A recent case in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire provides a useful reminder to operators of licensed premises of the need to take issues of fire safety very seriously indeed.
A fire and indeed explosion caused some 200 people to be evacuated from the premises with the fire authority thereafter investigating and prosecuting for a variety of breaches of fire safety legislation.
Significant fines were handed out together with suspended prison sentences for the company directors who had failed to properly risk assess the business and also failed to properly maintain fire exits, equipment and fire related signage.
Issues relating to fire safety are rarely covered in licences these days with even a safe occupancy being left to the individual operator to determine by way of a Fire Risk Assessment.
In general, fire safety precautions will need to be arrived at through the use of a “competent person”.
The following may be useful by way of a checklist:
- Most businesses will not have a suitably competent person on the payroll therefore most should resort to an external consultant to provide the necessary expertise in fire safety related matters. Most areas will have a retired fire officer who has set up their own business and there are also specialist consultants who will deal with fire safety along with food safety and Health & Safety. They may well be prepared to carry out audits of the premises as well as being involved in the initial setting-up of proper procedures.
- Make sure that the Fire Risk Assessment is reviewed on an annual basis and particularly if any physical alterations are made to the premises or indeed there is a change in the business’s direction. If, for example, a previously wet led business suddenly introduces a substantial food offering then any kitchen installed will undoubtedly provide the highest risk from a fire safety perspective. That will need to be revisited in any fire risk assessment.
- Make sure that staff at the premises are sufficiently trained with regards to the risks relating to fire and keep properly documented training records for production on request.
- It would be sensible to incorporate fire safety training on any staff member’s induction with more senior management being subjected to more comprehensive training so that they are able to react appropriately in the event of an emergency. They should also be capable of carrying out regular (probably daily) walk-arounds to make sure that designated routes of escape are entirely passable.
- Ensure that all fire safety related equipment is regularly maintained with appropriate records kept of such maintenance, again for production on request.
Potentially punitive legal proceedings are not the only worry when it comes to fire safety. In the event that something goes wrong, the adverse publicity will be significant and the business may therefore take a considerable time to recover, if it ever does.