Fire safety for tenanted buildings – Who is responsible?

The Grenfell Tower fire brought home the devastating speed with which fire can destroy people's lives, families and homes. NZ building safety standards are higher than those applied to the Grenfell Tower, but owners and tenants of high-rise buildings be warned - several failures of responsibility combined to make that fire fatal.  For example, building compliance aside, the building owners had not addressed repeated concerns from tenants about potential fire hazards; the building’s fire procedures did not require tenants to activate a fire alarm or to alert others; and tenants were advised by safety signage and emergency officials to stay put.  

Under NZ legislation, responsibility for safety is spread across everyone involved in a business:

  • The building owner is responsible for implementing fire evacuation procedures, Building Code compliance, Building Warrant of Fitness, and Compliance Schedules for lift, sprinkler and other systems.   
  • Tenant businesses are responsible for managing their internal OH&S planning and procedures, and providing and tracking Health & Safety training (including Fire Warden Training where applicable) for their staff.
  • Staff must maintain H&S procedures and systems in their workplace practice and roles and demonstrate continual improvement. 

Each responsibility contributes towards creating robust Health and Safety protection for building occupants, but cannot however, guarantee it. We therefore advise building owners and their tenant businesses to jointly agree a shared Health & Safety plan that details their inter-dependent OH&S responsibilities, and to obtain Fire Service, local Council, and professional advice on this plan and procedures. These bodies can also advise tenant businesses if their place of business has Building Compliance.