Nottingham Crown Court recently gave the owner of 2 hotels a custodial sentence for failing to comply with fire safety regulations.  In what is probably the first case of its kind the Court also gave the individual whom the owner had paid to carry out fire risk assessments at his premises an 8 month prison sentence – because the assessments he produced were inadequate.

On inspection, in addition to finding that the risk assessment was inadequate, the Fire Authority also found that one fire exit was locked, extinguishers were not properly maintained and lighting was inadequate.  As a result it concluded that persons were at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire.

The message is clear.  It is vitally important that you carry out the fire risk assessment required by legislation and act on its findings.  Failure to do so is an offence and the offence is one of strict liability punishable by a fine or up to 2 years imprisonment.  You can pay a third party to assist you but you will need to be satisfied that they are properly qualified to do so otherwise you risk a prison sentence yourself.

In essence, there is a statutory duty on the “Responsible Person” to protect their employees and anyone else lawfully on his premises.  This would include all customers, subcontractors, deliverymen etc. The duty also extends to those not on the premises but those in or around the premises e.g. neighbours who may be affected by a fire.

Who is the Responsible Person?
The Responsible Person is the employer where the premises are under his control. In a Managed House situation you as owner and employer will be the Responsible Person.

In a tenanted outlet the tenant as employer will be the Responsible Person because the premises are under his control for the purpose of running his business.

The Order envisages that there may well be more than one Responsible Person. For example, 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. Landlords will be the Responsible Person of common parts. Where there is more than one Responsible Person all must take steps to work together. Where a building is multi-occupied you are required to co-operate with your co-owners, tenants and managing agents to identify and comply with your respective duties.

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 definition is wide enough to impose duties on you as landlords during any void. 

Competent Person
The Order allows a Responsible Person to appoint a Competent Person to carry out a risk assessment on their premises.  However, there is no definition of “Competent Person” in the Order.  If the Competent Person you appoint is your manager or another member of staff then you must ensure that they have the relevant training to ensure that they are suitably qualified to carry out the risk assessment. 

Alternatively you may employ an external person to carry out a risk assessment at your premises but remember that this does not relieve you of responsibility under the Order.  It is therefore imperative that you are satisfied that they have sufficient training, experience, knowledge and qualities to properly carry out the risk assessment.  You should ensure that they have third party accreditation.  There are currently various professional registers but there has been a call for one single register of competent assessors to be established.

Once the assessment has been carried out don’t forget that you are responsible for ensuring that its findings are acted upon.

Government Guidance
In the recent Nottingham Crown Court Case the judge specifically referred to the fact that Government guidance on fire risk assessments had not been followed.  You should therefore take note of the two guides that are most relevant to the hotel and leisure sector namely:
Small and Medium Places of Assembly which specifically covers public house and clubs.
Sleeping Accommodation which also covers staff who are required to “sleep in” e.g. live in bar managers etc

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.