Resident dies in care home fire

As widely reported in the press, a resident has sadly died following a fire in a residential property occupied by adults with learning difficulties.

According to news reports 8 residents and 4 carers managed to get out of the three-storey building before firefighters arrived.

Over 70 firefighters and officers attended with 10 brigade appliances and an aerial platform to tackle the fire which took firefighters some 3 hours to bring under control.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The fire safety profession has recognised the challenge with all manner of properties occupied by people with support needs, from sheltered housing schemes, assisted living and accommodation used by those working towards a degree of independence.  New sector guidance was published last year, recognising the need for “person centred” fire risk assessments which take account of individual residents capabilities and vulnerabilities.

Managing agent fined £40,000 following fire death

London Fire Brigade have reported on a recent prosecution of a managing agent.  This case highlights the need for effective fire safety management, suitable fire risk assessments and for corrective and remedial measures identified to be implemented.

Parc Properties Management Ltd (PPML), the managing agent for Meridian Place Management Ltd, were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Monday 19 March 2018, after pleading guilty to two offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) 2005.

Sophie Rosser, 23, died following the fire which broke out at Meridian Place, E14, at around 0130 on August 26, 2012. Miss Rosser, who lived on the fifth floor of the building with her partner and flat mate, was found unconscious on the fourth floor of the building.

Ms Rosser was found by by crews wearing breathing apparatus who carried her from the building. She was then treated at the scene by London’s Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) before being taken to hospital where she sadly later died.

Lee Drawbridge, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, said: “Building owners have a responsibility to ensure regular fire risk assessments are undertaken which will help ensure that buildings have appropriate  fire protective measures in place.

“There were serious fire safety breaches in this block of flats which resulted in the fire quickly spreading to other parts of the building.

“While London Fire Brigade want to work with building owners to help them meet their safety responsibilities, where we find breaches of those responsibilities, we will do all we can to ensure the relevant agencies and individuals are prosecuted.”

The Brigade’s fire safety team carried out an inspection of the building following the fire and found a number of serious fire safety failures. Breaches of the RRO included:

  • Failing to take general fire precautions to ensure the premises is safe
  • Failing to have a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment
  • Failure to monitor and review the preventive and protective measures
  • The building was not properly equipped with firefighting equipment nor was it correctly maintained
  • The fire detection system was not properly maintained

An enforcement notice was issued to the leasehold owners of the building and the managing agents for the fire safety failings.

Too few care homes have sprinkler protection for vulnerable residents

Only one percent of care homes, retirement homes and hostels that fire crews are called to have life saving sprinklers, according to new figures released recently by London Fire Brigade.

In London, there is an average of more than one fire every day in these buildings that house some of the capital’s most vulnerable residents. Brigade bosses are using Sprinkler Awareness Week to call for automatic fire suppression systems (AFSS) to be installed in care homes, high-rise buildings and new and refurbished schools.

London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Dan Daly, said: “It’s a tragic fact that many of the fires  we see involve vulnerable people who have mobility and/or health issues that mean they are unable to escape even small fires and they may suffer fatal or life changing injuries before the fire brigade is even called.

“We need to ensure sufficient and appropriate protection measures are in place to safeguard these people where they live and suppression systems should be part of those considerations.

London Fire Brigade are calling for:

• All new residential developments over 18m in height to be fitted with sprinklers
• Existing residential blocks over 18m in height to be retrofitted with sprinklers
• Sprinklers to be mandatory in all new school builds and major refurbishments
• All new residential care homes and sheltered accommodation to be fitted with sprinklers
• Existing residential care homes and sheltered accommodation to be retrofitted with sprinklers

“Sprinklers are the only system which detects a fire, suppresses a fire and raises the alarm. If you are housing vulnerable people, you have a responsibility for their welfare and that means ensuring what fire suppression measures you need to have in place.” London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Dan Daly

Of the 428 fires at hostels, care homes, retirement homes and sheltered-housing accommodation last year, sprinklers were installed in just five of these incidents.

Three of these fires were fatalities and a further 53 people were injured. There have already been 69 fires in such buildings so far in 2018.

Brigade warning on No Smoking Day

London Fire Brigade report that 8 people have died in fires related to smoking in London in the last 12 months, according to new data.

The new figures have been released to coincide with national No Smoking Day and the Brigade is continuing to urge people to switch to vaping or better still stop smoking altogether to avoid the risk of dying or being hurt in a fire.

In the last five years, there have been an average of 22 fires every week linked to smoking. Since 2013/14, there have been 5,978 fires in London linked to smoking, 416 people have been injured and a total of 76 people have died.

Dan Daly, the Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, said: “So many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented either stopping smoking or by switching to vaping.

