MORE than a third of public buildings inspected in Dorset and Wiltshire last year were found in breach of fire safety regulations, figures reveal.

Home Office data shows 152 buildings inspected by the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service in the year to March did not comply with fire safety laws – 38 per cent of those inspected.

They included 22 shops, 19 blocks of flats and 18 hotels.

Fire services conduct audits on most public buildings and the shared areas of residential properties such as flats to make sure they meet safety regulations.

When inspections are unsatisfactory, auditors may issue an informal notification – for example to agree an action plan – or formal ones such as enforcement notices, warning that a building breaches the law.

In the most serious cases, inspectors may issue a prohibition notice to restrict or ban access to a building or they may prosecute those responsible for the property’s safety.

In the year to March, the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service issued 10 formal notifications, including three enforcement notices and six prohibition notices. There were no prosecutions.

Two prohibition notices were issued in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, one in Dorset with an enforcement notice also in Dorset.

Group Manager Richard Humphrey said: “The Fire Safety Order applies to virtually all premises in England and Wales, and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space. It includes areas used in common in blocks of flats and other multi-occupied dwellings, but excludes single private domestic dwellings.

“Under the legislation, there is a requirement for anyone who exercises some level of control for the premises (the ‘responsible person’) to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and ensure that people can escape safely if a fire does occur. They need to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks, and identify the general fire precautions needed.

“All of the information needed can be found on our website and we can be contacted on the phone or by email if anyone has any queries or concerns.”

With the number of inspections plummeting nationally due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Fire Brigades Union warned catching up will be made difficult by a drop in the number of inspectors.

In response to the pandemic, a number of audits were also carried out remotely, though a figure has not been provided by the Home Office.

Across England, 34,400 fire safety audits were carried out in 2020-21 – 29 per cent fewer than the previous year.

In Dorset and Wiltshire the number of audits dropped by 643 to 397 in the period.

Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “Stopping fires before they start is the best way to keep the places where we work and live safe, which is our number one priority.

"Where any issues are identified in initial desktop audits our fire and rescue services will follow up with full audits conducted in person.”