Alan F Cox

Fire and Safety Consultants


When we stay in a hotel we all expect it to be safe and that in the event of a fire we will be able to leave the building safely – but can we be sure of this and who is looking after the guests' interests?

If you are staying in a hotel or guest house in the UK or Europe in the first instance you are in the hands of the hotel who have a legal obligation to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment and to act on the findings but how good this assessment is depends on a number of factors including:

•     The fire standards of the country.

•     How good the enforcement is.

•     How good the fire risk assessment is.

•     How good hotel the management is.

•     How well both the active and passive fire safety measures are installed and maintained.

As can be seen there are many variable factors to consider and simply looking at the fire statistics of individual countries does not give you an accurate view of how safe you are likely to be as there are no standard statistics to compare and no standard fire risk assessment for each country. If you just look at how things are in the UK it is reported that fire authorities find around 51% of hotels that they inspect are found to be unsatisfactory and remember this is just the hotels that they inspect and not all hotels and guest houses that are open for business. The inspection figure for the UK is between 5% and 8% each year.

What are hotels doing about it?

So what are the hotels doing about it? HOTREC, which describes itself as the trade association representing the hospitality sector in Europe has published the HOTREC MBS  Methodology – Guidelines to fire safety in European Hotels and claim that

“Eighteen months after the release of the MBS methodology, we see a strong rising interest from our membership to promote this instrument across Europe. Starting with six countries, we are now reaching a total of 13 European countries in which our scheme is being endorsed by hotel associations, and we are confident that even more will join that club very soon”.

ANEC, which is the European consumer voice in standardization, claims that  “Twenty-five years after the EU Recommendation 86/666/EC on fire safety in hotels, and 20 months after the adoption of the HOTREC MBS Methodology – guidelines for fire safety in Europe, consumers are still waiting for a more binding instrument able to achieve their expectations on safety. ANEC questions the claim that hoteliers are using the MBS Methodology and welcomes the recommendation of the European Parliament to look for regulatory solutions if self-regulation fails”

I personally believe that whilst the HOTREC MBS Methodology is better than nothing the document is not as good as it could be and has a number of flaws and does not give any guidance on smoking, portable electrical appliance testing, fixed electrical wiring tests and does not contain any reference to having a fire policy but relies solely on the provision of a Fire Register but there is no example of what this Fire Register should look like or an example of what a Fire Risk Assessment should contain.

The HOTREC Charter contains seven main points:

•     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 receives information, instruction and training in fire safety in accordance with their duties.

•     Organise a planned and documented fire evacuation drill in the hotel at least once a year.

•     Ensure that all fire safety systems are regularly inspected and maintained by suitable qualified persons.

•     Have a regular Fire Risk Assessment carried out and take corrective action.

What is the EC doing about it?

Hotel guests expect  “fire safe” accommodation regardless of the location of the hotel, its age or size. They often take hotel fire safety for granted when travelling, expecting a similar level of safety across Member States. But, unfortunately this is not the case.

The revision of the Council Recommendation 86/666/EEC on fire safety in hotels has been discussed for many years. ANEC has called for more binding legislation, such as a directive or regulation. Nevertheless in 2009, the European Commission asked the European association, HOTREC The umbrella association of hotels, restaurants and cafés in Europe (, to develop a methodology on fire safety in hotels that could be used by members of its national associations. However, application of the methodology is purely voluntary, and not all hotels are linked to HOTREC.

ANEC wants the European Institutions to acknowledge the limits of such voluntary instruments in ensuring a minimum level of fire safety in hotels across the EU.

Where are we now?

In 2012, the European Commission proposed the revision of the Recommendation 86/666/EC, with the revision citing HOTREC methodology in some form.

What does ANEC ask for?

ANEC believes the only way to achieve a common, minimum level of fire safety across the EU is for the Commission to propose legislation that would cite formal European Standards (developed by CEN/CENELEC, and implemented as British Standards in the UK), and not an industry methodology. Formal guidance should be provided to hotels on the prevention of fires and the management of safety.

This is why European directive or legislation is required that would:

- apply to existing and new hotels;

- include requirements on fire safety management, emergency planning, staff training and meeting the particular needs of persons with disabilities;

- be enforced by national authorities, committing adequate resources.