“We would rather people didn’t smoke at all but if they do, vaping is a safer option. There is a common misconception that vapes are a fire risk but the reality is they have caused a very small number of fires – normally because the device is broken or it’s being charged by a faulty charger. Smoking on the other hand is a killer.

“Common causes of smoking related fires are people falling asleep while smoking or discarding cigarette butts or matches that have not been properly extinguished.”

The people who die in smoking related fires are often the most vulnerable who live alone, including the elderly, those with mobility problems, illnesses, drink or drug dependencies.

Family members, carers and neighbours of those who smoke are also urged to look for early warning signs that someone could be at risk of having a fire related to smoking and ensure that they have working smoke alarms fitted, especially in rooms where they smoke.

Assistant Commissioner Daly added: “Burn marks on carpets, furniture, clothing and bedding are often the first obvious signs that someone could be at risk of a smoking related fire.

“We would urge anyone in contact with smokers who notice these tell-tale signs or has any concerns to request a Home Fire Safety Visit from London Fire Brigade and visit our website for practical advice on how to reduce fire risk.”

A reminder from LFB for residents of flats

London Fire Brigade have advice for residents of flats and maisonettes on their web site.

If you live in a purpose-built maisonette or flat your landlord must provide you with fire safety information, including an evacuation plan.

If any building refurbishment or redecoration work is done to your flat or building, or defects are identified that could enable fire spread, your landlord must update your evacuation plan, and let you know about any changes.

What to look out for in your building

Fire safety in all buildings is also dependent upon good maintenance and housekeeping.

In maisonettes and blocks of flats it’s essential that:

  • all flat front doors and doors on corridors and staircases must be ‘self-closing’ fire doors
  • fire doors must ‘self-close’ properly, and not be held or wedged open. They are designed to stop the spread of fire
  • things aren’t stored in corridors or staircases. This can block escape routes and stop firefighters doing their job. They can also feed the fire
  • storage on balconies is kept to a minimum
  • everyone who lives in the building knows the evacuation plan. Are there signs that show you how to escape fire?

If you’re concerned about any of these things, contact your landlord.

Check out their advice here http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/staying-in-or-going-out.asp 

£160,000 fine for injury to member of the public

Westminster Magistrates Court heard that, on 20 March 2017, the injured person was walking along Upper Street in Islington, London when he was hit on the head by the clip. He sustained numerous cuts to his head and face, a broken nose and a severely bruised skull. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the firm over the incident.

Alandale Plant & Scaffolding Ltd of Beckenham, Kent pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,059.08 and a victim surcharge of £170.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Sarah Robinson commented: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.

“On this occasion the company did not follow their own risk assessments or method statements.”

Scaffolder sentenced over unsafe working at height

A 28-year­-old scaffolder has been sentenced after working at height without suitable and sufficient safety measures in place.
Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 30 June 2017, Mr Terrance Murray was witnessed erecting scaffold in an unsafe manner by a concerned member of the public. Photographs were taken of Mr Murray standing on top of the scaffold in Quay Street, Manchester, with no edge protection and no harness attached to any part of the scaffold or building.

The fall height was estimated at between 13 and 18 metres. If he had fallen from this height into the concrete deck of the car park below there is a high probability that he would have sustained fatal injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Mr Murray’s employers had taken reasonable steps to avoid working unsafely at height. Mr Murray was well trained and experienced, and had the correct equipment available to him in order to work safely. He acted alone against his better interest and training to work without edge protection and safety measures in place. Mr Murray was also accompanied by a trainee scaffolder at the time and so was setting an unsafe example.

Mr Terrance Murray of Largs Road, Blackburn pleaded guilty to breaching Section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison, suspended for one year and 100 hours of community service. Mr Murray was also ordered to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £115.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Seve Gomez-Aspron said: “Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work related fatalities in this country and should be taken seriously.

“This case highlights the importance of following industry guidance in order to erect scaffolding in a safe manner, which does not cause risk to members of the public and workers using the scaffold. It also serves to remind employees that they have a duty to look after themselves.”

Care home operator fined after death of vulnerable patient

Shrewsbury Crown Court heard how, on 15 February 2015 Michael Ibbetson, a resident of a care home operated by Akari Care Ltd was found at the bottom of a flight of stairs leading to the cellar with his wheelchair on top of him. Mr Ibbetson, who had one leg amputated at the knee, was able to operate his wheelchair alone and had days of confusion. He was last seen by the nurse on shift going into a lift by the cellar door to go to his room on the first floor.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although the door to the cellar had a key pad latch and was fitted with a self-closing device, it opened onto the stairs so that the first step was directly behind the door. The handrail was fitted in such a way that it was not possible to have a good handhold along its length, and there was no hand rail at the top of the stairs due to the door opening. The door was used daily by kitchen staff and the maintenance man. The investigation also found that Akari Care Ltd’s had not produced a risk assessment for access and use of the cellar and therefore had did not take account of the fact that the door opened inwards directly onto the stairs without a sufficient landing area.

