Employers beware - change is in the air!

June 28th, 2010

Many of us in the Fire Safety industry will remember when the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 was passed and publicised… to a mere 30,000 business owners across the UK.

I think there are more of you than that!

So just in case you employers are NOT aware, there has been a new regulation added to this Order recently,  The Fire Safety (Employees’ Capabilities) (England) Regulations 2010.

The new regulation states, ‘Employer to take employees’ capabilities into consideration, every employer must, in entrusting tasks to employees, take into account their capabilities with regards to health and safety, so far as those capabilities relate to fire.’

This reinforces what the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 indicates and supports the duty that staff must have ’sufficient training and experience or knowledge’ (RRO). So, employers will now have to think about what a worker is able and unable to do when giving those tasks and how these capabilities may affect their ability to deal with fire related risks. This includes fire risk assessments and nominated fire wardens or marshals.

Of course, a Fire Risk Assessment undertaken by an IFE qualified Risk Assessor such as those found at Fire Compliance & Safety, would eliminate any doubt to an employer that the person(s) to whom they have allocated responsibility for Fire Safety in their company may not have quite the competency and experience in Fire Safety that they should.

In this day and age, where in the UK we are catching up the US as a litigation state, wouldn’t you sleep better at night knowing that the Fire Safety of your business, which protects not only your business and yourself, but also your employees and your customers - is in the hand of qualified, fully insured professionals?

Slope your shoulders a bit… and slip your fire safety concerns onto ours.  That’s what we’re here for!

Fire Safety and the Hospitality Industry

May 9th, 2010

Here at FCS our hearts go out to the friends and family of the person who was sadly lost in yet another hotel fire, this time in Harrogate.

Over the past year we have been supporting the activity of John Hughes, who lost two members of his family in the Penhallow fire in Cornwall - another tragedy that could have been avoided if sufficient fire safety measures had been in place. John has launched “Stop Fires”,  a campaign for legal certification to ensure that all sleeping accommodation meets a certain standard - one that the general public will learn to recognise and demand.

This recent tragedy at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate is yet another in what seems to be a year of fires. We all know that fire is devastating to both life, property and business. And yet although the Regulatory Reform Order (2005) was designed to ensure that those responsible for the lives of members of the public whilst in their premises (and that’s pretty much any business) took Fire Safety seriously, many businesses are still either unaware, or choose to ignore the dangers.

We have a new government now (or do we?)… currently we have a government who will pass a law, enforce it (to a degree), but perhaps not take into consideration the financial impositions on a small business to comply with this law… thereby causing most to bury their heads in the sand and keep their fingers crossed that it will never happen to them.  The government now has to dig us out of the economic disaster that we are all living in, but will they help with the cost to small businesses of ensuring their staff, customers and businesses are safe from the destruction of fire?

Holidays are clearly a perilous thing! Will I take my family to stay in a hotel when I have no idea whether it complies with the current Fire Safety legislation? Those of us who work in this industry are more aware, but many millions are not and it’s the responsibility of the Hotel owner to ensure that their guests are “tucked up, safe and sound”.

As of yet there are no answers for the Majestic Hotel fire. It would be nice to think the investigation will find this to be a tragic accident, of the sort that no other action could have prevented. There is always hope, but the jury is out…

’twas the Nightmare of Christmas…

December 15th, 2009

Christmas Tree Fire Pic

When all through the place

Not a creature was stirring… no-one was awake

The lights were left on with a twinkling grace

Nobody suspected what was about to take place

One spark from a socket, with wiring astray

Turned into a flame and the fire was away

The room was engulfed in just 5 seconds flat

A pile of ashes, where a home once had sat

Surely not so quickly, I hear you all shout

I’d hear it, I’d smell it, I’d put the fire out

But that’s all it takes, no Christmas for those near

Check lights please, stay safe, and see Christmas next year.

P.S. Click on the picture to see for yourself!


FCS Support “Stop Fires” - a campaign for Fire Safety in Hotels

November 12th, 2009

Penhallow Hotel Fire – Why did I loose my Mother and Brother?

mom peter john 260
Mom Peter and myself

My name is John Hughes, My mother and brother (Monica and Peter) tragically lost their lives in the Penhallow Hotel fire in Newquay, Cornwall in August 2007. I am not a fire safety expert, but have learned much since the fire particularly when I took an active part in the 4 week long inquest into the deaths at Truro earlier this year (2009).

The loss of my mother and brother was absolutely devastating to our family who were all very close, Peter in had all of the same interests as me and his loss in particular was like having my right arm cut off. With time I will learn to live with their loss, but I am determined that no other family go through what we have gone through.

“This was a preventable tragedy”

My mother and brother travelled to Cornwall for a week’s holiday. On the surface, the hotel seemed fine, this it seems, was not the case.

