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Fire Safety Responsibilities In Hotels

Apr 4, 2008
Hotels present unique fire safety issues due to their cross section of occupants and wide variety of building types. Research by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) has revealed many problems with hotel fire safety, particularly in alerting occupants in the event of a fire and in the provision of adequate escape routes. Many of these problems are associated with small and medium sized hotels rather than those forming part of large chains.

It is critical that, if a fire occurs, the occupants are alerted at the earliest possible moment, especially at night when a fire is unlikely to be discovered by people moving around the hotel. Research has shown serious shortfalls in the provision of adequate detection and alarm arrangements. When guests are awoken by an alarm in the middle of the night, many will delay evacuation before confirming to themselves that there is a real fire.

When leaving the building, most guests will be travelling along corridors and down stairs that they will not have seen before. They may also be tired, suffering from the effects of alcohol and have young children or elderly relatives to assist. The research showed that many escape routes contain obstacles and that in older buildings corridors sometimes lead to dead ends; a worrying safety hazard.

In 1986, a series of recommendations 'Recommendation on fire safety in existing hotels (Directive 86/666/EEC)' were produced which specified minimum fire safety standards for existing hotels across the European Union. The recommendations aimed to reduce the risk of fire and prevent the spread of flames and smoke as well as ensuring that occupants could be evacuated safely and that emergency services could take action.

In 2001, an EC report found a serious failure in the adoption of these fire safety recommendations by member states. This has lead to various reviews and consideration of enforcement arrangements.

Current UK fire safety law is contained in a wide variety of documents. These include the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and more generally, the Health and Safety at Work act 1974. The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 and 1999 amendments contain detail guidance for all businesses. Based on these Regulations, the government produced 'Fire Safety - An employer's guide'. This guide explains to the employer, what to do to comply with the law relating to fire issues. It also explains how to carry out a fire risk assessment and identify the safeguards which should be present in workplace.

Unfortunately, fire safety law is not limited to even these documents and is scattered over many more local and national Acts, guidance documents and Regulations. Hotels with bars and gaming machines, for example, must comply with fire safety issues arising from licensing authorities. It is unsurprising therefore, that government research showed that awareness of current regulations to be under 60%. Furthermore, of the businesses sampled, over half had not carried out a fire risk assessment required by law.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2006 radically simplified fire safety law in the UK. This represents an excellent opportunity for the hotel sector to review fire safety arrangements and meet legal, moral and commercial duties. The main effect of the changes will be a move towards greater emphasis on fire prevention in all non-domestic premises. Fire certificates will be abolished and will cease to have legal status.

Responsibility for complying with the Fire Safety Order rests with the 'responsible person'. In a workplace, this is the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, eg the occupier or owner. In all other premises the person or people in control of the premises will be responsible.

If you are the responsible person you must carry out a fire risk assessment which must focus on the safety in case of fire of all 'relevant persons'. It should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as the disabled and those with special needs, and must include consideration of any dangerous substance likely to be on the premises. Your fire risk assessment will help you identify risks that can be removed or reduced and to decide the nature and extent of the general fire precautions you need to take to protect people against the fire risks that remain.

Once a fire risk assessment has been carried out, the main findings must be recorded and implemented. Effective ongoing risk management must occur and needs to be supported by senior management. FPA research highlighted serious problems with lack of hotel staff training. This legal duty is reaffirmed by the RRO and can make the difference between a well-organised evacuation and a disaster. Staff should be given induction and regular refresher training. They should be trained in the use of fire fighting equipment and ideally, certain staff should be trained to act as Fire Marshals or Wardens.

Compliance makes good business sense. On average there are over 5000 fires each year in hotels and boarding houses. The 2005 Paris hotel fire, which lead to 20 deaths, did nothing for enhancing public confidence in the sector. Compliance with the new law offers tangible benefits to staff and guests alike. Moreover, in an increasingly competitive market, it could mean the difference between success and failure.
About the Author
Regulatory responsibilities expert Thomas Pretty looks at the fire safety requirements that must be met by hotel owners and managers.
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