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Fire Safety at Event and Event Company Premises

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Fire Safety at Event and Event Company Premises

09 Aug 2017

The dreadful events surrounding the fire in the Grenfell Tower have prompted a number of enquiries regarding fire safety for events and the offices of event companies.  Much of the news coverage has been confusing with a range of experts rushing to give their particular perspective.  Sadly there has been some nakedly opportunistic clamour by the health and safety industry for a roll back of the Government’s program of deregulating redundant health and safety law.  Whilst recognising the obvious need to identify the failings which caused and contributed to this appalling tragedy, this article aims to present an objective reminder of how health and safely law applies in the events industry.

Regarding the deregulation program, the Government commissioned a review by an independent expert in 2011 which stated that health and safely law in this country was broadly fit for purpose.  The following paragraphs will show that we are not lacking in law in this regard.  The extent to which it was properly applied will be a matter for the Grenfell enquiry.  The salutary lesson for the events industry and/or anyone responsible for high footfall venues is the speed at which a fire can take hold and engulf a building trapping occupants and causing mass fatalities.  It would also be prudent to reflect on how many times audits and inspections reveal fire separation arrangements which are compromised.  Whilst broken fire doors in Grenfell Tower would not have prevented its ultimate destruction, it is reasonable to speculate that many who perished did so because they encountered smoke filled stairwells which would have led them to safety had they been able to use them before the fire engulfed their part of the building.  

General Health and Safety Law

In the UK the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) places duties of care on organisations with responsibilities for premises and in particular on directors and senior managers with authority to set policy to discharge those responsibilities.  HASAWA also requires a health and safety policy which should include arrangements for fire safety.  Even small fires can easily have fatal consequences and a charge of Corporate Manslaughter can be brought against organisations where there have been fatalities largely caused by failings of senior management.  If any of the deaths can be attributed to an individual who has been ‘reckless’ then they can be prosecuted for Manslaughter by Gross Negligence.  Where relevant the Grenfell enquiry may focus on what exactly constitutes ‘recklessness’.  Recent case law1 will be relevant.

When it comes to building and construction, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) require that structures are safe to build and safe to use.  The resultant health and safety file must contain information on how essential fire safety systems are to be maintained.  CDM also applies to any refurbishment.

Fire Safety Law

Buildings must comply with Building Regulation’s2 ‘Approved Document B (ADB) which covers fire safety and much of the investigation into Grenfell will focus on the extent to which revisions of ADB kept pace with evolving construction techniques particularly with regard to cladding.  ADB covers:

• means of warning and escape

• internal fire spread (linings)

• internal fire spread (structure)

• external fire spread

• access and facilities for the fire service.

ADB applies to venues and premises which are buildings (e.g. offices and warehouses) but not to event structures which are temporary structures i.e. up for less than 28 days3.  One can reasonably expect that modern venues are built to be safe and fit for purpose but venues must have regard for the effect that refurbishments have on the original fire safety concept.  In theory this is where CDM helps as the CDM Health and Safety File should contain the necessary data for this.  Old (historic) buildings can be more problematic which is where fire risk assessment comes in and is covered below.

A whole raft of British (BS) and European (EN) standards cover everything from the specification for the hinges on fire doors to the standard for emergency lighting.  They are not necessarily in line with each other.  For example whereas BS8414 for cladding is a higher standard than its European equivalent, EN13501, (considered by the Building Research Establishment in a report to government in 2000 to be inadequate) the European standard takes precedent making it mandatory in law.  The higher British standard is merely ‘advisory’.  No doubt this will also be a focus for the Grenfell enquiry.

