Hotel Fire Safety to become headline news in 2011

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    A seminal test case for fire safety in hotels is due to heard on 26 January 2011 which could have huge implications for Hotel Managers, designers and fire safety consultants.

    The case involves the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay which burnt down in August 2007. Peter Hughes, 43, his mother, Monica, 86, and Joan Harper, 80, all from Staffordshire, died. John McMillan, a director of O&C Holdsworth Ltd (the Hotel Owners), Nicola Burfitt, the company’s group administration manager, along with the company itself, all face four charges under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

    Charges include

    • failing to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment,
    • failing to take general fire precautions,
    • failing to ensure the hotel was equipped with an adequate fire detection and alarm system,
    • and failing to ensure a quick and safe means of escape.

    The offences are alleged to have occurred between 1 October 2006 and 18 August 2007, the date of the fire, and are some of the first charges to be brought under the RRO, where a death has occurred as a result. The current highest fine is £400,000 awarded against high street retailer New Look, though the trial judge stated that the starting point for a fine was £600,000 and was only reduced to £400,000 in view of nobody being killed or injured, the company pleading guilty, co-operating with the investigation at the earliest opportunity, and demonstrating that it had taken significant steps to remedy fire safety shortcomings across its stores.

    Many hoteliers still believe that if a fire certificate was previously issued for the hotel that this means that they are compliant with the RRO. However, this a mistaken belief and many of the early Fire Certificates of the 1970’s were issued before modern codes of practice came into being. Once a certificate was in place the Fire Authority could only insist that the certificate was maintained and could not require anything that could be described as betterment. However, this all changed on 1st October 2006 when the RRO came into force and the statute bar was removed – as a result Fire Authorities have been ramping up prosecutions ever since.

    In this case the issue of the competency of the Risk Assessor will also be addressed as a fourth defendant ( Martin Tricker of Hawthorne Safety Consultants) also faces one charge of failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment between the same dates. Hoteliers are advised to ensure that their risk assessments are up to date – including any alterations they have made or propose, and that the risk assessor is suitably qualified to undertake the risk assessment.

    Daniel Fountain / 07.01.2011

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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