£45,000 fines for fire safety breaches

London Fire Brigade have taken a successful prosecution against a Stratford hotel and its owner who have been ordered to pay a total of £45,000 for “serious and systemic” fire safety failures which “put staff and guests at risk”

The defendants were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Monday January 13 2020 after pleading guilty to five breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. If the fines are not paid there is the chance of a six months imprisonment.

LFB have reported that during a fire safety inspection by its officers, they found serious fire safety deficiencies including no smoke detection, numerous fire doors tied open and missing or malfunctioning door closers.

Officers also found a first floor external emergency exit route was being used to store large amounts of rubbish and was blocked along almost its entire length. It led to a gate which was locked and could not be opened by staff.

There was no fire risk assessment in place or any evidence of methodical management of fire safety and on duty staff could not explain emergency procedures.

Following the visit, an Enforcement Notice was served the defendant was interviewed under caution in relation to the deficiencies. The Brigade then took the prosecution forward to court.

The Brigade’s Assistance Commissioner for Fire Safety, Dan Daly was reported to have commented:

“A fire in a building with serious fire safety failings such as those our inspectors uncovered could have been lethal and the owner has put staff and guests at very real risk by failing to maintain standards.

“If occupants had tried to escape in the event of a fire, they would have found their escape route compromised and unusable, trapping them in the building.

“It was simply a matter of luck that there hadn’t been a fire at the hotel. There is no excuse for leaving people’s safety to chance, especially when information is so readily available to those with responsibility for safety in buildings to understand what their duties are and ensure they comply with the law.

“Whilst we are keen to work with building owners to help them meet their safety responsibilities, we won’t hesitate to prosecute and seek the highest appropriate penalties where we find they are not taking those responsibilities seriously.”

Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings Given Further Advice

In advance of a proposed new Fire Safety Bill MHCLG has published updated guidance for building owners of multi storey, multi occupied residential buildings.

The new advice appears to reflect concerns that the Building Control regime is flawed and has failed to ensure the safety of the built environment.

Building owners should act now to follow the guidance as there will be an expectation on the part of Enforcing Authorities, regulators, insurers, mortgage lenders that action has been taken.

This coincides with the start of Phase 2 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

 

HSE has stated that duties to protect the health and safety of people affected by your work will not change with Brexit.

On 31st January 2020 the reality of BREXIT will be with us.   Whatever your view and your position on the rights and wrongs of the Country’s decision to leave the European Union, and despite the last 3 years of tense and at times fanatical arguments on both sides, it is happening.

It is perhaps interesting to note that HSE has made a clear and concise statement on its web pages about the impact of BREXIT on UK safety standards.  Their position is that there will be no change.

They have made minor amendments to regulations to remove EU references but legal requirements will remain the same as they are now. Health and safety standards will be maintained.

Your duties to protect the health and safety of people affected by your work will not change with BREXIT.

 

Phase 1 Grenfell Tower Inquiry Recommendations for Responsible Persons

At the latter part of last year the Phase 1 report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was published.  While much of the media attention at the time was on the detail around the response to the incident by the London Fire Brigade and others.  Contained within the report were important recommendations that all those with a responsibility for building safety should make themselves familiar with.

In particular those classed as The Responsible Person, as defined by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 must ensure that they are aware of the recommendations contained within Chapter 33 of the report.  It is highly likely that some or all of these recommendations will at some point either become part of revised guidance, or become part of primary legislation.

Whilst a number of the recommendations are specific to high rise buildings, a number apply to all residential buildings.

The full Phase 1 report can be accessed via the Inquiry web pages

We have set out below the extracts from Chapter 33 which include the specific recommendations.

That the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law: a. to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date plans in both paper and electronic form of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems; b. to ensure that the building contains a premises information box, the contents of which must include a copy of the up-to-date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by the fire and rescue services. I also recommend, insofar as it is not already the case, that all fire and rescue services be equipped to receive and store electronic plans and to make them available to incident commanders and control room managers.

