Fire risk assessments in Hotels need to consider much more than the availability and protection of suitable fire escape routes; these should be relatively straight forward to assess. Arguably, the most important issue to consider when carrying out a fire risk assessment is the evacuation of the guests, especially those who are sleeping.
There should be a suitable automatic fire alarm system in place, to alert all guests to the development of a fire. The activation of the fire alarm system is the trigger for the evacuation of the building. If the building is purpose built with 60 minutes fire resistant floors, then, during the day (when staff numbers tend to be higher), staff may decide to investigate whether or not the activation is genuine before calling the Fire and Rescue Service.
Evacuation issues to consider
The evacuation of a hotel can be complex and involve large numbers of people, who may be occupying areas such as conference facilities, dining/bar/cafe areas and leisure facilities, as well bedrooms. At times of high occupancy, staff numbers will need to be increased and they will all need to be briefed and trained on the evacuation strategy.
The aim of a fire evacuation strategy should be to ensure that everyone in the Hotel is able to escape to a place of total safety easily and quickly, without the aid of the Fire and Rescue Service. In very large Hotels, it may be appropriate for the evacuation to be phased.
When establishing suitable arrangements, the Hotel management will need to consider:-
People especially at risk
- Guests may have mobility restrictions and as a result may be unable to move quickly or use the staircases. If possible, guests with severe mobility issues (such as wheelchair users) should be allocated ground floor level bedrooms. Alternatively, safe refuge areas will need to be identified at upper floor levels (typically within the stairs). These refuge areas will need to contain evacuation aids (such as evacuation mats). In the event of a fire, staff will need to gather these residents.
- The Hotel receptionist should attempt to identify guests with significant hearing impairment. Where identified, these residents could be issued with under pillow ‘buzzers’ that are either activated by the fire alarm system or staff.
- Visiting contractors carry out building work, preparing for special events etc. are likely to be unfamiliar with the building. They must undergo a fire safety induction so that they are aware of the fire emergency arrangements.
- Lone workers in isolated areas could be unaware of a fire alarm activation/the development of a fire. Collecting mobile phone numbers of such persons could be an effective way to manage this risk, alternatively staff intervention is likely to be required.
Information for Staff and Guests
- Staff will need extensive training on what action to take in the event of a fire. Additional ‘Fire Warden/Marshal training will need to be provided for ‘key staff’.
- Guests need to be notified of what to do in the event of a fire. Fire action notices in common areas and annotated floor plan drawings on the back of the bedroom doors will usually suffice in most Hotels.
During night shifts, staff numbers are likely to be low, there may need to be a list/rota having the phone numbers of key staff such as the Hotel Manager who are ‘on call’ in the event of an fire incident.
Potential hindrance to evacuation
- Guests are often slow to evacuate their bedrooms, assuming, until told otherwise that it’s a false alarm. At best they may open their bedroom door to look for signs of smoke/fire or other residents evacuating. Voice alarm systems help with this issue, enabling staff to communicate with residents and confirm that there is a fire/and action needs to be taken. Other forms of staff intervention such as door knocking to rouse guests may also be necessary.
- Some guests may be unwilling to evacuate the building when the fire alarm sounds, having purchased food and/or drinks. Together with a commitment from staff to reimburse guests, a ready supply of food and drinks ‘vouchers’ that staff can hand out should remedy this situation.
- Family groups and parties may be split up in the event of an evacuation. Staff should ensure guests do not re-enter the building in an attempt to rescue other people (they may have already left the building using a different exit) and that arrangements are in place for looking after unaccompanied children.
- Some guests may be impaired due to alcohol consumption. If staff are unable to rouse such guests or they become aggressive and refuse to evacuate, their evacuation may need to be assisted by the Fire Service.
General issues to consider
- There needs to be a daily record of guests sleeping at the Hotel, staff and contractors. At large events such as weddings, it would be unrealistic to expect accurate details to be compiled.
- If swimming pool areas and/or bedrooms have been evacuated, residents may be in a state of undress, which could be a significant issue during cold/inclement weather. Consider the maintenance of a suitable supply of emergency equipment (space blankets, dressing gowns, towels, blankets, umbrellas etc), accessible from the outside areas of the Hotel.
- Guests may have left valuables and goods in the Hotel, staff should ensure that guests are prevented from re-entering the building before the Fire Service have advised that it is safe to do so.
- If appropriate and safe to do so, shut down plant such as ventilation systems that may spread smoke/fire around the Hotel.
- There needs to be a contingency plan in place for instances where the Hotel cannot be re-occupied.
Following an evacuation, the Hotel Management Team should evaluate the evacuation process and identify any issues or areas for improvement; this should then be communicated to the Hotel Staff.
Whilst a fire risk assessment may confirm that suitable and sufficient physical fire safety arrangements are in place and are being suitably maintained, Hotel Managers also need to have in place a suitable Fire Evacuation Plan to ensure that their Hotel can be successfully evacuated in the event of a fire.
Posted by: Adrian Gouldin Bsc (Hons) MRICS GIFireE, Marpal’s Head of Fire Safety & IFE registered Fire Risk Assessor.
For further information on Fire Safety, please contact Adrian Gouldin by phone (01332 668877) or email ([email protected]).