Akari Care Limited of Albion Street, Leeds, was found guilty of breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and has been fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £41,997.48.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Stephen Shaw said: “This tragic incident could have been avoided.

“It is unlikely Mr Ibbetson would have known the key pad number to the door, therefore the door cannot have been properly closed and locked.

“In this case, the risk assessment should have identified the potential risks to both Akari Care employees, visitors and residents of a door which opened inward without sufficient landing.”

Government Launches New Office for Product Safety and Standards

The government has today (21 January 2018) announced the creation of a new national oversight body tasked with identifying consumer risks and managing responses to large-scale product recalls and repairs.

The new Office for Product Safety and Standards will enable the UK to meet the evolving challenges of product safety by responding to expanding international trade, the growth in online shopping and the increasing rate of product innovation.

London Fire Brigade have responded to the announcement:

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Charlie Pugsley said:

“I won’t be able to rest until I know that people can easily check whether or not they have a potentially deadly appliance in their home. We welcome the establishment of the new Office for Product Safety and Standards but their first act should be to establish a single government backed product recall database to make it easier for people to check whether they are using a faulty appliance.

“We don’t even know how many defective white goods there are in use in homes across the UK but we do know there are at least a million Whirlpool tumble dryers with an identifiable defect that has caused over 750 fires in the UK.*

According to London Fire Brigade figures, nearly one fire a day in London involves white goods and in 2016, the Brigade launched its Total Recalls campaign which calls on the government and manufacturers to implement a number of changes to make all white goods safer including making it easier for consumers to find out if they own potentially dangerous goods via a centrally managed recall data base.

What is the Brigade calling for?

• A single government backed product recall database
• Recalls notices to be better publicised to reduce confusion
• Greater regulation of second-hand appliances
• Changes to the way that fridges and freezers are manufactured
• All appliances to be marked with a model and serial number to allow identification after a fire

(*As reported by Whirlpool to BEIS select committee)

Business Minister Andrew Griffiths said:

The new Office for Product Safety and Standards will strengthen the UK’s already tough product safety regime and will allow consumers to continue to buy secure in the knowledge there is an effective system in place if products need to be repaired or replaced.

I thank the working group for their efforts to help improve product safety and I look forward to working with them in this new phase.

Neil Gibbins, Chair of the working group, said:

It has been my mission to make the public safe since I joined the fire service nearly 40 years ago. That’s why I’m pleased to see the government respond to our recommendations with concrete steps to ensure the safety of consumers, now and in the future.

The government will continue to work with stakeholders such as consumer groups, manufacturers and retailers to ensure the office coordinates the UK’s product safety regime as effectively as possible.

This will not lessen any of the legal responsibilities that sit with manufacturers, importers and retailers to present safe products to the market, and to take rapid effective action when safety issues arise with their products.

Interim report into the Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety Recommends Change is Needed

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in June an independent review of Building regulations and Fire Safety was launched.

The Chair of this independent review has found that a “universal shift in culture” is required to rebuild trust amongst residents of high-rise buildings and significantly improve the way that fire safety is assured.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who was appointed by government to lead released the interim report this week. Alongside her interim report, Dame Judith is calling on the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to address the ‘shortcomings’ identified so far.

The interim report finds that:

  • a culture change is required – with industry taking greater responsibility for what is built – this change needs to start now
  • the current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings is not fit for purpose
  • a clear, quick and effective route for residents to raise concerns and be listened to, must be created

In particular the report has identified 6 broad areas for change required:

  • ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, proportionate and unambiguous
  • clarifying roles and responsibilities for ensuring that buildings are safe
  • improving levels of competence within the industry
  • improving the process, compliance and enforcement of regulations
  • creating a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to
  • improving testing, marketing and quality assurance of products used in construction

Dame Judith has consulted widely in developing her interim report and will continue to do so in the coming months before making her final recommendations.

She continued:

I have been deeply affected by the residents of high rise buildings I have met and I have learned so much from them. These buildings are their homes and their communities. They are proud of where they live, but their trust in the system has been badly shaken by events of the last few months. We need to rebuild that trust.

The independent review will now undertake its second phase of work – including targeted work in partnership with the sector and other stakeholders.

A summit involving government and representatives from the building industry will take place in the New Year and a final report will be published in spring 2018.

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