Retail giant JD Sports was fined £60,000 in October 2017, proving that no business is immune from prosecution by the courts. West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) was forced to act following an inspection at the retailer’s Merry Hill premises in Dudley near Wolverhampton.
As the Birmingham Mail reported, there was ample evidence that JD Sports was already aware of the issues. The retailer had conducted its own Fire Risk Assessment in mid-2014 which flagged concerns about blocked fire escape routes and fire exits. The WMFS inspection took place 18 months later and inspectors discovered that no-one had seriously addressed these issues.
The WMFS subsequently advised JD Sports on the measures they needed to take. Media reports show that while staff heeded these measures in the immediate aftermath, they did not maintain them. Consequently, an unannounced spot check two weeks later revealed the same breaches had re-occurred.
The importance of clear fire escape routes and exits
Inspectors at the Dudley store found that corridors were being used to house clothes rails and crates. In one example, there was a mere 30cm width in which to manoeuvre. In addition, some corridors had packaging waste obstructing exits.
It’s clear that staff and managers at JD Sports completely under-valued the importance of these corridors as life-saving escape routes. It’s easy to become complacent about premises in which you spend hours every day, but the terror of being trapped in a smoke-filled building from which you struggle to escape cannot be underestimated.
Fire Risk Assessments and how to get the most out of them
We stress to all our customers that their Fire Risk Assessment is not simply a business document that can be neatly filed and forgotten about. You should view it as a crucial element of your business continuity.
What’s more, a Fire Risk Assessment is a legal requirement. Your organisation’s ‘responsible person’ must ensure that they organize one and that all recommendations are enacted. If you are new to fire safety, the Fire Risk Assessment is one of the first items to tick off your list. And it’s essential that a ‘competent person’ carries out the assessment.
If you’re a larger organization with five or more employees, you must make sure your Fire Risk Assessment is documented. This simply means that the assessment is kept as a written record to which everyone has access.
What is a ‘competent person’?
This description refers to the fire risk assessor. There are no specific qualifications that one must have to be a competent person. However, there are certain expectations of the role such as:
- Ability to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of fire safety legislation
- Appropriate training or experience of carrying out Fire Risk Assessments
- Understanding of fire hazards and fire risks and the ability to assess fire safety systems already in place
Top fire safety tips for retailers
Retail outlets are busy environments and it’s easy to forget the rules when you’re rushing. We’ve seen it happen. Customers are queuing at the till and you need more space to serve them. One of your colleagues moves some boxes and puts them in a corridor out of sight, making a mental note to move them later. But then, later never comes and valuable fire escape routes turn into ad hoc storage spaces. There’s clearly no malice involved nor any intention to flout fire safety rules. But it’s this kind of benign carelessness can be deadly in the event of a fire.
Many of our customers work in retail environments, so we’ve got plenty of experience at designing the right fire safety systems. In this article, we’ve done some of the hard work for you and compiled our top ten safety tips for retailers. From stock rooms to sprinklers to toasters, our list identifies fire safety hazards that may never have occurred to you.
The fine handed out to JD Sports is not uncommon. We’re seeing more and more prosecutions in the news as the courts crack down on poor behaviour. So, if you’re concerned about your fire safety record, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.