Fines for fire safety breaches are inconsistant

Fines for fire safety breaches are inconsistant

Two recent cases where big high street names have been successfully prosecuted for breaches of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) appear to show that a postcode lottery applies to the penalties imposed for what seem identical offences.

B and M Retail Ltd that operates a chain of stores throughout the country was fined nearly £33,000 after pleading guilty to six offences under the RRO at their store in Mansfield Nottinghamshire. Revealingly the fines were itemised for each offence.

The fines included £4,000 for failure to create a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment (You would think by now that all businesses should know they MUST conduct a fire risk assessment). There was also a £4,500 fine for having obstructions at fire exits and along fire exit routes plus a £5,000 fine for having fire doors locked.

In comparison retail giant Asda was also convicted and sentenced at Reading Crown Court for two identical offences at their Chippenham branch i.e. obstructed fire escape routes and combustible items obstructing fire doors plus a separate offence of having fire exit doors chained and locked. Asda received a £20,000 fine for each offence plus another £15,000 costs.

Fire door Keep Shut Sign

I cannot think of any other area of law where the punishment metered out is so arbitrary. Surely it is time to bring consistency and fairness to RRO enforcement?

On a different tack it never ceases to amaze me how creative some people can be in finding new ways to start fires in the home. Earlier this month 20 fire fighters and four fire engines from the London Fire Brigade attended an emergency call to a maisonette on Wartlersville Road in Upper Holloway. According to Watch manager Adam Barnett “two men had wedged a toaster in the on mode and were cooking a tin of spaghetti on top of it.” Left unattended the toaster obviously caught fire.

It turns out that there were no smoke alarms in the property that would have alerted the men to the danger but thankfully they escaped unharmed – and presumably hungry!!!

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Comments (2)

  • JS Reply

    This is too simplistic a view without details of the cases. One was heard in the Magistrates (max fine £5k) and the other Crown ( unlimited fine). In all cases the court must consider a range of factors, degree of risk, foreseeability, potential harm and aggravation or mitigation. You may be comparing apples and oranges without that detail.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:49 pm
    • admin Reply

      Thanks for the comment and I do see your point. On the face of it the two cases did appear similar, both were well known high street stores and both had been found to have locked fire doors and obstructed fire exit routes. B & M had actually disregarded an earlier warning from the FRA as to the fire safety breaches. In mitigation Asda put the blame on oversight by a junior manager whilst B & M blamed inexperience of staff as the store was only recently opened and staff training was ongoing. The devil may be in the detail as you rightly point out.
      From the wording of your post I guess you have a legal background so it would be informative and possibly a wake up call for our customers to take the fire safety regulations seriously, if you are able to clarify one or two issues.
      My question is who decides if the case is heard by the Magistrates Court or Crown Court? Does the accused have an option? Does pleading guilty at the outset make a difference? Looking at the precedent the vast majority of such cases involving small to medium sized businesses are dealt with in the Magistrates Court. I am aware from a previous case that the Magistrates can refer a case to Crown Court if they feel their sentencing powers are inadequate but as prosecutions involving large high profile businesses seem more likely to go to Crown Court other factors seem to be at play.
      Many thanks for your input. Hope to hear from you again.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:56 am

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