Don’t ignore the fire risk signs

Infringement of fire safety regulations can have unthinkable consequences, writes fire safety consultant Dene Mitchell

Operators must ensure that all evacuation signage is clear and correct

MORE and more scrutiny is being placed on fire safety precautions taken by independent hotels across the country; and one of my hopes for 2020 is that fire safety is booked in as a priority and that more independent hotel owners recognise that they are responsible for fire safety precautions as part and parcel of running their businesses.

As a fire safety compliance inspector, I visited over 30 independent hotels in Scotland and the north of England over 12 months and found that many not only fail to meet the minimum requirements as laid out by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, but are unaware as to what they are actually required to do to keep their guests safe.

In planning ahead and following tried and tested fire safety guidance, independent hotel owners can take simple steps to reduce their fire risk.

It boils down to starting with a fire risk assessment.

No matter what size of hotel, an owner must complete one. A good fire risk assessment will look at all areas of the hotel and highlight any areas for improvement; it should be reviewed annually.

A fire logbook should be kept on site and an employee (eg. fire warden) assigned to ensure it is updated at least every week. The logbook should contain records of fire alarm testing, servicing and maintenance, checks of fire doors, emergency lighting testing, fire extinguisher checks and evacuation drills.

A certificate should be available for the inspection and testing of both the fixed electrical wiring system and all portable electrical devices (eg. kettles, hairdryers).

Certificates for the fixed electrical system are valid for up to five years, and it is usually recommended that all portable devices undergo PAT testing at least every one to two years.

A hotel owner is responsible for fire safety staff training for all employees (permanent and seasonal) and this should be reviewed and refreshed on a regular basis.

Employees should have a good understanding of the fire risks and should be well drilled in the emergency evacuation procedures. A sufficient number of employees should be assigned as fire wardens and receive training to support the evacuation of guests and employees in the event of a fire. Emergency evacuation drills should be carried out, involving all employees, at least every six months.

It is alarming to see the same hazards present in a majority of the hotels I have visited, including the propping open of fire doors, storage of linen along emergency evacuation routes, incorrect escape route signage and the blocking (or even locking) of fire exit doors.

All employees should be aware of the following:

  • Store materials (eg. linen, housekeeping trollies, etc.) safely – make sure all corridors, stairs and exits are clear at all times.
  • Know where the alarms points are so you can warn others if fire breaks out.
  • Ensure all fire doors are kept closed at all times and are not wedged open.
  • Store all combustible materials away from any sources of ignition (eg. don’t store linen in the electrical cupboard).
  • Use all electrical equipment in a safe manner and ensure electrical sockets are not overloaded.
  • Ensure waste/rubbish is not allowed to build up.
  • All emergency evacuation signage should be clear and correct.

The penalties for hotel owners if things go wrong can be very significant.

The Fire and Rescue Services may issue enforcement or prohibition notices, closing down premises deemed a serious fire risk. For more serious infringements of fire safety legislation, hotel owners may face unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.

The responsibility for hotel fire safety ultimately lies at the door of a hotel’s owner. A bit of planning can help owners and guests to sleep soundly at night.

Dene Mitchell is director of Armour Risk Consulting.