Dene Mitchell: More hotel owners need to look out for hotel fire hazards and comply with fire regulations
Dene Mitchell on the need for hotels to increase fire safety precautions.
As Glasgow’s hotel sector grows at an unprecedented rate and in the light of very high-profile hotel fires at Travelodge in Brentford and the Holiday Inn, Walsall in 2019, and Cameron House at Loch Lomond in 2017, more and more scrutiny is being placed on fire safety precautions taken by independent hotels across the country.
One of my hopes 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. I found that many independent hotels 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 will highlight any areas for improvement. If a change of process takes place or there has been a near miss it may be time to review the risk assessment, although an annual review is usually recommended.
A fire logbook should be kept on-site and an employee (e.g. fire warden) assigned to ensure it is updated at least every week. The fire logbook should contain records of fire alarm testing, servicing and maintenance, checks of fire doors, emergency lighting testing and servicing, fire extinguisher checks and emergency evacuation drills.
A certificate should be available for the inspection and testing of both the fixed electrical wiring system and all portable electrical devices (e.g. kettles, hairdryers). Certificates for the fixed electrical system are valid for up to 5 years, and it is usually recommended that all portable devices undergo PAT testing at least every 1-2 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 for the hotel. A sufficient number of employees should be assigned as fire wardens and receive appropriate 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 6 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 appropriately trained and held responsible for recognising fire hazards around the building and should be aware of the following general advice:
- Store materials (e.g. linen, housekeeping trollies etc.) safely – make sure all corridors, stairs and exits are clear at all times.
- Ensure you know where the alarms points are so they can warn others if fire breaks out.
- Ensure all fire doors are kept closed at all times and are not wedged open.
- All combustible materials are stored away from any sources of ignition (e.g. don’t store linen in the electrical cupboard).
- All electrical equipment is used in a safe manner and electrical sockets are not overloaded.
- Waste/rubbish is not allowed to build up.
- All emergency evacuation signage is 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 as a serious fire risk. For more serious infringements of fire safety legislation, hotel owners may face unlimited fines and up to 2 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 alike to sleep soundly at night.
- Dene Mitchell is director of Armour Risk Consulting