There are substantial changes on the horizon to the regulatory framework for building and fire safety in respect of high-rise residential buildings. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the “Order”) however remains (and will remain) a key piece of legislation in setting out the duties in respect of fire safety for both residential buildings (containing more than one dwelling) and most non-domestic premises. The scope of the Order includes the communal parts of blocks of flats, as well as commercial properties, such as hotels.

Hotels, given the nature of the service they provide, are a type of property where fire safety measures are of paramount and particular importance. Many modern hotels will be designed with measures to mitigate the spread of fire such as having fire doors and compartmentalisation.

However, there are continuing duties under the Order which means that fire safety needs to be an integral part of the operation and management of the hotel.

The Order requires the “Responsible Person”, as defined in Article 3 of the Order, to be legally accountable for complying with the duties in the Order (including those set out in articles 8 to 24 of the Order). In addition to the more specific duties required, Article 8 requires that the Responsible Person should take such general fire precautions as to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the safety of any employees and anyone lawfully on or near the premises, such as hotel guests and those in the immediate vicinity of the premises who would be at risk were there a fire at the premises. General fire precautions will include implementing steps that are identified once a risk assessment has been carried out and which the Responsible Person considers are appropriate to ensure the premises are and remain safe.

In the hotel context, an operator who employs staff at the premises is likely to be a Responsible Person, as the Order places the primary duty on employers to the extent the workplace is under their control. If there is no employer, or the fire safety issue is outside of the employer’s control, then the person who has control of the premises for the purpose of a trade, business or undertaking will be the Responsible Person. Otherwise, the obligation falls on the building’s owner (likely to only be relevant if the hotel is vacant or not trading). The “Owner” is the person entitled to the rack rent and can be a freeholder or leaseholder depending on the circumstances.

It is worth keeping in mind, that more than one entity or person can effectively be a Responsible Person at any given premises if they have control of the relevant issue. So, if an operator of a hotel employs staff and runs the hotel, but doesn’t have maintenance responsibilities for the fabric of the building, then any maintenance issues relating to the fabric from a fire safety perspective (and the resulting obligations under the Order) will be the responsibility of the entity which controls the relevant issue. That course does not absolve the employer of any responsibility under the other duties the Order imposes on them. It is important, where there is more than one Responsible Person, for those parties to co-operate and co-ordinate with each other.

Complying with the duties imposed by the Order includes carrying out, and importantly also (when appropriate) reviewing and updating, a fire risk assessment in respect of the building and likely issues. Regular inspections of fire doors should be undertaken, as well as staying on top of more routine matters such as ensuring fire doors are not left open and combustible material is not left in or near escape routes and regularly checking fire-fighting appliances are in working order.

As in any organisation, staff training will be particularly important to ensure compliance with the Order. All staff should have training in fire safety measures, and on what to do if a fire breaks out, and such training should be related to the premises themselves. It should be regularly refreshed and all staff must be aware of potential risks and be prepared to intervene to mitigate them when appropriate.

Hotels must be alive to the requirements of the Order, and regularly audit their compliance with it. Changes to the premises or staff turnover may mean that a previously compliant regime is no longer so. Regular audits should be undertaken to assess the risks from fire at the premises, with the findings acted upon, to avoid enforcement action by the local fire authority.