Breaching fire safety laws leads to suspended prison sentence

At a sentencing hearing at Inner London Crown Court last week Michael Carolan, the former leaseholder at The Good Intent in Walworth, admitted seven offences and was handed the 16-month suspended sentence after London Fire Brigade claimed the condition of the property was putting people’s lives at risk.

‘Fire trap’

London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, Neil Orbell, said: “This public house was a potential fire trap and I have no doubt that if a blaze had broken out, its occupants would have been put at serious risk.

“Those responsible for buildings have a clear legal responsibility to ensure the people living and working there are safe from fire.”

The Brigade warned other licensees that those neglecting responsibilities will face prosecution.

The Brigade was first alerted to fire safety at The Good Intent issues by Southwark Council in 2012, where they noted a host of potential hazards, including:

  • Inadequate fire detection and smoke alarms
  • Inadequate firefighting equipment
  • Inadequate fire instruction notices
  • Inadequate emergency lighting
  • Absence of fire doors
  • Trip hazards in the building’s escape routes
  • Combustible material stored in escape routes
  • Evidence that an emergency door was being kept locked
  • No viable escape route from the upper floors
  • Overloaded electrical sockets
  • Poor fire safety management and evidence of smoking in the premises
  • No fire risk assessment for the premises had been carried out

‘Putting lives at risk’

A second visit identified further fire safety breaches in the residential part of the building above the pub, which the Brigade believed to be ‘put the lives of those living there at risk’.

Fire safety officers then issued a prohibition notice preventing upper floors from being used for sleeping and living accommodation.

A follow up inspection by the Brigade found, while other residents were no longer living in the pub’s upper floors, the pub manager and one other person were still there.

‘Ignored’

Orbell continued: “In this case, not only were those responsibilities being flouted before we visited the premises, the leaseholder continued to ignore them even after we had carried out our safety inspection.

“Landlords, leaseholders and building owners should be warned that we will always prosecute if we find they are putting people’s lives at risk.”

Carolan pleaded guilty to the following offences at a hearing under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005:

  1. Failure to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment – breach of Art 9 (1).
  2. Failure to provide an adequate system of fire detection and adequate firefighting equipment –breach of Art 13(1)(a)
  3. Failure to preserve the integrity of the means of escape – breach of Art 14(2)(b)
  4. Failure to ensure that the door along the means of escape could easily and immediately be opened in an emergency – breach of Art 14(2)(f)
  5. Failure to provide an emergency plan, evacuation strategy and implement any safety drills in respect of the premises – breach of Art 15(1)(a)
  6. Failure to appoint a competent person – breach of Art 18(1)
  7. Breach of a prohibition notice

Folkestone flat fire prompts smoke alarm warning

A Folkestone resident had a lucky escape after a fire in his flat, in the early hours of this morning (22 February).

Firefighters were called to a sixth floor flat in Earls Avenue at 3.38am, where they dealt with an extensive fire in the lounge of the property.

Folkestone watch manager Vic Thorogood said: “We were faced with a substantial fire, which had spread from the sofa to the carpet and the remainder of the room, causing significant fire and a thick wall of smoke. The heat from the fire was so intense that the windows cracked.”

Crews extinguished the fire and removed the sofa and carpet from the flat. They used a thermal imaging camera to check the fire was fully out.

It is believed that the fire may have been caused by a cigarette that had accidently fallen on to the sofa, which caused a slow, smouldering fire after the resident had gone to bed.

There were no smoke alarms in the property, however the man fortunately woke up and tried to put the fire out with buckets of water, before eventually calling for help.

Watch manager Thorogood said: “I am amazed that the occupant actually survived this fire, given the huge amount of damage and the fact that there were no smoke alarms in the property. The man was so lucky to escape uninjured, as just three breaths of toxic fire smoke can render you unconscious, and if you are asleep there is a strong risk that you will never wake up.”

This incident occurred ahead of the launch of Kent Fire and Rescue Service’s (KFRS) latest fire safety campaign – ‘Unsung Heroes’ – which encourages people to make a pledge to test their smoke alarms weekly.

Vic said: “I would recommend that smoke alarms are fitted on every floor of your home and that you get into the habit of testing them weekly to ensure they will work in the unfortunate event of a fire. I would also advise residents who smoke to take extra care to ensure all cigarettes are fully stubbed out after use and disposed of safety.”

Crews fitted smoke alarms in the flat and gave the occupant some fire safety advice. Firefighters also distributed fire safety leaflets to the rest of the flats, highlighting the importance of smoke alarms and the free home safety visit service that KFRS offers.

