Hospitality managers have been warned to get to grips with new fire regulations or risk unlimited fines or even prison.
The call comes as research revealed that more than a third of hospitality businesses are unaware of changes to fire regulations which came into force on Sunday (1 October).
The survey by purchasing consortium Beacon of 300 hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs shows that 38% are still in the dark about the changes. While the hotel sector is the most up-to-date in the industry, with 63% claiming to be aware, nearly half (45%) of bars, pubs and restaurants are oblivious to the changes.
Managers who fail to comply with the regulations could face unlimited fines, prison sentences or - in the case of fatalities - corporate manslaughter charges.
Trevor Dean, principal fire safety officer at independent safety management firm National Britannia, warned that the hotel and catering trade was likely to come under particular scrutiny from fire authorities.
"Those who fail to comply with the regulations are putting themselves in a vulnerable position, which could result in prosecution, fines, damage to reputation, loss of custom and in the most serious cases, fatalities," he said.
Chris Arnold, Beacon's strategic head of purchasing, added: "The safety of guests and patrons is of the utmost importance in the hospitality industry and it's very worrying that such a large proportion of businesses are not aware that they need to comply with new rules."
A set of guides on compliance with fire safety law can be downloaded at www.firesafetylaw.communities.gov.uk.
Fire safety law
- Applies to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales.
- Emphasises preventing fires and reducing risk.
- Makes it the premises-owner's responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone using the premises and in the immediate vicinity.
- A nominated person has to carry out a risk assessment on all premises with five or more employees.
- Does away with the need for fire certificates.