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Fire Safety Penalties
It must be understood that fire safety requirements are not optional and are required under statute. Compliance with fire safety legislation is compulsory and as such failure to do so is, in its simplest form, illegal and punishable through the normal judicial channels. Whilst this may appear obvious to some, it is not uncommon for people to be shocked, when they find themselves in the courts facing penalties for non-compliance.
It appears as with all rules in society, there are some who are willing to take risks and face the penalties should they get caught. On some occasions, this risk is fairly calculated, whereby persons consider the risk of getting caught set against the consequences, and in some instances, the risk taken is considered the better option. However, with fire safety, it is evident that this attitude is of no benefit. The enforcing authorities are now placing greater emphasis on compliance and through their inspection regimes are identifying and prosecuting offenders.
A significant reason why risking penalties is not worthwhile within the fire safety arena is that the required works will still need to be done, with a penalty applied also. For example, if a fire alarm system is deemed to be a requirement following a fire risk assessment and the owner / occupier decides to ignore this requirement, when this comes to the attention of the authorities, the likely action will be an enforcement notice, requiring the installation of a system as well as a significant fine for a non compliance. From empirical data, it is likely the fine will be in the order of thousands, rather than hundreds of pounds. This may be coupled with other business interruption issues such as a prohibition notice, as well as the immediate nature of undertaking the required works.
It is also important to consider the fundamental reason why legislation is in place and the reasons fire safety requirements are made, namely life safety, i.e. to protect life, which should be adequate motivation for any remedial action. Should the worst case scenario occur and persons pay the ultimate price, then charges as serious as manslaughter can be brought against the relevant persons.
It should be clear that taking this risk is effectively running on ‘borrowed time’ and the consequences should the ‘gamble’ not pay off are incomprehensible. Compliance with fire safety legislation must be achieved.
There are many documented cases indicating the stance of the judicial system when it comes to non-compliance. The cases are varied, however, a common theme runs throughout, and that is the severity of the penalties. Recent cases include a retail giant who were fined £400,000 followed a fire at a major London store; a major food retailer receiving a series of fines including a £20,000 fine for escape routes not being clear, wedging fire doors (two) received a fine of £20,000 per door as well as attracting a £50,000 fine for combustible storage under a stairway. Custodial sentences are evident also, for example a Hotelier was sentenced to eight months imprisonment alongside costs of £15,000 following repeated breaches in legislation. This case also saw the Fire Risk Assessor jailed, for failing to report the deficient fire safety provisions and acknowledge the failings of the Hotelier.
It is clear from these cases that the courts take a dim view on breaches. The consequences of inadequate fire precautions could be death, so this stern approach must be adopted. Interestingly, is the fact that the quality of fire risk assessments (FRAs) are being called into question. The authorities are acknowledging that FRAs are not always suitable and sufficient and are punishing persons who are allowing profits to come before life safety.
It is not the intention of this bulletin to scaremonger, merely to acknowledge that there is a legal requirement to meet the legislation in terms of fire safety. Failing to do so may lead to heavy fines, possible imprisonment and the potential loss of life.