Man rescued from fire on 13th floor of block of flats in Brighton

Ten fire engines tackled a blaze in a high rise block of flats in Montague Street, Kemp Town, Brighton.  A man had to be rescued from the 13th floor of the block. Firefighters pulled him from the blaze in a block of flats in Montague Street, Brighton, shortly after 5pm on Saturday and he was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service were called to what has been described as a “significant” fire in Montague Street, Kemp Town, at 5.14pm on Saturday.

One resident of the block said two flats had been burned out and the smoke coming out was “unbelievable”.

The authorities say everyone has been accounted for – and there are no reports of any injuries. Although the building was under guard by police officers over night for safety reasons.

Fire investigation officers from East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service are been back at the scene today to determine what caused the blaze.

Will exit from European Union affect our safety standards or reduce the claims for compensation?

Between now and the 23rd June there will undoubtedly be all manner of debate and heated discussion about whether we are better off in or out of the European Union. Should we stay or should we go?

The economic and political debate will be top of the news agenda, but what about the oft quoted “elf n safety” agenda, will the likes of Clarkson and Littlejohn use this as an opportunity to take well aimed shots at society’s march towards the “compensation culture” and try to link this to European meddling in our safety laws? 

The growth of the claims management industry has got to be significant factor in the volume of compensation claims made in the civil courts, an industry highlighted in Lord Young’s review of safety law in the UK in 2010.  In his executive summary he commented:

“The ‘no win, no fee’ system gives rise to the perception that there is no financial risk to starting litigation; indeed some individuals are given financial enticements to make claims by claims management companies”

There is a huge question as to whether the compensation culture is more a reflection on our society than any reality about our safety laws.  HSE’s  own Dame Judith Hackett DBE FREng  will no doubt touch on this during a debate in March when she will recognise that the HSE has had to fight hard to re-establish its reputation in the UK, which is partly caused by media exaggeration of stories blamed on “elf n safety” that have little to do with the prevention of death and serious injury to people at work.  Judith will also argue that managers and leaders in business must share some of the responsibility for having lost sight of the basic principles and over-bureaucratising what should be an integral part of everyone’s role.

Whatever your political persuasion and views on whether we should be in or out, it should not be forgotten that in the UK we have had safety laws designed to protect workers since the 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was passed, this early piece of safety law was promoted by Sir Robert Peel, an MP (and father of the future prime minister) who himself was a wealthy factory owner. He was concerned to see that humane standards of treatment were established for the increasing numbers of ‘pauper apprentices’ employed in factories like his own.

Followed by other industry specific pieces of domestic safety legislation through the 1800s and 1900s and after the Robens report of 1972 The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was enacted.  This enabling Act has been the underpinning law protecting workers and others for over 40 years, it is the more often than not the law that enforcers use to prosecute those who transgress.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was described as “a bold and far-reaching piece of legislation” by HSE’s first Director General, John Locke. It certainly marked a departure from the framework of prescribed and detailed regulations which was in place at the time. The Act introduced a new system based on less-prescriptive and more goal-based regulations, supported by guidance and codes of practice.  This principle has of course been extended within The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 and The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 with the duty holder having to assess risk to determine what control measures should be put in place.

While it is true that the introduction of the 6 pack of Regulations driven by a European Directive in 1992/3 introduced a swathe of additional regulations, the majority of the new duties could be argued to have been an attempt to make implied duties from the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 explicit.

While the debate about whether we should stay in or leave will rage over the coming months, UK enforcing agencies including the HSE, local authority EHOs and fire and rescue service inspecting officers will continue to apply UK legislation proportionally to ensure that the workforce and others affected by business activities are as safe as possible.

Meanwhile some claims management companies will continue to encourage the general populous to make spurious claims, feeding on the get rich quick, it wasn’t my fault, I am entitled to compensation minority.

Should we stay or should we go?  You decide.

People living in a house with no smoke alarm – or who remove the batteries – are four times more likely to die in a blaze

Shropshire’s Chief Fire Officer has revealed that smoke alarms which work are saving lives and reducing damage in house fires in the county.

Fire safety education from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service means that more people have fitted alarms which give an early alert to householders if fire breaks out, said John Redmond.

“More than half the fires we attend are out by the time we get there due to the high number of working smoke alarms and better safety education for everyone.

“Three quarters of house and flat fires start in the kitchen but early warning from smoke alarms reduces the impact.”

