The annual cost of fire loss in England and Wales is estimated to be in the region of £7bn. For the UK’s hotel sector, failure to comply with fire safety legislation can result in loss of life, reputational damage, financial ruin and prosecution. Mick Grist, divisional managing director at Bureau Veritas, explains how, by carrying out robust fire risk assessments, hotels can help safeguard against the risks.
The recent case of Salim Patel, a London hotel owner hit with a record fine for fire safety violations, might have sent a shudder down the spine of many hotel owners. Mr Patel was fined after a routine hotel inspection found that fire doors were tied open, emergency exits were blocked and inadequate fire detection systems were in place. Not only was this hotel owner so clearly in breach of fire safety regulations, he had not carried out a fire risk assessment.
The consequence for Mr Patel failing to consider the significance of fire was a £200,000 fine and a four month suspended sentence. The judge’s remarks at sentencing in March this year should ring true for any responsible hotel owner: that the public expects hotels to pay ‘absolute attention’ to fire safety when occupying sleeping accommodation.
Complying with law
So, what legislation do hotel owners need to consider when it comes to fire safety?
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 sets out the responsibilities of businesses and business owners regarding fire safety in England and Wales.
Under this legislation, if you are an owner of a hotel, you’ll be what is defined in law as the ‘responsible person’. This means taking measures that will ensure, as far as is reasonably practical, the safety of your employees and guests. At the very heart of this is the requirement to undertake a fire risk assessment of the premises, regularly reviewing it and, if you employ five or more staff, keeping a written record of this.
Put simply, a fire risk assessment is a thorough look at your premises and the people who are likely to use it. It must include, for example, identifying fire hazards, preparing an emergency plan and providing training for staff.
When undertaking a fire risk assessment, you will also need to consider the needs of all guests. This means paying close attention to those more likely to be at risk than others, such as young children, the elderly, guests with disabilities and those hard of hearing – what are the means for alerting these guests and do you have appropriate exit routes in place?
It’s best to consider a fire risk assessment as a ‘live’ document, which means any change in circumstances or the building will require a new assessment. This could include changes to furniture and fixings, changes to work procedures such as introducing new equipment, or significant changes to displays or quantities of stock.
Inspections are usually carried out by your local fire service who will want to see your risk assessment and reassurance that the fire safety arrangements that you have in place are good enough.
Remember, too, that fire certificates have now been abolished – any previously issued will no longer be valid.
With the law so very clear on hotel owners’ responsibilities, many owners are turning to independent, third-party professional support for advice, guidance and certification.
Bureau Veritas offers a range of testing, inspection and certification services to the hotel sector, including fire risk assessment. Our team of fire risk assessors are Institute of Fire Safety Managers (IFSM) accredited and are recognised as members in their own right.
Consultants will attend a site to undertake a fire risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and will also take into consideration other legislation, such as those regarding safety warning signs or legislation on fire extinguishing installation and equipment.
They will assess areas such as the risk of fire within the building, means of escape, planning for an emergency and fire, smoke and heat detection. They can also advise on record keeping and logs – essential if you are to demonstrate to your fire service the measures you have in place. In addition, leading partners can also deliver training on fire safety and management to fire wardens or marshals.
All this, of course, leaves hotel owners with a full understanding of their safety and risk levels within the premises – something which would otherwise be a very difficult and time-intensive process to manage internally.
The bigger picture
Fire risk assessment, of course, is just one of the testing, inspection and certification services that hotels must have in order to meet legislation and ensure the safety of their guests. From a slips, trips and falls assessment and electrical testing, to the development of a sustainability strategy and quality/environmental management systems, by outsourcing risk to a single, specialist partner with the resources and reputation to accommodate and meet every operational challenge, hotels can ensure quality, cut costs and increase productivity.
For even greater economies of scale, look for those partners who can combine services to reduce the impact on the hotel operations. Bureau Veritas, for example, is the only UK organisation able to offer a full compliance review in one single visit, comprising an annual water/legionella risk assessment, annual asbestos re-inspection and annual fire risk review in one, independent inspection audit.
For hotels, it means one visit, one contact and one invoice, not to mention peace of mind with a full compliance review throughout the building, including reception area, kitchen, bedrooms and leisure facilities. Can you afford not to look at the bigger picture?