Ignore the increasingly rigorous safety and security regulations – or get them wrong – and you could find yourself facing eye-watering fines or even time languishing behind bars. Fire especially is a major concern for the hospitality industry. Ignorance is not an option.
Although there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of fires in places such as hotels, guest houses and hostels since the introduction of tougher new regulations in the form of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order in 2005, the latest figures show there are still nearly 600 such fires a year in Great Britain.
Surveys and media investigations highlight a widespread lack of awareness of the new safety regime with a string of high-profile prosecutions in recent years demonstrating some horrifying lapses. In 2012 a Nottinghamshire hotelier was jailed for eight months for 15 fire safety offences. In the same case a local fire risk assessor was imprisoned for the same period.
In a landmark case the director of a hotel in Finchley, North London was fined £231,000 for 12 offences after a blaze in 2008 which forced three guests to escape.
Old and historic buildings face particular challenges. A Grade I listed wedding venue in Cheshire was fined almost £24,000 for nine offences of failing to comply with a prohibition notice served by the local fire service.
Having a consistent and cost-effective approach is essential whether it’s a B&B or a Downton Abbey-style country estate covering thousands of acres. This invariably means developing a close and practical working relationship with specialist partners.
Over the past two decades landowner Roger Tempest has systematically restored and revitalised the 3,000 acre Broughton Hall estate in North Yorkshire which has been in his family for 31 generations since the time of the Norman Conquest.
Alongside bed and breakfast and holiday accommodation the estate is now home to several dozen companies from IT and media to publishing and healthcare employing 600 people. It also runs the newly-built, award-winning Utopia conference centre used as a social hub and also let out for events such as weddings.
The Tempest family also runs the sumptuous Aldourie Castle and estate on the southern shores of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, which offers ultra-luxurious accommodation for both business clients and private up-market house parties – complete with servants and shooting on tap.
For the past 15 years both venues have worked closely with Keybury Fire and Security, a Yorkshire-based business which has a 30 year track record in providing fire and safety measures ranging from assessments, alarms, CCTV and extinguishers to evacuation plans and consultancy. The long-standing partnership has led to Keybury achieving preferred supplier status.
The age and opulence of the surroundings of both estates have presented a unique set of challenges to both parties. Broughton Hall and Aldourie Castle’s brief was extremely demanding. While they wanted the safest possible venues, they insisted that there should be no disruption to the hundreds of visitors on site at any one time. Even more challenging was the fact that all fire and alarm installations had to be invisible – well as invisible as possible!
Given that the centuries-old properties had delicate architectural features, intricate ceilings and were crammed with priceless art treasures from around the world as well as thousands of antique books, ingenious planning and dexterity was required as well as imagination. The Keybury installation team had to work in close co-operation with estate staff to ensure that all equipment was undetectable.
It meant, for example, that security panels had to be cleverly concealed behind wooden panelling and activated by passing a key fob over the wall. Security beams had to be emitted from small hidden apertures at strategic locations throughout the venues. At Broughton Hall Keybury was also faced with the thorny issue of devising special evacuation plans covering the entire five square miles of the sprawling estate.
So is there any kind of over-arching strategy those in the hospitality business can take to ensure safety and compliance whether of a modest hotel or large rural setting? Experienced operators like Keybury always recommend that hospitality businesses have regular planning meetings with their fire and safety advisors to make sure all the bases are covered. More often than not this approach can actually be money in the bank.
Both Broughton Hall and Aldourie Castle have made considerable savings on their previous year’s fire and safety spend by scheduling upgrades and working closely with joiners and electricians rather than merely reacting to current issues. Significant cost savings can also be made by consulting fire and security specialists at the planning stage of new builds or extensions to ensure that the correct measures are adopted.
Business owners also need a detailed knowledge of their venues’ buildings, facilities and activities to carry out in-depth risk assessments and adapt solutions to the needs of heritage buildings in particular so as not to ruin the aesthetics. They also need to take compliance issues seriously and learn how to work with fire officers and building control departments. After all, it is no use installing measures such as alarms which prove to be inadequate and therefore wasteful when it comes to inspection.
“Running an historic estate with a wide variety of functions presents a complex mix of challenges for us,” says Broughton Hall’s Estate Manager David Claxton. “We’re determined to offer the safest possible environment for both work and entertainment and to achieve that we need the best possible consistent professional advice. You can’t compromise about this.
“This is why we work with like-minded partners with a can-do attitude who can solve problems and take responsibility. At the same time, running estates on this scale is hugely costly and so we have to be certain of getting value for money in order to future-proof the heritage of the estates.”
So it would appear that skimping on such things as specialist safety and security advice is not only risky and bad for business – it may also be a false economy, too.