In a recently reported case both Punch Taverns and the leaseholder of the Rams Head Inn were fined as a result of failure to comply with obligations under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO).
We have previously reported on the fines imposed on operators and tenants for breach of fire safety legislation. Whilst operators of commercial premises generally do now comply with the requirement to carry out a risk assessment, there is still a stream of cases against those a few who do not and who thereby risk, at best, prosecution and at worst, loss of life.
The cases are a reminder that fire safety is an issue which must not be overlooked. It is important to be clear who is responsible for complying with the obligations. This may be a dual obligation and will change depending on whether a premises is occupied or vacant.
Under the RRO the Responsible Person is legally required to protect:
- his employees
- anyone else on his premises – this includes customers, subcontractors, deliverymen etc
- those in or around the premises – e.g. neighbours who may be affected by a fire.
The Responsible Person
The Responsible Person can be the landlord, the tenant or both and is the employer where the premises are under his control. If premises are not under the control of the employer then the Responsible Person is the person who has control of the premises to carry out a business, or alternatively, is the owner.
In a managed house situation the owner and employer will be the Responsible Person although it is possible to appoint a Competent Person to assist in complying with the obligations.
In a tenanted outlet the tenant, as employer, will be the Responsible Person because the premises are under his control. If there are no staff the tenant will still be the Responsible Person because he is the one with control of the premises for the purpose of running his business.
Landlords are in a position to exercise varying degrees of control over their premises and will bear responsibility as a Responsible Person to the extent that the requirements relate to matters within their control.
The RRO envisages that there may well be more than one Responsible Person and that they should work together to comply with the obligations. For example, landlords will be the Responsible Person of common parts. Where a person has contractual obligations or obligations under a lease for the maintenance or safety of the premises, such as a managing agent, that person is deemed to have control of the premises and will also be a Responsible Person.
It is worth remembering that as a landlord you may not be the Responsible Person while the outlet is tenanted. However during a void the obligations fall on you as the owner and you must ensure that fire safety legislation is complied with.
Obligations of a Responsible Person
- Carry out a Fire Risk Assessment which must be formally recorded where there are 5 or more employees. This will identify specific fire risks and appropriate fire precautions. The Risk Assessment must be reviewed regularly
- Produce a policy which must minimise risk, reduce the risk of fire breaking out or spreading, provide means of escape and demonstrate preventative action
- Develop procedures for dealing with fire, including fire drills and evacuation and re-admittance
- Provide staff training;
- Carry out fire drills
- Provide and maintain clear means of escape, signs, notices, emergency lighting, fire detection and alarm and extinguishers.
It is not enough to merely carry out a risk assessment on a premises; it is essential to act on its findings, to review the risk assessment regularly and to keep a record of this.
Why were both Punch and the leaseholder fined in the Rams Head Inn case?
Punch was fined for failing to provide a safe escape route from the first floor accommodation. This was because landlords are responsible for common parts and parts of the building over which they have control.
The leaseholder was also fined for four offences – failing to provide sufficient fire-fighting equipment, insufficient testing of fire alarms and emergency lighting, failure to pass on risk assessment information to staff and lack of a risk assessment review.
A Responsible Person may be convicted of failing to comply with the Regulations and may face a fine of up to £5,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years.
Beware liability of individual directors
Individuals may also face prosecution where the company is the Responsible Person and a breach of the RRO is proved to have been committed with their consent or is attributable to their neglect. It is important therefore that individuals understand the duties and employ a competent person to assist where necessary in discharging them.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced a series of guides to assist with preparing risk assessments. The following are relevant to the pub, hotel and restaurant trades:
Click here to read: Fire safety guide
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.