Fire Safety Penalties | The Risks of Non-Compliance

Whether you own or rent your commercial premises, you should be aware that there is no escape from fire safety legislation.

It is a legal requirement to undertake a fire safety risk assessment and to implement the required fire safety works, highlighted by the assessment. Many existing business owners simply put off doing a fire risk assessment to avoid the ensuing work. New businesses fail to include the cost of effective fire safety in their start up plans and then find the potential cost prohibitive so early in business life.


However, compliance with fire safety legislation is compulsory and failure to comply is simply illegal and punishable through the normal judicial channels. This could be a substantial fine and a requirement to carry out the correct works, or, if the negligence has resulted in a fire which put people at risk, it could even result in a prison sentence.

It appears, as with all rules in society, there are some who are willing to take risks and face the penalties should they get caught.  On some occasions, this risk is fairly calculated, where the risk of getting caught is set against the consequences, and in others, the risk taken is considered the better option.  However, with fire safety, it is evident that this attitude is of no benefit.  The enforcing authorities are now placing greater emphasis on compliance and through their inspection regimes are identifying and prosecuting offenders.

Protecting Life

The most fundamental and important reason why fire safety legislation is in place, is that of protecting life. This should be reason enough for a fire safety risk assessment to be carried out and remedial works undertaken to protect people within the property. The loss of life in a situation where fire safety has not been effectively considered and implemented can result in charges of manslaughter being brought.


Another significant reason why risking penalties is not worthwhile within the fire safety arena is that the required works will still need to be done, with a penalty applied also.  For example, if a fire alarm system is deemed to be a requirement following a fire risk assessment and the owner / occupier decides to ignore this requirement, when this comes to the attention of the authorities, the likely action will be an enforcement notice, requiring the installation of a system as well as a significant fine for a non-compliance.  From empirical data, it is likely the fine will be in the order of thousands, rather than hundreds of pounds. This may be coupled with other business interruption issues such as a prohibition notice, as well as the immediate nature of undertaking the required works.

It should be clear that taking this risk is effectively running on ‘borrowed time’ and the consequences, should the ‘gamble’ not pay off, are incomprehensible.  Compliance with fire safety legislation must be achieved.

There are many documented cases indicating the stance of the judicial system when it comes to non-compliance.  The cases are varied, however, a common theme runs throughout, and that is the severity of the penalties.  Recent cases include a retail giant who was fined £400,000 following a fire at a major London store; a major food retailer receiving a series of fines including a £20,000 fine for escape routes not being clear, wedging of two fire doors received a fine of £20,000 per door as well as attracting a £50,000 fine for combustible storage under a stairway. 

Custodial sentences are evident also, for example an Hotelier was sentenced to eight months imprisonment alongside costs of £15,000, following repeated breaches in legislation.  This case also saw the Fire Risk Assessor jailed, for failing to report the deficient fire safety provisions and acknowledge the failings of the Hotelier.

It is clear from these cases that the courts take a dim view of breaches.  The consequences of inadequate fire precautions could include death, so this stern approach must be adopted.  Interestingly, the quality of fire risk assessments (FRAs) is being called into question.  The authorities are acknowledging that FRAs are not always suitable or sufficient and are punishing persons who are allowing profits to come before life safety.

While the examples given may seem designed to scare business owners into undertaking appropriate fire safety, it is not the case. All we ask is that you consider the alternatives of not doing so and ask yourselves if the risks of non-compliance are worth it?