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Fire safety in hospitality

Published: 05/04/2017

Fire safety in hospitality 

Fire safety is essential for any business, but hospitality businesses has the potential to be particularly at risk, due to danger zones such as kitchens, and with specific requirements relating to premises providing sleeping accommodation. No business, hospitality or otherwise wants to dwell on the misery that fire can cause, but neglecting to carry out a thorough fire risk assessment is likely to compound the problem should disaster strike. 

Alongside the potential damage and risk to life caused by failure to follow safety regulations, businesses that are found lacking in this area can also face considerable penalties, which in turn could spell the end for it. According to the Home Office – the government department that oversees fire regulations – minor breaches can incur fines of up to £5,000, while the punishment for a major breach can be an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison. So what is the right approach to take?

Hot topic

The starting point is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, covering England and Wales. Corresponding legislations cover Scotland and Northern Ireland. This became law in 2006, and takes responsibility for fire safety away from fire authorities and onto 'responsible persons' – those who own or manage space within a building.

Who those ‘responsible persons’ are in England and Wales – ‘duty holders’ in Scotland – is wide-ranging. It can be the employer, a building’s managing agent or owner, any person who has control over some part of the premises, or sometimes all of these people.

The Chief Fire Officers Association sums up the duty of the responsible person in three simple steps:

  1. assess the fire safety risks
  2. put in place measures to reduce the risks
  3. establish measures to protect people

It is recommended that this is in writing and for businesses with five or more employees a written record is compulsory. 

Building in fire safety

Teresa and Neil Jones, owners of the Suenos Guest House, a five-star-rated seaside bed and breakfast in Southend, Essex, show SME owners can manage fire safety matters. Although they performed the risk assessment themselves, others who feel less competent are better off seeking out expert advice.

When they took over a seven-room seafront guesthouse in Thorpe Bay in December 2012, they closed for extensive renovations, opening six months later as the luxury five-bedroom guest accommodation Suenos.

“We stripped the building back to its bare bones,” explains Teresa, although fortunately they were able to retain a previously installed fire alarm system that provided a smoke alarm in every room.

The couple did their research by speaking to the local council and fire authority to ensure they adhered to fire safety regulations. For example, the presence of an attic and a basement categorised the guesthouse as a four-floor building.

Teresa says: “I would have liked to have had exposed floorboards, but I wasn’t able to do that because, being a four-floor building, we couldn’t have any gaps in the flooring because smoke could possibly get up through that.” New fire doors were also installed throughout and windows had to open wide enough that they could be used as an alternative escape route to the fire exit. 

“We do have regular annual visits from the fire officers, who come round and check that everything is in place,” says Teresa, adding: “There’s a lot to think about but you have just got to make sure that you have covered all the bases.”

Expert help on danger zones

Darren Heather is senior health and safety consultant for Mentor, the business consultancy at NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland. For him, in addition to kitchens, the key hospitality danger areas include:

  • Basements or attics in hotels and restaurants: “These sort of behind-the-scenes areas are often used as little dumping grounds”, effectively loading an area with combustible material.
  • Plant rooms: these should also not be used for storage because the gas and electrical appliances present are potential ignition sources and “you don’t want to give fire fuel, as it were”.
  • Laundry rooms: “The classic one [in tumble dryers] is where people haven’t taken out the lint,” explains Heather. “Because it is so fine, and more susceptible to heat, that is where the fire starts inside the machine.”

Other potential hazards include log burners in historic pubs, where fires in a loft space can be sparked by damaged flue linings, and any building sites at your business or next door.

While Heather acknowledges small B&Bs with a purpose-built building that incorporates fire protection could conduct a fire risk assessment themselves, this may not be appropriate for all. “We tend to feel that the hotel sector is high risk in the fact that you have got people sleeping on the premises,” he explains, adding: “The key thing is, with somewhere where there is a heightened degree of risk, you really do need to get that expert advice in order to make sure the assessment has been done competently. Your level of training may not be that sufficient to ensure that you have covered everything.

“It could well be that that the time taken for that training, and the cost of it, would almost be the same as getting a competent professional person to do the assessment in the first place. It may be a false economy in the end.”

What next? 

Read the guidance; this will help you understand what is involved in carrying out a fire risk assessment and how to act upon it. 

In summary, the guidance establishes five steps to ensuring fire safety:

  1. identify the fire hazards
  2. identify the people at risk
  3. evaluate the risks, remove or reduce the risk, and provide protection through fire precautions
  4. record your findings, inform all responsible persons, prepare an emergency plan and train your staff
  5. review – your assessment is a living document, so keep it up to date

If you don’t feel up to conducting a thorough fire risk assessment, the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council has issued advice on choosing a fire risk assessor.

Resources

The Chief Fire Officers Association provides extensive fire safety law advice and the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council’s Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor can be downloaded from the site here.

The Health and Safety Executive's Fire Safety Guidance

England and Wales

From the Home Office:

https://www.gov.uk/workplace-fire-safety-your-responsibilities/who-is-responsible

This site also includes a number of specific Assessment Guides for various public spaces and accommodation.

Scotland

The Scottish government's fire safety http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Justice/public-safety/Fire-Rescue/FireLaw/FireLaw/SectorSpecificGuidance 

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service http://www.firescotland.gov.uk/your-safety/for-businesses/.aspx 

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service - https://www.nifrs.org/

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