Fire in the workplace can be a terrifying occurrence; at times like this, staff will struggle to remain calm and vacate the premises in an orderly manner, but provided that they do so, the probability of casualties or even deaths will be much reduced. That depends on the fire risk assessment, which will take into account things such as the identification of fire hazards, the removal or reduction of those risks and ensuring that all occupants of the premises can be alerted and leave the premises safely.
A Somerset care home was fined £100,000 after fire doors and escape routes were found to be blocked. Charges relating to five breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 were brought against the care home after a routine inspection of its staff accommodation revealed that safety provisions fell far below the appropriate standard for such premises.
The house consisted of three floors which were all in use at the time.
The failings discovered included:
No provision of a sufficient fire detection and warning system.
A fire exit door could not be opened and this cut off an alternative escape route.
No fire resisting doors, meaning that escape routes were not properly protected.
Cupboards were sited on the escape routes and were used for storage.
The care home had not made a proper assessment of the risks and when it carried out its own risk assessment, deficiencies that had been identified were subsequently ignored. The care home pleaded guilty to the offences. In addition to the fine imposed, they had to pay costs of nearly £10,000.
According to the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, the offences covered five areas of the RRFSO 2005:
Article 9 (1) Failure to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons were exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions needing to be taken in order to comply with the requirements imposed upon the responsible person by the RRFSO.
Article 13(1) Failure to ensure that the premises were, to an appropriate extent, equipped with sufficient fire detecting equipment and alarm sounders so as to comply with the requirements of BS5839 Part 1 2002 (as amended), Category LD2 or equivalent with regard to the adequacy of the fire alarm system at the premises.
Article 14 (2) Failure to ensure that, in the event of danger, it was possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and safely as possible by failing to ensure that:
emergency doors were not locked or fastened so that they could easily and immediately be opened by any person who was required to use them in an emergency;
there were sufficient emergency routes so as to allow relevant persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and safely as possible;
emergency routes and exits requiring illumination were provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of their normal lighting.
Article 15(1) Failure to establish and – where necessary – give effect to appropriate procedures, including safety drills, to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger to relevant persons and failure to nominate a sufficient number of competent persons to implement those procedures insofar as they related to the evacuation of relevant persons from the premises.
Article 17(1) Failure to ensure that the premises and any facilities, equipment or devices were subject to a suitable system of maintenance and were maintained in an effective state and effective working order and good repair, namely that:
the fire alarm was inoperative;
the emergency lighting did not work.
Over recent years, the courts have shown a willingness to impose heavy fines for breaches of fire safety regulations:
2009 – New Look – £400,000
2014 – The Monckton Coke & Chemical Co – £30,000
2005 – Poundstretcher – £51,500
2013 – Gurpartap Singh Bhullar – £20,250
2012 – Graham Sawings – £36,000
2014 – Hekmat Kaveh – £24,000
2011 – Douglas and Gordon Limited – £100,000
2013 – The Atomic Weapons Establishment – £200,000
2014 – Morven Healthcare Limited. – £45,000
2012 – Daniel Hersheson – £40,000
2010 – Hallmark Hotel Group – £75,000
2012 – Chescombe Limited – £40,000
2013 – Cumberland Court Limited – £22,000
2012 – Asda Stores Limited – £40,000
2015 – The Radnor Hotel – £200,000
2012 – The Chumleigh Lodge Hotel – £210,000
2013 – DM Care Limited – £35,000
2012 – Brian Silvester – £45,000
2010 – The Co-operative Group – £210,000
2007 – Mill House Inns (Trading) Limited – £25,000
2010 – Greggs – £50,000
2011 – B & M Retail Limited – £27,500
2011 – Trainmerit Limited – £28,000
2010 – Tesco PLC – £95,000
2009 – Shell International – £300,000
The lesson to take away from this case and the many others outlined above is that fire safety risk assessments are crucial to the safety of a business and neglecting the responsibilities imposed by the RRFSO can result in very serious consequences.