There has generally been a significant increase in the level of fines imposed for fire safety breaches and a growing trend to impose prison sentences on individuals with responsibility for ensuring compliance with fire safety law.
The press is constantly reporting on fire safety failings and prosecutions are often imposed due to poor quality fire risk assessments carried out by incompetent fire risk assessors.
This is likely to be further increased since the latest Sentencing Guidelines implemented on 1st February 2016 for safety offences.
This highlights the current and key risks in fire safety and individual safety managers and consultants need to be aware how to limit corporate and personal liability in respect of a potential fire safety prosecution.
Many recent and historic fire safety prosecutions under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, demonstrate the likely effect of the recent Sentencing Guidelines on the penalties imposed on companies and individuals following a guilty plea / verdict and identify lessons that can be learned from such prosecutions.
The chart below highlights how the new sentencing guidelines determine levels of culpability by determining the level of harm versus the likelihood of harm. This gives 4 harm categories as follows:
- Harm Category 1 (very high) – deliberate or fragrant breach
- Harm Category 2 (high) – fell far short of the appropriate standard or evidence of serious systematic failings
- Harm Category 3 (medium) – fell short but between high and low categories
- Harm Category 4 – Low
In addition, the fines imposed for offences for large companies are likely to be substantially increased and imposed according to the company size of turnover.
Corporate Fire Safety Prosecutions
Some historic examples of this can be seen with previous cases such as Multinational Oil and gas company Shell International who were fined £300k plus £45k costs (in 2007) for breaches under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Also, New Look retailers were fined £400k for fire safety breaches following a huge fire in their Oxford Street store back in 2007.
Individual Fire Safety Prosecutions
The law also clamps down heavily on private fire risk assessors who fail to provide adequate fire risk assessment reports. Evidence can be seen in the case of Mr Craig Stonelake who pleaded guilty in March 2015 for failure to provide an adequate fire risk assessment report for a large restaurant in Newton Abbot. He was fined £7,000 for failing in his duty to undertake this work to an appropriate standard, which placed people using the premises at the risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire occurring.
Another serious offence can be seen in the case of Lui and O’Rourke in 2011.
One was an external fire risk assessor and the other a hotel operator who were both jailed for eight months after admitting multiple breaches of the Fire Safety Order. In addition, fines issued across the pair amounted to £20,000.
There is a clear message that is coming through from the recent sentencing guidelines and evidence of major prosecutions for companies of all sizes with along individual’s consultants claiming to be able to carry out adequate fire risk assessment that the law will no longer accept incompetence in terms of fire safety. This is great news for all those professional companies out there who strive to provide a quality fire safety service.
For more information on how Fire Safety Services can help your organisations, please contact one of their expert team on 08000 234114.