Two years since the government passed a law on fire safety – and hot on the heels of a recent spate of fires at local garment factories, neighbourhoods and nightclubs – a recent informal survey has found that even high-end hotels still widely lack required equipment and safety measures.
Under the 2013 Fire Protection Law, all new buildings should include fire protection equipment, such as smoke alarms and fire escapes, while hotels built before the law was introduced are expected to fall in line with the new regulations.
But due to a lack of follow-up sub-decrees, the law remains largely unenforceable and, to this point, unheeded.
“Many hotels here were built before the law was created. So they don’t have fire prevention equipment,” said Neth Vantha, a deputy municipal police chief at the Ministry of Interior in charge of fire protection.
Hotels and other buildings catering to the public are supposed to be inspected every two years, but no inspections have yet taken place because supplementary legislation has yet to be approved that would empower officials to take action.
Several mid-range hotels in Phnom Penh popular among foreign tourists were found to have no smoke alarms or other fire-safety measures in place.
According to interviews with the properties’ management, the $50-per-night majority French-owned Blue Lime hotel; the 252 hotel, also French-owned; the 13-storey Okay Boutique Hotel; two Anise hotels and the 100-room Golden Gate hotel all lacked smoke detectors, a fire alarm or fire evacuation information for guests. At least two of six Frangipani hotels also lack fire protection, though the company declined to give details.
Some guests at these hotels said in interviews that they were surprised to learn that they were not protected from fire, and all said they had assumed the hotels they booked would be subject to the same safety standards as hotels in their home countries.
Under the 2013 law, hotel companies are legally liable and could be fined up to $5,000, or even shut down, if they are deemed to have acted with “negligence”.
Fire safety expert and government fire safety working group member Paul Hurford, managing director of Azisafe – which sells products and training pertaining to risk management – said hotels should not wait for the regulations before taking action.
“There is no excuse for hotels, especially when they are internationally owned, not investing in fire protection,” he said.
Hurford added that for a 12-room boutique hotel, a basic fire protection system costs no more than $1,000.
While new rules on fire safety are on the way following the adoption of the law, which came into force last year, it could be some time before they are complete.
“It’s a slow process to get the regulations and safety standards right,” Hurford said.
Anise hotels said smoke detectors would be installed next month, and The 252 hotel said the devices would be installed by the end of the year.
Luu Meng, co-chair of the private sector working group on tourism, said it was important to raise the profile of fire safety with both hoteliers and the public, but the development of new rules should not be rushed.
“When you introduce regulations too quickly, you might miss certain things and people might not have time to understand what’s happening,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHHANYDA