A property company was ordered to pay a fine of £360,000 plus a further £100,000 in costs last month as a result of a fatal fire in 2011 at a retirement home it managed. Fires which result in deaths are always tragic but the fact that this one could have been so easily avoided makes it particularly shocking. The fire safety failings included no proper fire risk assessment of the building and a failure to take general fire precautions and carry out maintenance of those precautions. Staff at the retirement home had not been properly trained in carrying out fire assessments or in following emergency procedures. It’s no surprise then that the fine handed out was one of the highest for fire safety offences in the UK.
In this particular instance, the fire began in a television set then spread rapidly across the retirement home’s entire roof space. There were no external vents from residents’ kitchens. They had instead been vented into the roof space for years. The highly flammable deposits of grease and oil that had built up meant the blaze took hold and spread rapidly. The staff’s complete lack of training was reflected in the fact that, rather than being evacuated, residents were given tea and biscuits as the fire was believed to be ‘manageable’. This naivety of response and late evacuation meant the fire and rescue services didn’t have time to get everyone out safely resulting in the death of a resident.
You would hope these kinds of comprehensive failures would be a one off but unfortunately not. Another recent case resulted in yet another substantial fine, this time £100,000, for a nursing home business. Fire safety precautions were again well below the required standard including a fire alarm that didn’t work and a lack of fire doors. Fortunately a fire had not broken out before these issues had been identified by the fire and rescue services during a routine visit.
Taking fire safety regulations into account alongside all other health and safety requirements should be a priority for every business and organisation. And yet as these cases show, even when the whole purpose of a business is to look after vulnerable people and keep them safe, fire safety regulations can end up being disregarded or overlooked.
Are your fire risk assessments as up to date as they should be?
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 covers England and Wales with Scotland covered by the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and associated Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006. They set out the requirements for making sure premises are as safe as possible from fire. Conducting regular and appropriate fire risk assessments to identify all the hazards and risks then acting to remove or reduce those hazards is a fundamental part of that.
5 key steps to take when conducting your fire risk assessments
- Identify the fire hazards: what are the potential sources of ignition and fuel?
- Determine who might be harmed and how: pay particular attention to people or groups who might be especially vulnerable like young children, the elderly and the disabled.
- Evaluate the risks, decide on the precautions and implement them: what’s the likelihood of the risk of fire occurring and what steps can you put in place to remove or reduce the risks as far as possible?
- Record your significant findings: if you employ five or more people, you must record all the significant findings from the assessment and note what’s been done to remove or reduce the fire risk.
- Review your assessments continually: they aren’t just an annual tick box exercise. They need to be kept up to date if anything changes in your business that could affect them.
If you feel your business might need support with fire safety then don’t hesitate to contact us for expert advice that will ensure you’re fulfilling everything that’s required of you.