Hotel fire safety is paramount

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East Sussex fire safety officer, Dexter Allen, has insisted he has faith with the current system of ensuring public buildings are safe for those with a hearing disability.

A recent survey of 16 Eastbourne hotels revealed concerns how they would react in the event of a fire for disabled customers.

Andrew Thomas is the business development director with Contacta, the main sponsors of a major conference on hearing loops in Eastbourne this October.

His survey highlighted how many hotels don’t have hearing loop systems, despite a major “Let’s Loop Eastbourne” campaign launched this year by the charity Hearing Link.

However, his survey also raised some broader concerns about fire precautions.

Mr Thomas said “Some of the hotels did provide something, but the majority relied on the fact that a member of staff would go and wake the person up if the alarm went off.

“When I challenged them and said ‘what if the fire was in the area where the guest was, would you expect your member of staff to still go and do that?’ some then asked me to leave.”

Before 2006, the county’s fire & rescue service would inspect business premises, such as hotels, to issue fire safety certificates.

That has now been replaced with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 where the onus rests with businesses to ensure there are adequate fire precautions prescribed to benchmark standards – and these are followed up by a series of audits carried out by the fire service.

Fire safety officer, Dexter Allen revealed in the past 12 months to April 2013, there had been 671 audits carried out by the East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS), whose remit spreads from Hove to Rye, including 242 in hotels and “commercial sleeping accommodation”.

“What we have is a programme of risk-based enforcement when we audit premises,” he said.

“Where a standard falls below what we would like, we make sure that those people responsible for the business undertake proper remedial measures to ensure the standard is at an acceptable level.”

The fire chief explained that this audit programme targets high risk businesses in the county, such as care home and hotels. Visits could depend on the risk, such as whether the building has sprinklers and other fire precautions, from once a year to once every five years.

“A Fire Safety Officer would expect the responsible person to ensure that they can raise an early warning of fire for all guests,” added Mr Allen.

“With sleeping accommodation which caters for those with deafness or hearing impairments, this would typically include appropriate devices to be installed such as flashing strobe lights in the hotel room or vibrating pads which can be placed under pillows to awaken guests.

“These devices should be linked to the main fire alarm system and operated in accordance with the British Standard for Fire Alarms.

“They would be supplemented by a buddy system when someone sleeping in the same room would be able to hear the alarm and assist in the evacuation.”

Mr Allen dismissed the notion that for businesses this was a form of self-regulation, pointing out that that East Sussex Fire & Rescue has previously prosecuted those who have failed to maintain standards.

He explained, “The fire service’s audit and inspection programme has been very effective in ensuring that such premises so not pose an excessive risk.

“ESFRS is aware of the issues facing guests and staff with hearing impairments, and recognises that this poses an additional responsibility for those responsible for the operation of sleeping accommodation.

“Among many other significant issues, this would include ensuring that hearing-impaired guests and staff could be made aware of a fire in the premises and evacuated safely.”