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Safe As Houses: Managing Hotel Fire Safety

Diana Szpytma 8 May 2018
Safe As Houses: Managing Hotel Fire Safety

Comment from Eloise Sheppard, Managing Director, Call Systems Technology

We’ve seen a few alarming hotel fires recently, not least the collapse of large parts of the Hambledon Hall Hotel in Surrey: reports suggested the entire roof had been destroyed, along with 90% of the building. Breckland Lodge in Norfolk was engulfed in flames just a couple of weeks later, causing the immediate cancellation of all hotel and restaurant bookings for an as-yet-unknown period. However, although these instances show there’s quite a way to go to ensure every building is fire-safe, we’ve actually come quite far recently and hotel fires are on the decrease. Indeed, records indicate an overall 42% drop over the past eight years, which is really very encouraging. To keep these figures moving in the right direction, here’s a rundown of the latest public fire safety requirements and a look at the technology making the hotelier’s life that bit easier.

The problem

Hotels are frequently revered for their locations and historic buildings but an elderly yet graceful façade often hides equally as aged wiring and out-of-date power systems. Electrical equipment also has a finite lifespan but can seem an off-putting expense to replace. Indeed, Hambledon Hall is believed to have fallen victim to a humble faulty tumble dryer. The cost of neglect, however, is far higher.

It’s not only older properties that need a close watch. For old and new-builds alike, upholding safety standards and adhering to the latest advice are both an absolute must, yet not all hoteliers are making sure their checks are thorough. But as the decrease in occurrences of fire shows, the message is gradually hitting home. Advances in technology are providing modern fire protection to older properties as well as new, and it’s clearly working.

The facts

The current law in England and Wales is known as The Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO). This legislation states one ‘responsible person’ (usually the owner or manager) is in charge of compliance. In England and Wales, a breach of fire regulations results in a penalty in the Magistrates’ Court as an unlimited fine and the person responsible for fire safety is prosecuted as an individual, not as a company. This ought to be sufficient for the responsible person to keep abreast of the law and ensure the buildings they oversee are fully compliant, yet vital elements are still being missed. Investigations into the causes of hotel fires over the past decade have uncovered properties with missing fire doors, defective alarms and obstructed escape routes. It is imperative all hotels are completely across fire safety – and stay there.

Situations change, buildings and equipment take a battering, staff come and go. As such, fire risk assessments should be repeated periodically – usually annually – to ensure ongoing compliance. An assessment must also be factored in when:

  • Alterations are made to the structure or layout of the premises
  • There are changes in the use of an area of the building
  • There are significant changes to the number or location of guests or staff
  • There is a significant change in the mobility level or other factors influencing the response of visitors or staff to an emergency
  • There are changes in the management of the building

In addition, there have been a number of changes to British Standard BS 5839-1 on fire safety since its 2017 update. Unlike other sectors with assigned British Standards, there is no overlap between the versions and no phased entry for its latest requirements. If a hotel has not been brought in line with the newest edition, then the property’s compliance – and its fire safety management team – are already out of date.

Major changes to BS 5839-1 include the requirement to fit a cover on all new manual alarm call points, both to prevent accidental activation and to introduce an extra action to the process of pressing the alarm, causing anyone who considers doing it – either in haste or maliciously – to think twice. It is also now a requirement to fit manual call points at all exits to the open air, recognising that, in an emergency, people will use any escape route, not just designated fire escapes.

These are fundamental issues all future fire safety assessments should consider. There are a number of other updates to the Standard and, while Standards are not law, they are considered best practice, and hotel managers should bear in mind many insurance policies are only valid if the property is fully compliant with all recognised recommendations.

Management must also consider the materials used to construct the building. Since the shocking loss of life and homes in the Grenfell Tower residential fire in London last June, hotel owners have expressed concern about the cladding surrounding other buildings, particularly high-rise hotels. All would be well advised to determine the status of their properties, taking steps to replace any dangerous materials.

The solution

Technology is working hard to come up with the answers. Fire alarm alert systems have benefitted enormously from more recent tech advances and have given us tools such as pillow-shaking equipment, linked to an alarm system, to alert the deaf or hard of hearing. In fact, not having a pager for guests or offering the pillow-shaker is now a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act. Significant advances have also been made in staff paging systems, which help to contain false alarms or spread genuine alerts.

The guest experience is critical to a hotel. The risk of a false fire alarm in this environment is significant and any resulting evacuation a serious matter – not to mention the wasted trip for the emergency services. Technology exists which can monitor any alarms triggered and establish their validity before the situation escalates. Hotel alarm paging systems have been developed with exactly this problem in mind. Alarms can be linked centrally and send out a signal to designated hotel staff pagers to initiate checks on where the alert originated, helping teams establish whether it’s a genuine alarm without disturbing guests. Some alarm pager systems can also connect to software to create a record of every incident, highlighting whether the hotel is seeing a pattern of false alarms and can work to eliminate them.

Human accountability has a lot to do with hotel fire safety, and pager systems such as AlarmCall enhance that accountability once an alarm is set off. Hotel owners or managers can be instantly alerted, and take or assign responsibility, rather than relying upon the person closest to the alarm to assume who’s in control. Owners also know exactly who has been notified so liability can be placed on the right person.

Every hotelier should make sure their fire safety precautions are appropriate, up-to-date and within the law. It is a far greater saving in the long run than taking unnecessary risks. The government has published a downloadable summary of FSO requirements for operators of public buildings, called A Short Guide to Making Your Premises Safe from Fire, which is a useful place to start.

Hand Picked Hotels

Hand Picked Hotels chose Gen2 paging software for its properties. Gen2 is a real-time messaging solution that unifies all communication channels. The server-based system directs messages between staff whilst integrating with equipment and hotel systems, giving users complete control. Messages are easily formulated using the keyboard or chosen from a pre-set list. These messages are then relayed to a range of devices, including on-site alphanumeric pagers, DECT handsets, GSM mobiles and two-way radios.

Gen2 can automatically alert relevant staff to emergencies. For example, fire alarm panel integration immediately notifies the location of any alarms and emergency door use, enabling rapid investigation that can sometimes prevent unnecessary and costly evacuations. The solution monitors all types of equipment and processes – fire alarms, security systems, lone worker pendants and access controls. Whether a hotelier has one property or an entire chain, Gen2 software is flexible, scalable to any size and can grow with the business.

Hand Picked Hotels, said: “Every hotelier knows communication is key to running a successful operation. Gen2 has helped us to better connect our teams with each other as well as to our guests, ensuring we continue to offer the very best customer experience.”