The responsibility for fire safety was transferred from the fire department to the owner or employer five years ago. Since then a number of incidents have occured in hotels that have resulted in deaths
Hoteliers are neglecting to give fire safety the respect it deserves and it has slipped down the agenda since changes to fire safety laws were brought in nearly five years ago, fire experts have warned.
The caution comes as the owners of the Cornish Penhallow hotel, which was destroyed in a fire that killed three people, were handed a hefty £80,000 fine and ordered to pay £62,000 costs for failing to meet fire safety standards. Firefighters described the blaze at the 54-bedroom building in Newquay on 18 August 2007 as the worst British hotel fire in 40 years.
Sadly, the tragedy was not an isolated incident. A little over a year ago a fire at the Majestic hotel in Harrogate also claimed another life. The alarming incidents will act as a wake-up call for hotel operators to scrutinise their fire procedures, but why are these hotel fires happening and is it a worrying trend?
According to Calvin Hanks, quality director and lead safety consultant of training firm CJ Group, part of the blame lies at the door of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which transferred the responsibility for fire safety from the fire authority to the responsible person/employer when it came into force in October 2006. This meant employers and hotel owners became responsible for carrying out a fire-risk assessment, identifying the risks and putting in place appropriate fire precautions.
"I think there's a diminishing approach to fire safety and it's since the fire reform order came in," Hanks said. "There's been a slide and it's not being given the respect it deserves. It's particularly difficult [for smaller hotels] where you haven't got a large support network, head office or a group behind you."
"We provide extensive fire training to a range of organisations, and often find that attendees are not aware of the requirements to carry out risk assessments, and that fire training can be pushed aside in times of financial hardship."
Brian Strickland, a former Lancashire firefighter and officer who runs an independent consultancy, Fire Risk Management Solutions, agreed that the law change has played a part. "This is why they [hoteliers] are perhaps treating it more lightly than when a uniformed officer came round and inspected," he said.
"The bottom line is it's someone's life. The responsible people within the hotel industry who do not fulfil their obligation under the Reform Act could ultimately lose their business, and some of their guests will ultimately lose their lives. There are no winners when shortcuts are taken."
So what should hotels be doing to ensure that tragedies such as Penhallow are not repeated? The first thing is to draw up a proper risk assessment which leaves no stone unturned. Scour your hotel and spot situations that might spark a fire. Make sure that fire exits aren't blocked and that cardboard left over from deliveries isn't stacked in the kitchen or near a gas cooker. Fire alarms and smoke detectors must be regularly tested and serviced, while emergency exits should be well signposted. Staff should also be up to speed in fire safety awareness and evacuation procedures should be practised regularly. In the unfortunate event of a fire, these measures could help save lives.
HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU MEET FIRE SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
â- Keep exists clear and check them regularly
â- Make sure staff are trained to react in the event of a fire
â- Keep equipment such as fryers and extraction systems clean
â- Turn off equipment when not in use and do not leave naked flames unattended on stoves.
â- Clear rubbish - especially combustible material - away from the building and doors
â- Train staff to be aware of the risks and prevention of fire as well as how to fight it and what to do in an emergency
â- Regularly test the alarm system and evacuation procedures
â- Ensure consultants are properly qualified