The next steps

Discussions on the revision of the Recommendation are starting in Brussels.

With the support of other stakeholders, ANEC calls on the European Institutions to replace Recommendation 86/666 with legislation in which consumers can have confidence and that can achieve a common, minimum of fire safety in all hotels across Member States.

What is necessary for effective fire safety?

I believe that the basis for good hotel fire safety depends on 4 key elements and these are:

1.     Good standards of fire safety and enforcement.

2.     An effective fire safety policy.

3.     Strong fire safety management.

4.     Effective active and passive fire safety.

One of the other major failings that I see is that there is no way that the consumer can identify if a hotel or guest house has met or complies with any fire standard at all  - be it a trade, national or self compliance standard before it is booked and I see this as a major problem. If you can see how safe a car is through the NCAP ratings surely we should be able to see how safe a hotel or boarding house is before we book it and put our lives in the hands of the unknown?

Obviously, good standards of fire safety and enforcement are a fundamental requirement for any effective fire safety plan together with a fire safety policy that sets out the responsibilities of individuals and outlines what is to be achieved and the expectations of the policy. This is not something that can be easily factored into a register, as this is more about what has happened rather than what should happen. A fire register is still needed but this should be provided as part of the management plan and will be needed to show the authorities what maintenance has or has not been undertaken. It also goes without saying that there is no point in having a good fire safety policy if this is not enforced with strong fire safety management together with effective active and passive fire safety measures.

Are hotels safe from fire?

Let us start by looking at some of the past more serious multi fatality fires that have happened both in the UK and from aroud the world:

1969 - 11 people died in a hotel in Saffron Walden, UK (Rose & Crown)

1977 - 19 people died in a hotel in Brussels

1980 - 84 people died in a hotel in Las Vegas, USA (MGM Grand)

1980 - 26 people died in a hotel fire in the USA (Stouffers Inn)

1981 - 8 people died in a hotel in Las Vegas (Hilton)

1986 - 97 people died in a hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA (Dupont Plaza Hotel)

1993 - 20 people died in a hotel in Illinois, USA

1995 - 30 people died in a hotel in Anshan, China

1997 - 91 people died in a hotel in Thailand

1999 - 20 people died in a hotel in Changchun, China

2000 - 15 people died in a hotel in Australia (Childers Hotel)

2001 - 2 people died in a fire in a hotel in Bolton, UK (Bolton Moat House)

2001 - 70 people died in a hotel the Philippines (Manor Hotel)

2001 - 14 people died in a hotel in Kashmir, India

2003 - 33 people died in a hotel fire in Beijing, China (Tiantan Hotel)

2003 - 3 people died in a hotel fire in South Africa (Rand Inn International Hotel)

2004 - 3 people died in a hotel in Rome (Parco dei Principi Hotel)

2005 - 22 people died and 50 injured in a hotel fire in Paris (Paris Opera Hotel)

2006 - 12 people died in a hotel fire in Reno, USA (Mizpah Hotel)

2006 - 5 people died in a hotel fire in NE China (Xinqiao Hotel)

2007 - 3 people died in a hotel fire in Newquay, UK (Penhallow Hotel)

I have seen many figures quoting how safe or unsafe you are in a hotel if a fire breaks out but I would not attempt to give such a figure because I believe that this would only give a figure that could not be easily substantiated.  I would prefer to put my efforts in trying to reduce the figure to the lowest level possible that will give people the satisfaction of knowing that all that is possible is being done to give them the best level of fire safety possible taking into account all the relevant facts. Unfortunately, at present, I don't believe this to be the case.

The present situation.

At present when you book into a hotel in the UK or Europe you have to hope that all of the relevant aspects have been considered and that the fire risk assessment has been done by a competent person. You also have to hope that the resulting recommendations have been put into place, but there is also another important aspect to consider and that is “has the fire risk assessment been validated and, if so, by who?”

With so much resting on the fire risk assessment is it fair that both the owner and guest has to hope that it's correct until a visit is received from the enforcing authority to validate the assessment which in some cases could be a very long time. The consequences of getting it wrong are clear but I think that what is needed now is a much clearer and transparent system that gives both the owner and guest the prior knowledge of what level of fire safety is required and if those standards have been met.

Can we learn from the USA?

