Brigade’s safety warnings after four house fires in north Essex in one week

The East Anglian Daily Times has reported that two households had lucky escapes after fires in Frinton and Colchester at the weekend, prompting a warning from fire chiefs for people to check their smoke alarms.

The kitchen of the first-floor flat in Connaught Avenue, Frinton, above a bakery, was destroyed in a blaze sparked by a faulty fridge-freezer at 6.50am yesterday.

Leading Firefighter Anthony Clement said: “There was a smoke alarm in the flat but it had no batteries.

“The two occupants were very lucky because they were woken up by the alarm from the bakery below.

“The kitchen fire would have cut off their escape from the property, if they had not been woken. They were very fortunate.”

Two fire crews from the town extinguished the blaze using three jets by 8.27am.

The incident came two days after a fire in Harsnett Road, Colchester, believed to have been caused by a mobile phone overheating under a quilt, “destroyed” a bedroom.

Two fire engines were called to the semi-detached house at 6.40pm on Friday. The blaze was put out shortly after 7.20pm.

Sub officer Stephen Smith said: “There were no smoke alarms inside the property, which could have prevented such a substantial fire. The rear bedroom of the first floor was destroyed by the fire.

“Fortunately, one of the occupiers smelt the fire. Had this been late at night, it could have been a completely different outcome.”

Essex County Fire & Rescue Service (ECFRS) has also issued warnings about candles and rechargeable batteries in the past week after two other fires in north Essex.

A bungalow in Lavender Walk, Jaywick, also had a bedroom damaged on Friday night in a fire caused by a candle.

Officers are urging people not to leave Lithium Polymer, or LiPo, batteries, unattended when charging or overcharged after one of them inside a remote control for a toy car was thought to be behind a blaze in Chapel Hill, Braintree, which left a family of four homeless last Monday.

LiPo batteries can store more power than traditional batteries and are now used in many toys and gadgets, but ECFRS warn they are more volatile and can explode if mishandled.

New sentencing guidelines are now in force

Following the Sentencing Council’s publication of the definitive sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety offences on 3rd November 2015, the guidelines came into force on 1st February 2016 and apply to any case sentenced in courts in England and Wales.


Described by some as the most dramatic change to health and safety legislation since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act in 1974, the guidelines have been introduced to give courts comprehensive guidance for these offences. They introduce a structured nine step approach that the Court should follow, so as to calculate sentences.  This involves plugging culpability and harm factors into a series of tables to reach recommended starting point fines, as well as ranges of fines above and below the starting points.

They can involve highly complex cases that do not frequently come before the courts and therefore the Sentencing Council decided that existing guidance should be expanded and revised to ensure that fair and proportionate sentences are given to offenders.

It has been stated that in some cases, the guidelines will result in higher penalties, although the council does not have any intention that the guideline should increase fines across the board, or that they will be significantly higher in the majority of cases to those currently imposed.

However, large organisations that have been convicted of the most serious offences, where they have flagrantly breached the law and created a very high risk of serious harm, or where serious harm has actually been caused, can expect to receive a fine proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to their financial means.

Fatal high rise fire should be ‘wake up call’ says Judge

It has been widely reported that housing manager Lewisham Homes has been fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £23,407 prosecution costs for breaking fire safety laws following a fatal fire in a Deptford tower block in which two women died.

Lewisham Homes were sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on Friday (29 January) after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to (1) failing to properly maintain fire doors; and (2) failing to review an existing fire risk assessment (carried out in 2008)

‘Wake up call’ for high rise safety

Sentencing the housing manager, His Honour Judge Justice Christopher Hehir said our successful prosecution by should act as a “wake up call”, which highlighted the risks of not maintaining fire safety features in residential high rise buildings.

He also stated that had Lewisham Homes been a profit making company and not a not-for-profit organisation the fine would have been considerably higher.

Lewisham Homes is an Arms Length Management Organisation, which manages a significant proportion of the housing stock owned by the London Borough of Lewisham

We brought the prosecution under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 after an investigation carried out by our fire safety officers following the blaze on 4 February 2011.

Over 100 firefighters tackled fatal blaze

Over 100 firefighters were called to the fire at Marine Tower on Abinger Grove in Deptford which started in a flat on the 16th floor. Crews rescued two women from another flat on the same floor but sadly both were pronounced dead at the scene.

The fire was started deliberately and in 2012 Sandra Clarke, a resident in the flats, was prosecuted and convicted of two counts of manslaughter at Woolwich Crown Court.

Investigation revealed serious safety failings

The investigation by fire safety officers revealed serious safety failings relating to the failure to maintain fire doors, which directly contributed to the spread of the fire.

The flat in which the fire started was fitted with a metal security door which prevented  the existing fire door behind it from being closed.

The severity of the fire and the lack of protection between the flat where the fire started and the building’s communal areas meant fire and smoke rapidly entered the lobby and also the adjacent flat in which the two women who died were trapped.