That the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular inspections of any lifts that are designed to be used by firefighters in an emergency and to report the results of such inspections to their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals; b. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular tests of the mechanism which allows firefighters to take control of the lifts and to inform their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals that they have done so.

There were no plans in place for evacuating Grenfell Tower should the need arise. I therefore recommend: a. that the government develop national guidelines for carrying out partial or total evacuations of high-rise residential buildings, such guidelines to include the means of protecting fire exit routes and procedures for evacuating persons who are unable to use the stairs in an emergency, or who may require assistance (such as disabled people, older people and young children); b. that fire and rescue services develop policies for partial and total evacuation of high-rise residential buildings and training to support them; c. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to draw up and keep under regular review evacuation plans, copies of which are to be provided in electronic and paper form to their local fire and rescue service and placed in an information box on the premises; d. that all high-rise residential buildings (both those already in existence and those built in the future) be equipped with facilities for use by the fire and rescue services enabling them to send an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building by means of sounders or similar devices; e. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised (such as persons with reduced mobility or cognition); f. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEPs in the premises information box; g. that all fire and rescue services be equipped with smoke hoods to assist in the evacuation of occupants through smoke-filled exit routes.

That in all high-rise buildings floor numbers be clearly marked on each landing within the stairways and in a prominent place in all lobbies in such a way as to be visible both in normal conditions and in low lighting or smoky conditions.

That the owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not it is a high-rise building) be required by law to provide fire safety instructions (including instructions for evacuation) in a form that the occupants of the building can reasonably be expected to understand, taking into account the nature of the building and their knowledge of the occupants.

  1. that the owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high-rise buildings) carry out an urgent inspection of all fire doors to ensure that they comply with applicable legislative standards;
  2. that the owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high-rise buildings) be required by law to carry out checks at not less than three-monthly intervals to ensure that all fire doors are fitted with effective self-closing devices in working order.

Effective fire doors are particularly important in those high-rise buildings that are exposed to an increased risk of fire because the external walls currently incorporate unsafe cladding. Among the experts, views differ about the desirability of requiring existing fire doors to be brought up to modern standards and if necessary be replaced with doors that comply with the requirements currently in force in relation to new buildings. However, the importance of fire doors in maintaining compartmentation and protecting parts of the building other than that in which a fire has occurred is plain and in my view justifies the expense that would inevitably be incurred. I therefore recommend that all those who have responsibility in whatever capacity for the condition of the entrance doors to individual flats in high-rise residential buildings, whose external walls incorporate unsafe cladding, be required by law to ensure that such doors comply with current standards.

 

The Government has announced its plans to implement new measures which go faster and further to improve building safety.

The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new measures which go faster and further to improve building safety.

The Government have set out their priorities in relation to building safety

  • Government committed to delivering the biggest change in building safety for a generation
  • Housing Secretary announces the new Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, to be established immediately
  • Government sets out clarified and consolidated advice for building owners, proposal to extend cladding ban, update on fire sprinklers
  • Response to Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry published
  • Building owners who have not taken action to make their buildings safe will be named from next month

The slow pace of improving building safety standards will not be tolerated, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick warned on 20th January 2020, as he announced measures that go further and faster to ensure residents are safe in their homes.

To give effective oversight of the design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings – a regulator will be at the heart of a new regime – and established as part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Building owners are responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe and where there is no clear plan for remediation, the government will work with local authorities to support them in their enforcement options.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Jenrick also made clear that from next month he will start to name building owners where remediation has not started to remove unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding from their buildings.

While government action in this area has led to considerable progress to remove unsafe cladding, there are still some building owners who have been too slow to act.

Mr Jenrick confirmed the government will consult on extending the ban on combustible materials to buildings below 18 metres and we will seek views on how risks are assessed within existing buildings to inform future policy.

The package comes as the Prime Minister has written to the chairman of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, updating him on the government’s response to Phase 1.

The Prime Minister and Housing Secretary also met with bereaved, survivors and residents of the Grenfell Tower fire in Downing Street last week.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:

The government is committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation.