If you want to book a hotel in the USA they have the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990, which is an Act of Congress aimed at improving fire safety in hotels, motels, and other places of public accommodation. The Act states that Federal employees, when on official travel, should stay in fire-safe accommodations. Each Federal agency must ensure that at least 90% of travel nights are spent in such properties. Some agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), require 100% of travel nights to be spent in approved accommodations.

For the purposes of this Act, every guestroom in a hotel or motel and each apartment/condominium must have an AC-powered smoke alarm. These are commonly called hard-wired. The alarm must be installed in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 72. An alarm that is solely battery-powered is not acceptable. An AC-powered alarm with battery backup is desirable, but not required. If the building is more than three stories in height, it must also have a full automatic sprinkler system. Systems installed before October 25, 1992, and meeting whatever local code was in effect at the time are acceptable, provided there is at least one sprinkler head in every guestroom. Sprinkler systems installed on or after that date must meet NFPA Standard 13 or 13R.

The U.S. Fire Administration compiles a list of such properties. For purposes of the Act, fire-safe means listed in the National Master List of Fire Safe Hotels and Motels. The List is available on the World Wide Web at You can also phone for a list of which hotels are available in the area where you require accommodation.

Listed properties can put up Federal government employees and host federally funded conferences. This should provide a significant incentive - to be eligible for a share of the Federal government's annual $25,000,000,000 travel expenditures. This business is not be available to non-listed properties.

To get listed a hotel must apply for listing and there is no charge for listing which can be applied for online.

In each State, the Governor has appointed an official to give or deny approval for a property requesting to be included in the Master List. Usually, this official is the state fire marshal or his designee. A list of State Project Officers is also available at the USFA Website. If approved by the State Project Officer, USFA will add the property to the Master List.

This Act does not replace State or local fire safety requirements; rather it complements them and would certainly help improve the general level of fire safety in hotels in UK and Europe if it was introduced. Whilst this system has some faults it is undoubtedly a lot better than what we have at present because there is also provision for guests to report hotels that are non compliant.

My experiences.

My experiences in Europe are very mixed but I will relate one experience of staying in a hotel in the UK last year which I think reflects many of the problems that we are currently experiencing in the UK.

This hotel was built in the early 19th century and is a Grade 1 listed building in the style of a medieval building. Following my stay I wrote an 11-page letter to the owner pointing out many of the fire safety problems that I had noted during my stay and these included photographs of:

•     Fire doors wedged open.

•     Defective fire doors (poorly fitting)

•     Defective fire door hardware.

•     Fire detection problems

•     Fire doors with no intumescent fire or smoke seals.

•     Holes in fire walls.

•     Fire door frames not sealed to the walls.

•     PAT testing not carried out.

•     No emergency number shown on the phone system.

The reply that I received did not give me any confidence that my comments had been taken seriously and so I also sent a copy to the Chief Fire Officer.

Three weeks later the hotel suffered a reported multi million pound fire and the fire service stated “that they had visited the hotel on 6 June after receiving a copy of my letter, but that the visit revealed only “a few minor issues”, and that they were not significant enough to organise a revisit.” As I believed that the fire service comment had not truly reflected the seriousness of the situation I lodged a complaint and went to discuss the matter with them and they wrote to me after our meeting stating “I do acknowledge that our description, in the press release, of the fire safety deficiencies being “minor” may have given the impression that we were treating your concerns as unimportant. However, as you know, we carried out the audit on receipt of your complaint and have since been working with the Hotel to deal with the issues that were found” – this is slightly different to “ull Òthe visit revealed only “a few minor issues”, and that they were not significant enough to organise a revisit.”

Not all fire authorities deal with complaints like this but its sad to have to say that the more positive ones are few and far between.

Where to now?

I feel that if we are to improve the fire safety in hotels we need:

•     Positive direction from both the UK and European Parliaments

•     An approved third party validation process.

•     Clear and transparent fire safety standards and enforcement.

•     A system that allows the guest to ascertain if a particular establishment has met those standards before making a booking.

•     An inspection system by the local authority that is carried out in a timely manner that is both open and transparent.

•     A positive commitment from the hotel industry that they will give fire safety the level of importance that it deserves.

If we carry on the way we are going it can only lead to more confusion and poor standards of fire safety.

Alan Cox