In 2005 the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRFSO) came in and replaced a whole raft of overlapping and confusing fire safety regulation that preceded it4.  The law transferred responsibility for issuing fire certificates for buildings from the Fire Service and transferred it to a requirement for a nominated ‘Responsible Person’ to conduct a fire risk assessment (FRA).  This applies equally to a temporary event structure as it does to a tower block.  The Responsible Person is normally a senior manager with operational responsibility.  The government issued industry specific guidance of which the following are relevant to event companies:

• Fire safety risk assessment in offices and shops

• Fire safety risk assessment in factories and warehouse storage premises

• Fire safety risk assessment in large places of assembly (over 300)

• Fire safety risk assessment in small and medium places of assembly (60-300)

• Fire safety risk assessment in theatres, cinemas and similar premises

• Fire safety risk assessment in open air events and venues.

Unless specifically prescribed (e.g. certain sports grounds) the law does state how often FRA’s need to be conducted.  They need to be conducted whenever there are significant changes such as refurbishment and of course each event needs its own FRA.  In any case an FRA should be at least reviewed annually if only to determine whether there have been significant changes.

Shortly after RRFSO came into force the fire safety standard BS9999 was published. This is designed as a co-ordinated package covering the four main areas that influence fire safety measures, namely:

• fire safety management

• the provisions of means of escape

• the structural protection of escape facilities and the structural stability of the building in the event of a fire

• the provision of access and facilities for fire-fighting.

Essentially it lays out the required standards to be achieved relative to the use and occupancy of the premises.  Given that the use and occupancy can vary greatly in an event venue it is vital that these are considered in any FRA.

The Responsible Person

It is worth focusing on this issue as it is key to compliance with all the law.  The RRFSO defines this as the main duty holder for fire safety in the form of either the employer or the person who has control of a premises.  This person is personally accountable for the fire safety arrangements.  Failing to appoint a responsible person does not avoid the issue; it merely transfers liability to the person who should have appointed one.  This will undoubtedly feature in the Grenfell investigation.  The Responsible Person has overall responsibility for:

• undertaking a fire risk assessment (i.e. sourcing a competent person to do so)

• putting precautions in place to safeguard employees and non-employees

• ensuring testing and maintenance of:

        o fire detection and alarm systems

        o fire fighting equipment

        o emergency exit routes and fire exits

        o fire evacuation drills and assembly points.

Note that some venues have removed signage for designated assembly points in light of the current terrorist threat.  This is reasonable provided safe evacuation can still be achieved.

In a multi tenanted office block the landlord will appoint a responsible person for the whole building and each tenant should have a responsible person for its own tenanted area.  Similarly the venue will appoint a responsible person and each event likewise should have a responsible person appointed for the event.

Event Specific Fire Safely Law and Guidance

Most event industry sectors have developed their own guidance which is bespoke to their requirements.  The sports industry, however, has its own law.  The Safety at Sports Grounds Act 1975 applies to designated sports grounds covering a wide range of sports.  The requirements are enshrined in the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds, commonly referred to as the ‘Green Guide’.  This has a very detailed section on fire safety requiring that a fire risk assessment is conducted at least annually.  The Green Guide is currently being reviewed.  Whilst it provides a useful template it should be noted that it only applies to designated grounds, generally large high profile venues. Under the Fire Safety and Safety at Places of Sport Act 1987 a licence is required for a covered stand with a capacity of greater than 500 at places of sport which are not designated under Safety of Sports Ground Act 1975.

The HSE now publishes very little guidance which is specific to events and it falls to industry sectors to publish their own.  It should be noted that guidance of any kind is not law but the general idea is that if you follow accredited guidance you are normally doing enough to comply with the law.  Industry specific guidance includes:

• AEV eGuide for UK Venues (it does not have a specific fire safety section and the fire safety requirements are covered under other relevant headings such as stand construction and electrical work) http://www.aev.org.uk/e-guide

• The NAA A-Guide for arenas http://www.nationalarenasassociation.com/public/A-Guide_November_2016.pdf

• ABTT Guide for theatres http://www.abtt.org.uk

• The Purple Guide for music and other events http://www.thepurpleguide.co.uk

Of course, all of this is only applicable in the UK.  The g-Guide (http://theg-guide.org/) is written for application overseas and does have a comprehensive fire safety section.  It does not claim that following it will necessarily ensure compliance with the law but it does contain useful general principals including how to do an event fire risk assessment.

