Fire Safety

Monday 30th July 2018

There has been a series of appeal cases involving hotels breaching the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (“the Order) resulting in severe punishments for those responsible for running the businesses.

Recent Cases

In R v Butt (2018) the defendant was converting a five-floor end-of-terrace building into a bed and breakfast/boutique hotel. Although he had instructed consultants to manage the project, he was held to be personally liable for several breaches. The breaches related to a newly installed external fire escape which was not fire resistant, a new internal lift shaft which was also not fire resistant and would have failed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. There were also no suitable internal escape routes from the upper floors and the fire alarm systems were inadequate.

The defendant, who owned the property and business, was sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for 18 months, along with a six month tagged curefew order and a fine which was reduced on appeal to £150,000.

In R v Sandhu (2017) the defendant was the manager of a 45 room hotel and responsible for the day to day running of the premises. Despite being warned of the serious risks posed by defective fire detection equipment by independent advisers, the hotel continued to operate. The defendant also failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the fire safety risks, implement procedures for an evacuation, failed to maintain the emergency lighting or train staff on fire safety measures.

The defendant asserted that he had not deliberately set out to create the risks and that he had relied on his general manager. However, the court felt that the breaches were so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence was justified. After credit for pleading guilty, the defendant was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment.

In another case R v Takhar (2014) the defendant took out a lease of a hotel and, although he owned the business that operated the hotel, he was not owner of the property. Under the Order the defendant was the responsible person, as an employer to his employees, and also was responsible to members of the paying public and guests and anyone else present on the premises. He was responsible for the day-to-day running of the hotel and he has a mandatory duty to take general fire precautions.

The court accepted that the breaches were not deliberate but the defendant had acted with a reckless disregard for the safety of guests and staff. The court initially imposed an immediate 12 month custodial sentence which was reduced on appeal to six months.

Obligations

  • The Order imposes a duty on the responsible person to take general fire precautions. The responsible to take general fire precautions. The responsible person is
  • an employer, if the work place is under their control,
  • an occupier who has control of the premises where s/he carries out their trade or business (including not for profit organisations) or
  • the owner

In additional to the general fire precaution duty there are also specific duties created by the Order such as an obligation to:

  • Produce a suitable and sufficient risk assessment which is kept up to date;
  • Implement appropriate arrangements for the effective planning, organisation, monitoring and review of the preventative and protective measures;
  • Eliminate or reduce the risks from any dangerous substance present in or on the premises;
  • Ensure that the premises are equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment and with fire detectors/alarms;
  • Ensure that routes to emergency exits and the exits themselves are kept clear at all times;
  • Establish procedures such as fire safety drills;
  • Maintain any firefighting equipment and fire detection devices or alarms;
  • Appoint one or more competent persons to assist in undertaking preventative and protective measures;
  • Provide information to employees about risks, along with information about safety measures;
  • Ensure that staff from outside organisations working on the premises are informed of the risks and safety measures;
  • Provide an adequate level of training.
  • Protecting you and your business

Given the potentially severe punishments imposed by the courts, as its imperative you keep on top of any fire safety obligations and take steps to eliminate or reduce any risks. One of the common features from the cases above was that none of them involved an actual fire. The authorities investigated and prosecuted each defendant on the basis of risk arising from their respective businesses not complying with the Order.

If you would like to discuss any fire safety legal issues please contact Andrew Logan.