Fire at the Penhallow Hotel
Following the fatal fire at the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay on 18 August 2007 where three people died an undercover team of investigators led by Alan Cox, an independent fire safety consultant, inspected 14 three-star hotels throughout Devon and Cornwall. They were surprised by their findings when only one of the fourteen hotels they inspected had no obvious fire safety deficiencies and they were so concerned about another hotel in Torquay that they informed the fire and rescue service who subsequently carried out a fire inspection and agreed a package of fire safety improvements with the owner.
Plight of hotel owners
The fire at the Penhallow Hotel has brought sharply into focus the plight of hotel owners and is being reinforced by plans for a national database disclosed in the newspaper ‘The Independent on Sunday’ last week. Up until October 2006, hotels and boarding houses came under the umbrella of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the regime of fire certification when it was an offence for a hotel to trade without a fire certificate or without having applied for a fire certificate (with some exceptions). The fire certificate was the assessment of risk from fire and included the measures necessary to reduce the risks and maintain conditions safe for staff and guests. The responsibility of assessing the risk and deciding what fire safety measures to put in place (i.e. what standard of fire alarm system, escape lighting system, fire signs, fire extinguishers etc.) fell to the fire safety officer and the responsibility of the hotel owner was to install the required fire safety measures and maintain the terms of the fire certificate.
The role of the fire safety officer
Many hotel owners disliked this situation complaining that the fire safety officer was too unfriendly, the requirements were too onerous and the interpretation of the standards was too high. But whether or not the criticism was justified is now academic because the situation has fundamentally changed since the Fire Precautions Act 1971 was replaced by the Fire Safety Order 2005 (on 1 October 2006). Now it is the responsibility of the hotel owner to do what the fire safety officer used to do (i.e. carry out a fire risk assessment, decide on the requirements and interpret the standards) and for the fire safety officer to make sure that this is done.
Hotel owners lack the necessary skills
Again many hotel owners dislike this new situation because they are not familiar with the required standards and they lack the competence to carry out a fire risk assessment. Many have taken on their responsibilities and are complying with the new law by employing professional fire risk assessors to assist them but some, judging by the number of prosecutions and enforcement notices served by the fire and rescue service, are clearly not. The situation is exacerbated because hotels and boarding houses are where people sleep and this category of premises is viewed as being at a higher risk than other categories (e.g. a shop or a factory) because people are more vulnerable from fire when they are asleep.
Naming and shaming
The Chief Fire officer’s Association (CFOA) reacting to evidence that many hotel owners remain ignorant of the law or are flouting their responsibilities has announced it is to maintain a national database listing those premises offering accommodation (hotels, boarding houses, guest houses etc.) that have been the subject of enforcement notices or prosecution by the fire and rescue service. The database will be up and running by next year and, crucially, will be accessible by the public.
Make sure you are not ‘named and shamed’, ensure that your business is compliant with the Fire Safety Order.
For further information or guidance on fire risk assessment in hotels or other business premises contact Jim Baker (Fire Safety Consultant) at Allan Baker Associates, Hinckley, Leicestershire on 01455 881 050.