Enforcement and Sentencing Guidelines

It is worth referencing earlier updates which covered the change last year in sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences and which considerably raised the level of fines and custodial sentences that can be imposed.  One of the factors considered in imposing a fine is the potential for harm which in the case of fire is always very high.  Large event companies in particular can expect five figure fines for serious breaches even if there is no actual fire or injury.

In addition to the new sentencing guidelines, rules for Gross Negligence Manslaughter published recently propose that "cost-cutting" offenders who have a "serious disregard" for the safety of others should receive more severe penalties with custodial sentences raised to 18 years.  

Event Management – How do we put all of this into practice?

Those that attend IOSH and other accredited training for events will know that fundamentally event managers need to focus on three key elements which are:

• fire prevention – keeping sources of ignition and sources of fuel apart

• fire detection and alarm – largely the responsibility of the venue

• fire response – arrangements for escape including first aid firefighting, occupancy limits, fire separation, emergency lighting, signage, escape routes, maximum travel distances and fire exits -  a mix of provision by the venue and the organiser.

This requires good liaison and planning between the venue and the event organiser.  Normally the venue has a fire risk assessment for the premises as a whole and the event organiser conducts a fire risk assessment for the tenanted area.  Separate fire risk assessments may be required for large features or structures within the event.

BS9999 requires that arrangements take into account the profile of the visitors and the nature of the activities and the event.  Generally, visitors who are unfamiliar with the premises are deemed to be a higher risk than office workers who are familiar with the building.  This is a simplification of the requirements but is an illustration of the overall approach.

Conclusions and Comment

Irrespective of what the law says, Grenfell is a salutary reminder of the tragedy that can unfold in a crowded building where a fire takes hold.  Failure to ensure proper fire separation will likely add to the death toll and probably did so in this case.  Those organisations which are found to have failed in their duties can expect very heavy fines and those individuals implicated in those failings could face lengthy prison terms.

As can be seen above, the UK is very well regulated and in most UK event venues a high degree of compliance can normally be expected but it should never be taken for granted.  Overseas venues are more problematic especially in developing countries and some are so substandard that a tragedy on the scale of Grenfell is quite possible.

The key legal requirement in the UK is the appointment of a ‘Responsible Person’ to ensure that a proper fire risk assessment is done for the venue and for each event. Government guidance and industry sector guidance gives us the detail and the best practice standards which, if followed, will normally ensure compliance with the law. Whilst there is a high emphasis on events, companies should note that the requirement for the appointment of a responsible person and a fire risk assessment applies equally to offices, warehouse and any other premises.  The events industry is fortunate to have a robust health and safety culture which means that event companies have access to training, relevant guidance, trade bodies such as the AEV AEO and ESSA and well qualified health and safety specialists at all levels and in all event sectors.  

Notes

1. In 2016 a “reckless” restaurant owner was imprisoned for six years for the manslaughter by gross negligence of a customer who had an allergic reaction to a curry. The restaurant owner denied he was responsible however the jury was told he switched almond powder for a cheaper ground nut mix, which contained peanuts. The customer had specified “no nuts” when ordering- an instruction which was written on his order and on the lid of his takeaway. The restaurateur had a "reckless and cavalier attitude to risk" and "put profit before safety" at all his outlets, the jury was told.

2. Building Regulations 2000 (as amended 2006) and Building Regulations (Scotland)

3. Most structures in events such as exhibition stands, seating, tents etc are temporary and do not fall under ADB.  Their construction and use is covered by ‘Temporary Demountable Structures – Guidance on procurement and use Third edition, commonly referred to as the TDS Guide.  A temporary demountable structure is defined as one which is in place ‘generally no more than 28 days.  Whilst the definition gives us a useful exclusion from ADB there is virtually nothing in TDS about fire safely other general advice to meet local licencing requirements.  

4. The law in Scotland is slightly differently but this is largely just terminology and the overall concept is the same

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