INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Hotel fire prevention in Europe is still a complex issue. In spite of shared aims, it is not always easy to assure the same safety standards in each of 27 member states of the European Union.
Instead of stressing the need for EU common rules, HOTREC, the trade association of hotels in the European Union, developed a voluntary, flexible, scheme for fire safety, the “Hotel Fire Safety MBS—Management, Building and Systems—Methodology”.
Released last month, it summarises hotel fire safety into a set of guidelines to achieve a high level of fire prevention, whatever the national or local legislation in force.
“HOTREC national associations from six EU countries—Austria, Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden and the (United Kingdom)—already announced their intention to make use of the MBS methodology and have started reflecting on its incorporation into their own existing fire safety instruments”, HOTREC reported.
The obstacles to EU rules
“The European hospitality industry has always been working very hard to provide the safest services to its guest”, said Marguerite Sequaris, HOTREC’s chief executive. “Recently, on the occasion of isolated fire accidents, some members of the European Parliament raised concerns about the only European legislation in the field of fire safety dating back 1986. They called for new EU rules, paying no attention to the regularly updated national/regional/local legislation on fire safety. HOTREC therefore considered of its responsibility to take up the matter and to address the safety concerns, without an additional layer of legislation at European level being needed”.
In 1986, the EU adopted a Council recommendation, the only EU act related to fire prevention.
“It is a non-binding tool which summarizes the main principles of hotel fire safety and provides in an annex some guidelines in relation to these principles”, she said. “This common framework has been translated into a set of national/regional or local legislation. However, it is true that since 1986, the EU has not been able to agree on any update of its legislative framework”.
According to the chief executive, the difficulty of finding an agreement relied on several reasons: “As the risk is local, it is therefore extremely difficult, if not impossible, to agree at EU level on harmonized prescriptive standards for fire safety. Another reason is that there are currently no European wide statistics on hotel fire injuries, and that it is therefore difficult to ascertain that there is a real need for a new European legislation in this field. Moreover, many Member States seems to hold the view that if there is a safety problem, this does not come from the lack of rules but from improper enforcement of these existing rules”.
The main objectives of the various fire safety rules in place are common. These objectives, based on the EU 1986 Council Recommendation, consist of four key principles:
- to reduce the risk of fire breaking out;
- to prevent the spread of flames and smoke;
- to ensure that all occupants can be evacuated safely; and
- to enable the emergency services to take action.
“A study, carried out in 1996, at the request of the Commission, showed that the Member States had all implemented the 1986 Recommendation into their legislation”, Sequaris said.
The issue of enforcement
Hotel representatives seem not to believe in the need of new legislative instruments, rather in stronger enforcement. According to Sequaris, “Fire prevention is not weaker in Europe than in other parts of the world”.
“The real issue is enforcement”, she said. “Besides the personal commitment of every hotelier to ensure safe services, regular controls by public authorities in charge of fire prevention are appropriate instruments to tackle the issue of fire safety in hotels and to ensure that fire safety legislation already in place is complied with in each EU member State and that establishments open to the public are safe. The effectiveness of the controls can, however, vary”.
Marguerite Sequaris, HOTREC’s chief executive
There are countries where a national legislation exists, but it is not so effective, like in Italy where there are rules whose entrance into force has been postponed many times, years after years, following hoteliers’ perplexities and pressures.
Sequaris believes hoteliers follow the existing rules.
She added, “This is not always an easy task as rules on fire safety exist and often cohabit at national, regional or even local/municipal level. Furthermore, most rules in place across Europe are based on a prescriptive approach. This means they specify requirements to be followed without distinguishing between the types of hotels, the types of risks, etc., with the result that their strict application is not always adapted to the local situation and risk. For example, hotels located in historical buildings cannot necessarily undergo the major renovation works, which some prescriptive rules would require”.
The HOTREC hotel fire safety methodology is the outcome of a consultation process among stakeholders: representatives of the European Commission, European Parliament, tour operators and travel agents, insurance industry, consumers and the European hospitality industry.
“In the context of a plethora of rules on fire safety at national, regional or local level, HOTREC choose the option to produce a functional and voluntary instrument, which is flexible enough to accommodate all types of hotels, whatever their type or location”, HOTREC explained in a press release.
There are three major innovations with the MBS methodology.
“First of all, it is worth stressing that, for the first time in almost 25 years, hotel fire safety can be summarized into a single legible document”, Sequaris said. “Our MBS methodology is therefore a major breakthrough that can potentially launch a real and major convergence across Europe in the way fire safety is implemented.
“Another key innovation is the move from a prescriptive towards a performance based approach. Such a move will allow hoteliers to identify the local risks and to act accordingly to provide an adequate level of fire safety. For a hotel to be safe, it is much more important to identify and reduce to the minimum the actual risks than to strictly follow a long list of not necessarily adapted requirements”, she said.
Management of fire prevention
The HOTREC guidelines describe good practices regarding hotel fire prevention as the result of three elements: management, building and systems.
“Finally, the methodology puts back the responsibility of fire safety into the hands of the hotelier”, Sequaris said. “This is the reason why the key section of the MBS methodology is the ‘Management’ part. Good fire safety management is a fundamental part of the whole fire safety strategy for hotels”.
With regard to management of hotel fire safety, HOTREC defined good practices stressing seven specific aspects:
- Designate a person to be responsible for fire safety in the hotel;
- maintain a fire safety register containing information relating to fire safety systems, management procedures and training;
- prepare an emergency response plan;
- ensure that every member of staff receive information, instructions and training in fire safety in accordance with their duties;
- organize a planned and documented fire evacuation drill in the hotel at least once a year;
- ensure that all the fire safety systems are regularly inspected and maintained by suitably qualified persons; and
- have a regular fire risk assessment carried out and act on the findings of the risk assessment.
Staff training cannot be overemphasized.
“It is essential that hotel staff be adequately trained to be able to contribute to a high level of fire safety, by being able to maintain the overall level of safety and by knowing exactly what to do in case of a fire”, Sequaris said. “… (In) regards (to) the qualifications of the person responsible, our document specifies that the responsible person should be competent to carry out its function and have authority to make decisions on fire safety matters. Such competence does not necessarily depend on the possession of formal qualifications”.
Building and systems
“The existing stock of hotel buildings have vastly differing construction standards and the type and level of fire safety systems provided will also vary according to the type , nature, age and location of the hotel within Europe”, the report states. And it is not always easy to comply with some fire preventions rules, for example when the hotel is located in a historical building.
In HOTREC’s aim, the building and systems guidelines can be of benefit to those who design a new hotel or who renovate, giving suggestions from site selection and building layout, to construction and interior finishes, escape routes, defining special provisions for high rise buildings, isolated or prefabricated hotels. But also, regarding covered and basement parks, heating ventilating, air conditioning, gas, electrical installations or detection, alarm and smoke management systems.
Regarding hotels in historic buildings, “the performance-based approach of the HOTREC MBS methodology will allow hoteliers, through a risk assessment, to identify the main risk involved and to address the identified deficiencies by using compensatory measures”, Sequaris said.