Progress on improving building safety needs to move significantly faster to ensure people are safe in their homes and building owners are held to account.

That’s why today I’m announcing a major package of reforms, including establishing the Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive to oversee the new regime and publishing consolidated guidance for building owners.

Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.

The package of measures includes:

Building Safety Regulator

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will quickly begin to establish the new regulator in shadow form immediately, ahead of it being fully established, following legislation.

It will raise building safety and performance standards, including overseeing a new, more stringent regime for higher-risk buildings.

With a strong track record of working with industry and other regulators to improve safety, they will draw on experience and the capabilities of other regulators to implement the new regime. Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a Board to oversee the transition.

Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, Martin Temple said:

We are proud the government has asked HSE to establish the new Building Safety Regulator.

HSE’s vast experience of working in partnership with industry and others to improve lives will ensure people are confident the creation of the new regulator is in good hands.

Advice on building safety for multi-storey, multi-occupied buildings

Recent high-rise fires, including that in a block of student flats in Bolton in November 2019, have highlighted that many building owners have still not taken sufficient measures to ensure the safety of residents in buildings at all heights.

The government appointed independent expert advisory panel (IEAP) has clarified and updated advice to building owners on actions they should take to ensure their buildings are safe, with a focus on their external wall systems, commonly referred to as cladding.

This consolidated advice simplifies the language, consolidates previous advice into one place, and – vitally – makes clear that building owners need to do more to address safety issues on residential buildings under 18 metres.

It additionally reflects the independent panel view that cladding material comprised of ACM (and other metal composites) with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be on residential buildings of any height and should be removed.

A call for evidence will also be published, seeking views on the assessment of risks within existing buildings. This important step will help to gather ideas and lead to research which will provide a firm evidence base to guide decisions for both existing buildings and future regulatory regimes.

Fire doors

The consolidated advice also makes clear the actions building owners should take in relation to fire doors.

The government welcomes the commitment by the Association of Composite  Door  Manufacturers to work with building owners to remediate their doors which failed tests.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that this commitment is followed through.

Remediation of buildings with ACM cladding

To speed up remediation, we will be appointing a construction expert to review remediation timescales and identify what can be done to improve pace in the private sector.

To ensure cost is not a barrier to remediation, the government is considering different options to support the remediation of buildings. We are examining options to mitigate costs for individuals or provide alternative financing routes.

Combustible cladding ban

The government has also launched a consultation into the current combustible cladding ban, including proposals to lower the 18 metre height threshold to at least 11 metres.

Sprinklers

The government’s consultation on sprinklers and other measures for new build flats concluded on 28 November 2019.

We have proposed lowering the height threshold for sprinkler requirements in new buildings and will set out detailed proposals on how the government will deliver the technical review of fire guidance in February.

Fire Safety Bill

The government has also set out further details of the upcoming Fire Safety Bill being introduced to Parliament, which we set out in more detail in our response to the Public Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations.

This will clarify the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – ‘the Fire Safety Order’ – requiring residential building owners to fully consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and front doors to individual flats.

The changes will make it easier to enforce where building owners have not remediated unsafe ACM by complementing the powers under the Housing Act.

 

It’s Fire Door Safety Week

This week is Fire Door Safety Week. This annual event is aimed at raising awareness of the vitally important role played by fire doors in reducing risk and keeping people safe.

The campaign, is run annually by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), BWF-Certifire scheme, the newly formed BWF Fire Door Alliance and the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) and works closely with the Home Office’s National Fire Safety campaign (formerly Fire Kills).

In particular the week’s aims are to:

  • To raise awareness of the critical role of fire doors, drawing attention to specific issues such as poor installation and maintenance.
  • To encourage building owners and users to check the operation and condition of their fire doors and to report those that aren’t satisfactory.
  • To link together the initiatives of many organisations with common interests in the fire door and passive fire protection industries.
  • To engage and educate people, helping the whole building industry and every property owner to understand the correct specification, supply, installation, operation, inspection and maintenance of fire doors.

To learn more about correctly specified and installed fire doors take a look at this short video.   

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.”

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