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Re: Fashion group "New Look" receives massive fine under RRO

New Look fine will shake up fire safety risk profile 28 June 2010


A Court of Appeal decision to uphold a £400,000 fine imposed against retail giant New Look for breaches of fire safety obligations has no doubt left other industry players feeling a little hot under the collar, says Ron Reid of legal firm Shoosmiths.

The decision sparked initial surprise given that the fine, which was administered in respect of breaches not leading to fire or death, was in excess of the figure reserved as a start point for cases of corporate manslaughter.

In dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal sent a clear message that those in control of premises subject to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the RRO) cannot afford to dedicate fewer resources to ensuring compliance with fire safety obligations than they would in meeting health and safety requirements.

The starting figure used by the judge at first instance for assessment of the fine was £600,000. Endorsement by the Court of Appeal represents a departure from the former judicial tendency to reserve fines in excess of £500,000 for cases of major public disaster. Assessment of the seriousness of a breach can now be expected to be made with principal reference to the risk created.

In light of this clear message as to the financial consequences inherent in creating, or neglecting to address, fire safety deficiencies, those with control of premises subject to the RRO are well advised to ensure that their specific obligations have been adequately identified and addressed. Procedures and training policies must be comprehensive, up-to-date and kept under review if risks are to be guarded against.

Prosecution of the clothing retailer flowed from numerous breaches of the RRO, which were consensually consolidated into two offences:

  • failure to identify via appropriate assessment of the specific risks posed to individuals, the precautions necessary to ensure compliance with the regulations
  • failure to ensure that employees were provided with adequate safety training.

These offences attracted fines of £250,000 and £150,000 respectively. New Look was further responsible for the £136,000 prosecution costs.

The fire caused massive disruption in Oxford Street

 

Investigation of the retailer’s Oxford Street premises began after a fire which broke out on 26 April 2009. The cause remains unknown, but has not been attributed to acts or omissions under the RRO. Around 400 people were evacuated from the building. Escape routes were not clearly identified and were obstructed, in some places by combustible materials.

The court said the absence of competent fire marshals to coordinate the evacuation showed the retailer’s failure to implement an organised system and its shortcomings in relation to staff training.

Source - info4fire

Date Published: 13/05/2011
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