is no density requirement – and the law only calls for one alarm – the general advice is that there is one per storey.
It further specifies a product requirement of EN14604 together with annual audits of the product and an obligation on the occupant to supply proof of purchase to his insurance company.
The landlord or property owner is responsible for the supply and installation of the alarm, the only exception being when there is a sitting tenant, in which case the landlord can either supply an alarm or refund the cost to the tenant if one has already been installed.
This move by the French Government follows that of Germany where the majority of the country’s 16 states already require mandatory installation of smoke detectors in new constructions, refurbished and existing buildings.
Each of the states sets its own regulations and time-frames, but generally they are striving for a high-density approach, with a smoke alarm required in every bedroom and every hallway that serves as an escape route.
However, the fragmented approach to legislation in Germany is indicative of the situation across Europe generally.
The UK was the first to regulate, in 1992, but with Building Regulations only covering new build properties or existing homes where a material alteration has taken place.
In England and Wales, there must be mains smoke alarms in circulation spaces, such as hallway and landing, and a heat alarm in the kitchen if it is not separated from the circulation spaces by a door. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as mains smoke alarms in circulation spaces and a heat alarm in the kitchen, there must also be a mains smoke alarm in the main living room and all alarms should be interconnected.
In February 2014, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issued a Discussion Document entitled Review of property conditions in the private rented sector which in part posed questions regarding the fitting of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in rental property in England at the change of a tenancy. The period for comments on this document closed on 28 March 2014 and to date nothing further has been heard on this matter.
FIA CEO Graham Ellicott comments that, based on experience with the DCLG on other fire matters, waiting a year for a response is pretty typical, although disappointing when one considers that lives are at stake. However, if the DCLG does decide to go down the route of retrofitting smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms then this will bring England more into line with Scotland – as detailed in its Repairing Standard contained in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006.
After 1992, other countries followed the UK’s lead, with roughly similar regulations – the Republic of Ireland, Holland, Denmark, Finland and Norway, for example – but there are still some countries that have yet to legislate, including Poland, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Brendan Barry, Marketing Director Ei Electronics, commented: “As in Germany, where the states typically follow each other, so across Europe countries do the same and it is generally assumed that those who haven’t regulated will make the move over time.
“The French are obviously trying to get coverage across homes quickly, using regulation that asks for one, affordable alarm, and it is likely that this idea of smoke detectors in every home will eventually evolve amongst other countries”.
Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.