JLT Business Insurance Services is urging organisations to check their fire risk assessment systems in the wake of a major fashion retailer’s record fine.

As recently reported by HR, health and safety and payroll services provider Peopletime Ltd, on the 25th of November 2009 high street retailer New Look were subjected to fines totalling £400,000, £250,000 for failing to supply a "suitable and sufficient" fire risk assessment for the premises and £150,000 for failing to adequately train staff in addition they were ordered to pay costs of £136,052 after pleading guilty to serious breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO). This is currently the largest fine handed out under the order.

London Fire Brigade prosecuted New Look following a blaze at their Oxford Street store in 2007. Thirty fire engines and around 150 firefighters were needed to tackle the blaze and crews remained at the scene for three days. The first call to the Brigade was not from a member of staff but from an office worker in a nearby building. This delay meant that the fire had already developed and had broken through the second floor windows when crews arrived. Despite the building's fire alarm sounding, it was reset on at least one occasion.

Following the fire, the Brigade carried out several fire safety inspections and found a substantial number of breaches of fire legislation. The most serious of these was an inadequate fire risk assessment with numerous failures, including no record of the correct procedure to adopt when the fire alarm is activated.

The RRO requires the responsible person (in a workplace it is the employer) to carry out a suitable fire risk assessment and act on its findings. This would include the adequacy of staff training on what to do in the event of a fire or fire alarm being triggered.

In basic terms the PRO requires you to

  • carry out a fire-risk assessment identifying any possible dangers and risks;
  • consider who may be especially at risk;
  • get rid of or reduce the risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible and provide general fire precautions to deal with any possible risk left;
  • take other measures to make sure there is protection if flammable or explosive materials are used or stored;
  • create a plan to deal with any emergency and, in most cases, keep a record of your findings; and
  • review your findings when necessary.

A useful guide from the Chief Fire Officers Association can be found on this link

Chief Fire Officers Association

The PRO applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space except private dwellings and individual flats in a house or block.

Mandy Perry, Divisional Managing Director of JLT Business Insurance Services, said: "Ask yourself how robust are your fire safety arrangements, are all your staff aware of the procedures to follow, the correct fire exits to use, do you regularly check? There are many areas you may not be aware of, for example, do your fire safety arrangements include emergency procedures for leaving the building, what about visitors or customers? Even with stringent and far-reaching safety procedures your business may still be at risk from fire-related damage. Check the cover you have in place and ensure your insurance broker is giving you advice on all the issues surrounding fire and other types of damage".

To discuss your insurance needs please call JLT Business Insurance Services on 0800 454 371, particularly if you want to check that you have the correct insurance cover in place.

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Whilst all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this publication no liability is accepted under any circumstances by Thistle Insurance Services Limited for any loss or damage occurring as a result of reliance on any statement, opinion, or any error or omission contained herein. Any statement or opinion reflects our understanding of current or proposed legislation and regulation that may change without notice. The content of this document should not be regarded as specific advice in relation to the matters addressed.

JLT Business Insurance Services is a division of Thistle Insurance Service Limited who are authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority under No. 310419.

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