Highly trained staff in fire control at Shrewsbury fire HQ keep people calm and give advice to callers who dial 999 while fire engines are sent on their way.

A total of eleven people have been rescued from fire and 33 given first aid by firefighters in incidents in Shropshire since April last year, reveals a report to Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority.

Three people were led to safety, two advised to “stay put” and 82 told to leave a property where fire was reported. Firefighters cut free 42 people from a road traffic collision and gave first aid to 18 casualties at the scene. Firefighters also rescued five people from floods.

They carried out 22 other rescues including saving the life of Wem pensioner John Luce (76), whose heart had stopped when he collapsed in the back garden of his home during a garden fire last year. Firefighters used a defibrillator to bring him back to life with seconds to spare.

Rescues carried out by the county brigade which have saved lives have been calculated to have “saved” almost £44m. The average cost to the economy of a fatal road collision is £1.2m.

“We are always keen to demonstrate the value of the service to our local communities, not only in terms of the reduction of incidents that local people experience, but also to show the financial value we provide for taxpayers,” added Mr Redmond.

People living in a house with no smoke alarm – or who remove the batteries – are four times more likely to die in a blaze, say fire prevention officers, who urge all householders to fit a detector.

Manufacturing company and director fined for safety failings

HSE is reporting on a case which shares a number of similarities with the often quoted R v Associated Octel case of 1996.  A manufacturing company based in Shrewsbury and its director have been fined after an empty 45 gallon steel drum once containing flammable liquid caught fire and exploded when being cut in half.

Risks associated with such a task are clearly foreseeable not least because of the fatal outcome of earlier incidents including the  Octel case, which has been used to clarify an employer’s duties to both employees and others.

Shrewsbury Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee of SPEL Products had reported the incident, and indicated this particular method of work had been in operation for a significant period of time, and that previous incidents had occurred.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident immediately served a prohibition notice (PN) stopping the cutting of metal containers once containing highly flammable liquid or vapour with metal cutting angle grinders.

SPEL Products, of Lancaster Road, Shrewsbury, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 5(1), 6(1) and 9(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosives Atmospheres Regulations 2002, and was fined £13,666 and ordered to pay costs of £4,856.

Bryan Peacock (Director of SPEL), of Lancaster Road, Shrewsbury, was found guilty of breaching Regulation 6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosives Atmospheres Regulations 2002, and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,408.

HSE inspector David Kivlin said after the hearing: “Carrying out this type of activity in this manner is a well-known risk and there has been many incidents resulting in serious injury and death.”

Ten fire engines called to Bayswater house fire

Ten fire engines and 72 firefighters and officers tackled a fire at a house on Gloucester Square in Bayswater, W2, Friday 19th February.

Four adults left the property – a terraced house of four floors – before the arrival of the Brigade and fortunately there were no reports of any injuries.

Part of the second floor and most of the property’s mansard roof was damaged by fire. Part of a mansard roof of a neighbouring property was also damaged in the blaze.

Station Manager John Ryan who was at the scene, said: “Crews fought the fire from both sides of the property as well as using aerial appliances to tackle the blaze from above. Firefighters worked hard in challenging conditions to bring the fire under control as quickly as they could.”

Fire engines from Paddington, Kensington, Euston, Soho, West Hampstead, Lambeth, Hammersmith and North Kensington fire stations attended the incident.

The Brigade was called at 1734 and the fire was under control at 0205. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Two companies fined after director of one falls through a skylight

Picture2HSE has reported that 2 companies have been fined for safety failings after the director of one company fell through a skylight at the other company’s site.

 

Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court heard Touch Access Limited (TAL) of Bournemouth attended the site of Beagle Technology Group Limited (BTGL) to clean out roof gutters of the buildings. While carrying out this work the company director of TAL lost his balance and fell through a plastic skylight approximately fifteen feet. He sustained two broken wrists, a broken elbow, and cuts to his face.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 11 July 2013 found that TAL failed to ensure the work at height was properly planned and carried out safely.

BGTL failed to provide TAL with adequate information on the hazards and associated risks they would be exposed to in undertaking the work.

Touch Access Limited, of Wordsworth Avenue, Bournemouth, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,144.

Beagle Technology Group Limited, of Stony Lane, Christchurch, Dorset, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was fined £3,500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,144.

HSE inspector Damien Milbourne said after the hearing: “Working on roofs is a high risk activity because it involves working at height. Falls through fragile materials, such as roof lights and asbestos cement roofing sheets, account for more deaths as a result of falling from height than any other single cause.

