Following a fire at a wedding venue in Dewsbury the two directors of the company were given 9 month suspended prison sentences as well as a hefty fine for the business. When the fire broke out it was discovered that both fire exits were locked or fastened shut. The directors had failed to properly risk assess the building or maintain fire safety equipment and exits.
We have previously reported on the fines imposed on operators and tenants for breach of fire safety legislation. The vast majority of commercial premises do now comply with the requirement to carry out a risk assessment, but reported cases such as the one above 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.
Landlord and Tenant obligations – A reminder
Prosecutions are brought for breach of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO).
Under the RRO the Responsible Person is legally required to protect:
- anyone else on his premises – including 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. The Responsible Person is the employer, where the premises are under their control. If premises are not under the control of the employer the role of Responsible Person falls to the person with control of the premises to carry out a business. Alternatively it would be the owner.
In a Managed House 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. Most businesses will not have a suitably competent person on the payroll so most engage an external consultant to advise on fire safety matters.
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.
Responsibility of landlords
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 e.g. fire escapes. 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.
The Responsible Person must:
- 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.
Whilst you may have carried out a risk assessment for your premises the crucial point is that you MUST:
- act on the findings of the risk assessment
- review it regularly and to keep a record of this
- reviewed the assessment annually and at any time when physical alterations are made to the premises
- keep records of each risk assessment and each time it is reviewed as well as all staff training carried out.
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.
Liability of individual directors – Beware
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/external fire safety consultant to assist where necessary in discharging them. The two directors in the Dewsbury case fell into this category and as a result were given a suspended prison sentence and a community order requiring them to carry out unpaid work.
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:
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.