The Government has been accused of not doing enough to inform hospitality businesses about changes made to fire regulations in October.
Experts this week warned that many small hospitality businesses remain ignorant of the new rules, which passed responsibility for fire safety and assessment from fire brigades to the premises owners.
This lack of knowledge could have severe consequences as managers who fail to comply with the regulations face unlimited fines, prison sentences or - in the case of fatalities - corporate manslaughter charges.
John Dyson, food and technical affairs adviser at the British Hospitality Association, said more than three months after the introduction of the new law, it remained "a hell of an issue".
"The delay that saw the introduction of the new laws postponed from May to October undoubtedly didn't help get the message across to businesses," he said. "There seems to be very little ongoing active education."
Phil Stone, a partner in Southampton's Fire Regulations Advisory Service, claimed the Government neglected the regulations in favour of new age discrimination legislation. "The Government claims to have spent £4.2m over last summer on a radio and media campaign, but the new law came into effect on the same day as the anti-age discrimination legislation, which got significantly more publicity," he said.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said a further public awareness campaign was planned this year.
Research published by purchasing consortium Beacon in October revealed more than a third of hospitality businesses were unaware of the changes.
• A set of guides on compliance with fire safety law can be downloaded here.
Fire safety law
- Applies to non-domestic premises in England and Wales.
- Emphasises preventing fires and reducing risk.
- Makes it the 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.
By Chris Druce