Hotel fire prosecutions: an important precedent for Scottish fire safety
At a time when the majority of people are working from home in the middle of a pandemic, fire safety may not be top of any Board agenda.
However, the sentencing in the Cameron House Hotel fire prosecutions on Friday 29 January 2021 serves as a timely reminder of the importance of fire safety in non-domestic premises.
The case also provides an important precedent under the Scottish Fire Safety Regime, in particular the Fire Safety Scotland Act 2005 and related regulations developed following the tragedy at the Rosepark Care Home fire in 2004.
A £500,000 fine was imposed after Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Limited pleaded guilty to two separate offences in terms of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.
An employee, a night porter at the premises, also pled guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The porter received a community payback order to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work.
The fatal fire broke out at the five star hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond in December 2017, a week before Christmas.
The consequences of the fire were significant, both in relation to the structural integrity of the hotel and the ultimate tragedy in taking the lives of two hotel guests unable to safely exit the hotel after being overcome by smoke and gases produced by the fire.
The incident was caused by ashes from an open fire having been placed in a plastic bag and left in a cupboard, containing combustibles. It was the night porter who had placed the ashes in the bag in the cupboard.
The indictment against the company identified three separate failings:
- Failure to have a safe system of work in respect of removal and disposal of ashes and embers from fires including that metal bins which came to be used for the storage and disposal of the ashes were properly maintained and emptied;
- Failure to ensure that employees were given instruction, training and supervision in the safe removal and disposal of the ash and embers; and
- Failure to keep cupboards containing potential ignition sources free of combustibles.
Quite simply, the night porter and other employees had not been instructed in what to do with the ashes from open fires and therefore there was room for them to improvise.
Recommendations by third party fire risk assessors appointed by the company made in 2016 and reiterated in 2017 to implement a written policy covering the emptying of open fires were not actioned.
Audit actions raised by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) twice in 2017 relating to the unacceptable storage of combustibles in the cupboard went unheeded - laying culpability firmly on the company.
Sheriff William Gallacher imposed the £500,000 fine, reduced from £750,000 in recognition of an early guilty plea, avoiding what would have been a lengthy and complicated trial. The fine in this case could still be subject to appeal.
The pandemic introduces further complications and heightens risks associated with fire safety. With businesses closed or operating differently and with reduced capacity, possibly with different staff, performing unfamiliar roles or duties, assessing fire risks should remain a priority.
Both the Rosepark Care Home fire and Cameron House fire started in cupboards. They were catastrophic fires that were totally avoidable.
This tragedy is a stark warning to businesses that they should, beyond just fire safety, ensure there is a clear understanding of relevant duties, open communication and a culture of compliance within their workforce when it comes to health and safety.
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