During the inquest I was able to ask many questions of the witnesses including guests police officers, fire brigade personnel, the best fire experts in the country and the hotel owners and managers. ALL of my questions were answered by everyone with the exception of the Hotel Owners and Managers who took advantage of a coroner’s court rule which enabled them not to answer the questions.

“Unanswered Questions”

What were these questions that were so difficult? Well, some of my unanswered questions were ……
What was the procedure for weekly alarm testing?
What was the company policy regarding fire training for permanent staff?
Who carried out the last full test of the fire alarm system?
When it was last tested?
Was it tested weekly?
Did all bedrooms have smoke detectors?
The electrical safety check was 16 months overdue when the fire took place – whose responsibility was it to ensure it was completed?
Was the Fire Alarm system installed by a fully qualified engineer?
Did the Penhallow have a fire risk assessment?
– just to name a few.

The fact that the owners and managers refused to answer my questions on these matters strongly suggests to me that the hotel was at fault. Other evidence produced during the inquest raised questions regarding the fire alarm system, fire doors, fire training etc etc etc – indeed a catalogue of failures. As this is part of an ongoing criminal prosecution, I must add that these are MY opinions based upon evidence I have seen and which was produced at the inquest. I am keen to hear these questions answered in a criminal court, where the owners will not be able to hide behind the coroner’s rule.

“I don’t blame the Fire Brigade”

You may find it hard to believe that I in no way blame the fire service. This was not always the case, indeed before we had sight of the enormous evidence bundle prior to the inquest, I too needed answers from the fire brigade – such as “why did they not rescue my mother?” At that time I did not know anything about the Fire Safety Order 2005 and what it meant. Unlike the hotel owners, the Fire Brigade answered all of my questions and this proved to be somewhat of a revelation to me.

“Why were the Fire Brigade not at fault?”

Basically, in 2005 a new fire law came into being (Regulatory Fire Safety Order 2005). This put the onus for fire safety directly with the owner of the property – be it a hotel, factory, care home, shop or bed and breakfast. The old fire safety certificate was therefore invalid and a new thing called a “fire risk assessment” needed to be carried out by a “competent person”. All premises were given 1 year moratorium from 2005 in which to comply with the new law. It was then the job of the fire brigade to ENFORCE THE LAW. One major change was that the hotels had to ensure that all of their guests could evacuate safely in the case of a fire – THIS WAS NOT THE ROLE OF THE FIRE BRIGADE – THE HOTEL MUST ENSURE THAT ALL GUESTS CAN ESCAPE TO SAFETY !

Some hotels got their act together and ensured that their systems and procedures were updated, others did not – and amazingly still do not comply with the law even today!!

“Who SHOULD complete a fire risk assessment”

As I said in the beginning, I am not a fire safety expert, similarly, most hotel managers are not fire safety experts and it needs a real fire safety expert to complete the fire risk assessment properly. There is a saying – “you don’t know what you don’t know” - this is certainly the case in fire safety. Hoteliers therefore need to employ a fire risk assessor who belongs to an accredited body such as the Institute of Fire Engineers. Many hoteliers are still waiting for the knock on the door from the fire brigade and expect them to advise on their fire safety – however, it is the owners responsibility and their responsibility alone to ensure their premises are safe. Indeed, now when the fire brigade knock on the door, it will be to issue an enforcement notice or to shut them down!

“We are therefore trying to get a few things changed …”

• We would like a register of accredited fire risk assessors – so that hoteliers, bed and breakfast owners, care home owners, all know who to trust for their fire risk assessment.
• We would like an on-line system for the fire risk assessment that would also aid the fire service in policing this law.
• We would like to see a “fire safety” mark for all hotels etc so that the general public know where they can sleep safely.
• We need to “weed out” the rogue operators who think that they can get away with ignoring fire safety and the fire service must bring these cases to court.

“The Solution”

In our research, we came across Bob Ward’s excellent on-line fire risk assessment system ( http://www.fire-compliance-safety.com/ ) and fully endorse this comprehensive product, which is backed up by fully trained assessors. If only the Penhallow Hotel had this system and were complying with it’s findings, I would not be writing this article.

Please help us prevent a future tragedy – see our website – http://www.stop-fires.co.uk/ – which contains some basic advice, sign our online petition and help us make a difference.

We need to ensure that a preventable tragedy such as the Penhallow fire cannot affect another family as it has affected mine.
Kind Regards

John Hughes

PenhallowHotelFire Western Morning News
Photo Courtesy of the Western Morning News

Did anything good AT ALL come from the 60’s?

October 27th, 2009

I was born in the 60’s. Some may say that was a good thing (my mum) – many would say that the 60’s should have been skipped entirely (my exes!)

Personally, I was never a fan of the Beatles, too young to appreciate JFK, Elvis? Hmmm The 60’s to me are a dim and distant blur incorporating the first 4 years of my life, which I’m sure were very happy and secure.

