Flouted fire rules risk holidaymakers’ lives

Author: By Paul Bignell

Poorly maintained smoke alarms, blocked stairways and fire exit routes, are among the faults tolerated by owners who are either still ignorant, or are flouting, rules that make them legally responsible for fire safety.

Fire officers say that many hoteliers and guest house owners believe they are still covered by certificates originally issued decades ago. Other deficiencies include poorly trained staff and inadequate measures to stop hotel rooms and corridors becoming heavily smoke-logged.

Research conducted by the IoS revealed that fire authorities across the country have issued thousands of prohibition and enforcement notices to hotels and guest houses after discovering failings. Since the act came into force in October 2007, Lancashire Fire Authority, which covers hotels in resorts such as Blackpool and Morecambe, issued more than 1,500 enforcement and, the more serious, prohibition notices to hoteliers. In Cornwall there have been more than 200; in Devon and Somerset, nearly 300.

Some hoteliers are also being prosecuted. Last month, Blackpool hotel owner Nicholas Danby was given a one-year suspended sentence following the death of 39-year-old Stephen Smith in 2007 at the Manor Hotel. The court hear that Danby failed to maintain smoke alarms or properly train staff. Firefighters who arrived at the hotel could not discover how many people were in the building or where they were sleeping.

In May, Wesley Chesters, owner of the Queens Head Hotel, in Worksop, was fined £4,000 after a fire which led to four people having to be rescued. The court heard he had failed to apply “Keep Shut” signs to all fire doors.

The warnings follow comments made by a coroner at an inquest into the deaths of three people after a fire at the Penhallow Hotel, Newquay. In June, Coroner Dr Emma Carlyon said she was writing to the Tourism minister Barbara Follett to express “serious concerns over the risks of future deaths” unless the Government supports hotels and guesthouses in fire safety.

The inquest into the fire in August 2007 heard that the hotel owners failed to update the fire detection system in line with new regulations despite advice. Staff from the Holdsworth Group, which owned the hotel, and its health-and-safety consultant all refused to answer questions about why the system went unchanged.

The inquest heard that the company had been warned four times it was trading illegally by not having its fire system updated. The Cornwall Fire Service also advised the hotel to upgrade 13 months before the blaze.

Fire safety expert Dr Bob Docherty, said: “I think there are a lot of hotels that aren’t up to scratch. I know many fire authorities have written to every registered business in their area explaining the need to make an assessment. I am at a loss to understand why hoteliers say they know nothing about the regulation three years on.”

Ken Day, the British Fire Consortium’s training officer, described how one inspection of a Victorian, 32-bed hotel revealed it had no automatic fire detection system, poor emergency lighting and fire escapes where guests risked slipping. He said the problems were corrected but the owners believed they were covered by a safety certificate issued in the 1970s. He applauded UK tour operators for applying commercial pressure to improve safety in overseas hotels but said it was “imperative” that similar high standards were maintained in the UK.

Lib Dem communities spokesman Julia Goldsworthy said: “Far too few businesses are complying with fire safety regulations. Employees and customers are at risk because firms are not receiving support to ensure they are protected from the risk of fires.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “We worked closely with the British Hospitality Association and other industry representatives to publicise the regulations and have published detailed guidance to help. We have no evidence they are not working.”

Additional reporting Casey O’Brien and Alex Steger

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