“The risks of working on fragile roofs are well-known, but so too are the ways to manage those risks, and all parties involved with work on fragile roofs must ensure the work is correctly planned and managed to ensure the safety of all involved.”

£14,000 fine and costs for fire safety offences

A business operator has been prosecuted for failing to provide suitable fire safety arrangements for its employees at an industrial unit in Didcot.

Business World Globe Ltd and its director Mr Mohamed Osman were together ordered to pay just under £14000 after they allowed employees to work and sleep in dangerous factory conditions in Oxford.

Fire Safety Inspectors from Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service issued a Prohibition Notice restricting use of the premises after an inspection found the dangerous practices and inadequate fire safety measures to ensure the safety of the workforce.

In court Mr Osman, the company Director, admitted seven charges for seven different offences on 1st February 2016. These included, failure to risk assess and take such general fire precautions as were reasonably required to ensure the premises were safe for employees. Failure to ensure that emergency exits were kept clear at all times, so it was possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and as safely as possible. Failure to provide an adequate fire alarm and detection system, or providing employees with adequate safety training, all of which meant those present were placed at risk of death or serious injury if there were a fire.

The fines amounted to almost £9000, they were also ordered to pay costs totalling £5000, plus a victim surcharge of £126 and the Prohibition Notice remains in force.

The case was taken to court by Oxfordshire County Council on behalf of its Fire and Rescue Service.

Stuart Garner, Premises Risk and Protection Manager for Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service, is reported to have said: “The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which is enforced by the Fire Authority, places a requirement upon the responsible person, usually the building occupier, operator or owner, to firstly undertake a fire risk assessment and secondly act upon the outcomes of their significant findings. It is important that businesses not only understand why such an assessment must be initially undertaken, but also by constantly reviewing and managing their premises, how they can then assist me in creating a safer Oxfordshire.

“By correctly managing their premises and not committing fire safety offences, business operators can avoid placing the occupants at risk of possible death or serious injury in the event of fire. Thus, when the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service do undertake a routine fire safety audit of the premises, it is unlikely that such offences will be discovered and any need for legal proceedings being instigated against the responsible person is eliminated”.

Councillor Rodney Rose, the Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, who also has Cabinet responsibility for Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The penalties imposed on this company show how seriously fire safety arrangements are viewed. It is just not acceptable to put people’s lives at risk and these prosecutions will hopefully act as a deterrent to others who think they can ignore what are essential safety measures.”

Staffordshire fire and rescue service warning after chip pan sparks fire in Hanley

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is warning people of the risks involved in cooking with chip pans following a flat fire in Hanley.  Station Manager Mark Walchester said “They catch fire rapidly and, when they do, they go up in flames very quickly leaving little time for people to become aware of the situation and to leave their home. This particular gentleman had working, hard-wired smoke alarms and was able to escape. The consequences could have been far more severe had that not been the case. We would urge people to test their smoke alarms on a regular basis so they can be confident that they will activate should a blaze break out.”

The blaze was sparked by an oil-filled pan which had been left unattended on a hob at the property on Dyke Street.

Luckily, the second floor flat had hard-wired smoke alarms which alerted the male occupant to the situation. He was able to leave the property and dial 999.

The resident was treated by paramedics at the scene after suffering mild smoke inhalation. Two cats in the flat were rescued, unharmed, by firefighters.

Crews from Hanley, Newcastle, Burslem and the Aerial Ladder Platform from Longton attended the incident.

They used one hose reel jet and wore breathing apparatus when tackling the blaze which was confined to the kitchen. The room sustained smoke damage.

Station Manager Mark Walchester, who led the incident, said: “Unfortunately we are still seeing a number of incidents involving chip pan fires in Stoke-on-Trent, which are putting lives at risk unnecessarily.

“They catch fire rapidly and, when they do, they go up in flames very quickly leaving little time for people to become aware of the situation and to leave their home. This particular gentleman had working, hard-wired smoke alarms and was able to escape. The consequences could have been far more severe had that not been the case. We would urge people to test their smoke alarms on a regular basis so they can be confident that they will activate should a blaze break out.

“Our advice is to never use chip pans and never to leave any pan unattended on a lit hob. It is far safer to use oven chips or a thermostat controlled deep fat fryer which will automatically switch itself off if it reaches a certain temperature. Making these simple changes could save your life and the lives of your family.”

The first crew arrived at the incident at 3.34pm and the last left at 4.53pm. The fire has been classed as accidental.

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