A good friend of mine would argue that the 60’s were iconic, and certainly in his line of work the design classics of the 60’s are his lifeblood and his passion.

Sadly, architectural design from the 60’s is widely known as a monstrosity and none more so than the infamous tower blocks that blight cities across the UK today.  Badly designed, badly maintained, stuffed full of people, these buildings are hazardous in every sense of the word, not least that they are an enormous fire risk.

Lakanal House, Camberwell was one of these and many of us will remember waking to the news that a tragic fatal fire had spread through the block, rendering 6 people dead.  When you work in the Fire Safety industry news items like this are particularly pertinent. I was personally very shocked, saddened and incredibly angry.  Boris Johnson’s comment - “We will be looking at safety and why there were six casualties” is priceless. Casualties? I think he really meant “DEATHS”. And “looking into it” – wow, powerful stuff.

How about, “We will be investigating why this building, which was occupied by hundreds of people, was so unsafe and WE WILL BE prosecuting the PERSON OR PERSONS RESPONSIBLE for the building’s Fire Safety, and WE WILL ENSURE that this risk is reduced as much as humanly possible in the future.”

Interestingly, we at Fire Compliance & Safety have come across many a block of flats where residents openly admit to feeling unsafe and powerless to get their landlords to do anything about it. We have assessed buildings where fire escapes open directly onto a road, or a railway line (yep, escape the fire and dodge the trains!), where the only fire escapes are locked and where high risk work is carried out in the basement of blocks, but the Fire Safety for this area is not the responsibility of the landlord. Child gates across fire escape doors, fire escape door pushbars broken and tied to stop them opening, newspapers stored underneath gas hobs to catch hot fat!! I kid you not!

So…  the Southwark Council have been served notices.  And they have been taking measures in all of their blocks since the fire. Whooppee… The GOVERNMENT bought in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.  Is Southwark Council not a government entity? Should they not ALREADY know the law and be the FIRST to be compliant? After the fact is not good enough!

Perhaps our local governments are still living in the 60’s. Where your council jobs were safe, you never took personal responsibility and smoking wasn’t hazardous to your health.

Well, Boris, out of respect to those poor people who lost their lives, how about you bring your Councils into the 21st century.  My Managing Director, Bob Ward, would love the opportunity to show you how easily and cost effectively this would be done.  Call me!

Avoid the Sparks on Bonfire Night

October 13th, 2009

FireworksBonfire night is almost upon us… yippee! I love fireworks and now that the kids have reached an age where they are no longer climbing up your legs terrified it is one of those family traditions that should never be allowed to die out because of “health and safety”.  Hey… no bonfire night is complete without the odd misplaced rocket having the crowds dive for their lives… but that’s why I no longer brave the “backyard fireworks party” and prefer to support the arranged displays.

Unfortunately fireworks also represent a significant risk to both commercial and residential properties.  Something about bonfires brings out the pyromaniac in many, in particular those with little to occupy their time.  It is perhaps little known that every week sees over 2,000 arson attacks in the United Kingdom (as stated by the Arson Prevention Bureau) and that the estimated cost of arson was over £2m last year.

Perhaps another little known fact is that a Fire Risk Assessment will also assess your risk from arson and help you to find ways to significantly reduce (preferably eradicate) that risk.   Despite the obvious legal implications of ignoring their requirement for a Fire Risk Assessment, many business owners are still burying their heads in the sand and not understanding that fire is, indeed, a risk to every premises.  Managing your Fire Safety is not only a legal requirement, but it will help you minimise the risk of fire, whether that be from faults, mistakes or indeed arson.

Business owners fall into many categories, but if you bury your head in the sand the risks will not go away and if your local Fire Service chose to inspect your premises you could be in line for a hefty fine and even the closing down  of your premises.  If you’re not sure whether you comply with the law relating to Fire Safety you can check your status here.

Businesses can undertake a Fire Risk Assesment themselves, however, the person assessing the risk must be deemed “competent” and the assessment itself to be “suitable and sufficient”.  Appointing a Fire Risk Assessor who has local knowledge, experience, Professional Indemnity Insurance and has passed an IFE approved Risk Assessors course will mean you can sleep soundly in the knowledge that your Fire Safety is covered… literally.

As outlined by Sadiq Khan - MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in his speech at the Arson Control Forum Conference in April this year…  “detailed understanding of local circumstances and trends provides FRAs with a clear line of sight to the risks they and their business community face. The flexibility of and process offers a real opportunity for FRAs to take a proactive and partnership approach to supporting their local business communities whilst striking the right balance between prevention, protection and response.”

Of course, a Fire Risk Assessment will absolutely not keep your friends and family safe when the man in your life trips over a rocket and sends it on it’s merry way through the crowds.  But it might just give you an idea of how to secure your wheelie bins… or install a fire-proof letter-box and this may mean the difference between bonfire night securing itself in your mind as a happy family event… or it being the night your livelihood was destroyed.