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NFU Mutual Issues Advice To Prevent Hotel Fires

Recent figures from the Fire Protection Association, reveal that large loss fires in hotels, motels and B&Bs cost an average of £1.4m each, prompting hospitality insurer NFU Mutual to issue advice to help prevent them.

During the six year period, there were 47 fires in hotels and motels that were deemed to be ‘large losses’, with almost two thirds of the average cost (63%) owing to business interruption expenses compared with 29% for material damage.

The majority of fires took place in the evening between 6pm and 12am (28%) followed by the early hours, between 12am and 6am (23%).

Nathan Brew, Health and Safety Technical Manager at NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, said: “Fire remains one of the greatest hazards to the lives and livelihoods of hoteliers. The assumption is that most fires start in the kitchen, but the hazards range from self-combusting tea towels to electrical faults and chimney fires.

“The average cost of reinstating a hotel following a large fire is a staggering £1.4m, due mostly to the way that fire spreads through dry wall systems used in modern properties that leave them less resilient to fire. While older brick-built properties with wet masonry walls and fire doors tend to hold a fire within the compartment of origin, these hotels also tend to use unique, listed or heritage buildings which are particularly expensive and slow to reinstate due to protection rules. Even for smaller fires, the interruption suffered to a business’ ability to operate is often the biggest concern.

“The scale of these figures shows how important it is to take all possible steps to prevent fires breaking out, and to have adequate means to evacuate people safely in the event of a disaster.”

Of the disasters, 57% were deemed accidental and 23% deliberate, while the causes of the remaining fires are unknown. Problems with access to the property by the Fire and Rescue Service, and inadequate water supplies and resources were contributory difficulties for eight of the fires.

Hotel and motel fires accounted for 54% of the estimated cost of large losses in the ‘other residential’ sector (including care and nursing homes) as whole, totalling over half a million pounds more on average (‘other residential’ cost averaged £848,000).

Advice to businesses to prevent fires and for Fire Risk Assessment:

Nathan Brew, Health and Safety Technical Manager at NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd provides the following advice to help prevent fires in hotels, as well as some information that could also be included in a Fire Risk Assessment:

“Many businesses assume that a fire will never happen to them, however the figures show a different story. Business owners should ask themselves whether their protection measures are safe, and their Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) is suitable and sufficient.

“When reviewing an FRA, we often see ‘standard cooking equipment – all maintained’, however an assessment should list all kitchen equipment, including the fondue or raclette set that lives in the loft, explaining why it’s not going to start a fire.

“As fires in the hospitality industry routinely start in kitchens with high temperature frying equipment operating for long periods, many hotels believe that they are not at risk.

“However, the kitchen is still a priority risk area for all types of catering business, containing numerous appliances that could overheat or cause an ignition. The kitchen should take up numerous pages in the FRA to cover all bases adequately. It should detail the safe operation/precautions for kitchen equipment including ovens and all other cooking equipment, their location and fixings, and oil changing, cleaning and maintenance arrangements (such as testing thermostats and removing any grease build up).

“There are also some other more general questions that should be asked, which can be taken as obvious indications that the fire risk is not being properly managed.

“Does the FRA stipulate who’s trained to use the equipment and who is responsible for it? Who cleans the ducting and filters, and how is this logged? Is it to the standard stipulated in the FRA?

“Astonishingly, we have seen a case where the FRA has been handwritten on one piece of A4 paper by the hotel’s receptionist. The FRA should be crafted by a competent person who could end up defending it in court, and that person needs to be qualified and experienced in fire risk. Any business owner who feels that they do not have the relevant experience should seek the help of a specialist, but not abdicate responsibility to them. Get involved, make sure it is agreed and understood so that it can confidently be put in to action. The FRA will then need to be updated and periodically reviewed to ensure it remains current.

“An FRA that is beautifully crafted, considered, bound and sat on the same shelf since being written five years ago may not be able to be relied upon as a defence in court. It should be checked over, reviewed and re-signed at least every twelve months. Things change, and so do staff. If what is included in the FRA isn’t happening, then there could be trouble if things head south.”

Basic FRA checklist:

1.Check that the FRA discusses the ‘kitchen passive protections’ adequately. This means the quality of the walls, ceilings, fire doors and shutters separating the kitchen from the rest of the building. This is important, as any blaze starting in the kitchen should be contained within the kitchen for as long as possible, if not completely.

2.Consider active fire safety protections, including fire alarm coverage and automatic suppression, the correct fire extinguishers, and ensuring staff are adequately trained to use them. There should also be isolation controls on fuel supplies and automatic suppression systems should be considered – especially as access can be a problem for fire crews – they are very reasonably priced nowadays and could make the difference between having a small fire or a disaster.

3.Washing and drying equipment should be addressed. The FRA should stipulate keeping plugs positioned away from the floor in case of water leakage, and the need to be located within a contained ‘fire resistant’ environment that will stop flames jumping out onto an escape route.

4.Discuss the filter cleaning arrangements on driers, and ensure the full cooling cycle is always used to prevent self-heating. Self-combusting tea towels are a more bizarre phenomenon caused by oils and heat, but one which has seen several of our clients’ businesses suffer serious fire damage and business interruption losses. The FRA should also review the use of automatic suppression on driers (again cheap to do, and some commercial equipment can come with this fitted as standard).

5.Open fires continue to cause problems. Chimneys should be routinely checked or surveyed to ensure that they are structurally sound, well-maintained and able to cope with the demands of modern heating appliances. It should be swept by a professional chimney sweep at least twice a year if it is in use frequently or all year round, and the lining (if there is one) should also be regularly inspected, especially when the main fuel is wood, as tar deposits are highly combustible and corrosive.

6.The appropriate type and numbers of fire extinguishers must be present in the correct places, and must not prop open doors. Staff should be trained on how to use them correctly for the different types of fire they could encounter.

7.Test the fire alarm routinely and ensure all staff know what to do in the event of an alarm activation. Time the escapes, share results and follow up on problems and delays. Check the decibel outputs on fire alarm sounders in sleeping rooms, and emergency lighting. The FRA should stipulate who, when and how all are tested. Walk the fire escape routes both in the day and night, and ensure they’re sensible, clear and as short as possible, clearing any items that could fuel a fire or impede escape.

8.Staff should be aware of their role in the event of a fire, particularly the procedures which should be followed at night-time when the number of available staff is limited. Work on the basis that many guests may be a little worse for wear overnight after visiting the bar, and plan evacuations accordingly. Ensure building floor plans are available for the Fire and Rescue Service and ensure all staff know where the nearest hydrant is located.

9.The fire alarm panel should be accompanied by a zone plan (unless the fire alarm panel has a display which shows the area in which there has been an activation). This is helpful for the Fire Service and staffing teams in identifying where there might be a problem and where the initial emergency response should be focussed.

10.Consider whether storage solutions are suitable. For instance, is the boiler room the best place to store the ‘back up mattresses’, spare cooking oil and those portable gas heaters for emergency use? If it’s not flagged it up, then the FRA needs a closer check for adequacy.

While the above is not everything that should be considered, those left wondering might consider bringing in a professional to take a look and help make the FRA suitable and sufficient for purpose.

For more information about NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Limited, visit:
www.nfumutual.co.uk/business/risk-management/

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