Stark reminder to maintain vital safety features says fire safety chief

Speaking after the sentencing our Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Neil Orbell said: “Living in a high rise building is not more dangerous than living in a house but this tragic incident is a stark reminder of the potentially lethal consequences of failing to maintain the vital safety features, such as fire doors, which are built into them to give you protection from fire.

“Sadly in the case of Marine Tower, this life saving engineering was not maintained, causing fire and smoke to spread rapidly into the lobby area and ultimately into a flat where two women, trapped by the fire, tragically died.

“I absolutely agree with the Judge. This prosecution should act as a ‘wake up call’ and send an urgent message to all housing providers to ensure the fire safety features in their buildings are properly maintained.

“If they are not, housing providers, managers, landlords and building owners should all be warned that we will not hesitate to prosecute if we find they are putting people’s lives at risk.”

London Fire Brigade are offering tenants free alarms after landlords ‘ignore’ new law

London Fire Brigade are offering tenants in the capital’s privately rented properties free smoke alarms because they fear some ‘rogue’ landlords are putting lives at risk by ignoring new laws.

From October last year it became law for private landlords to fit smoke alarms on each floor of their rental properties and carbon monoxide alarms in rooms containing solidSmoke alarm fuel burners or face a £5,000 fine.

To help landlords meet the new regulations around smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, the Government made a limited number available for free from fire and rescue services, including London Fire Brigade.

The offer specifically targeted landlords in those areas most at risk from fire.

Landlords ‘ignoring’ alarm offer

But LFB are concerned some rogue landlords in areas of the capital most at risk from fire are not only ignoring the new legislation, but also our free alarm offer, putting those vulnerable tenants in danger.

Since the offer was introduced for ‘at risk’ properties in July last year, only 4,266 privately rented homes that qualify for free alarms in London, have been allocated them.

Some of the capital’s most at risk residents, such as the elderly and those with mobility and mental health issues – especially those who are smokers – live in privately rented accommodation and the new laws are designed to make it safer and save lives.

Private renters less likely to have working alarms

While overall smoke alarm ownership in the UK stands at around 90 per cent, those living in private rented homes are far less likely to have a working smoke alarm.

National statistics show people are four more times likely to die in a fire in the home if there is no smoke alarm and over the next ten years it is estimated the new laws will result in around 230 fewer deaths and nearly 6,000 less injuries.

Free alarm offer opened up to tenants

LFB are now calling on tenants living in private accommodation to apply for free alarms.

London Fire Brigade’s Dave Brown, Director of Operations said: “Unfortunately the private rented sector is an area where some of the capital’s more unscrupulous landlords operate and fire safety is not always top of their agenda.

“The properties they rent often don’t contain vital safety features like fire doors and smoke alarms, and this can put lives at serious risk if a fire breaks out.

“Despite offering private landlords in London’s most at risk areas free smoke alarms, very few have come forward to take us up on the offer.

“If you have already reminded your landlord about the new legislation and they still haven’t provided you with alarms we would urge tenants to apply to the Brigade to see if they are eligible for them.”

LFB have now expanded and extended our free alarm offer into 2016 in a bid to reach those people most vulnerable to fire.

Landlords renting properties in those at risk areas are still able to apply for alarms but our offer is now also open to the capital’s most vulnerable tenants.

Company prosecuted after Sidcup fire in which woman, 91, was taken to hospital

A fire in Sidcup sheltered accommodation block, which injured a 91-year-old woman, has led to one of the UK’s largest property service groups being prosecuted for breaking safety laws.

Four engines and over 20 firefighters were called to the blaze at Milton Lodge, part of the Countrywide Plc Group, which happened in April 2011.

On Monday (February 1) Countrywide Residential Lettings Ltd were given a £19,720 bill at Bexleyheath Magistrates Court.

They rescued the pensioner from her flat, where the fire started, and she was taken to hospital suffering from serious smoke inhalation as well as slight burns.

Two other elderly residents were also treated for smoke inhalation.

Once the flames were extinguished, safety officers from London Fire Brigade(LFB) carried out an inspection of the building – and raised a number of concerns.

These included failing to properly protect a staircase from fire, failing to maintain fire doors, fire doors being left wedged open, and failing to maintain smoke vents.

Countrywide were served with an enforcement notice in May, with a legal requirement to fix the breaches.

However, the company failed to address the issues – and LFB were left with no option but to prosecute.

The company was fined £5,600, and ordered to pay £14,000 prosecution costs to the Brigade and a £120 victim surcharge – a total bill of £19,720.

LFB’s assistant commissioner Neil Orbell said: “We are talking about very simple issues here that would have been very easy to resolve, but time and again Countrywide failed to comply with our legal Enforcement Notice.

“We were left with no option but to prosecute.

“This is a sheltered block for vulnerable older people so it beggar’s belief that anyone would not immediately address issues which could compromise their safety.

“I hope this successful prosecution serves as a reminder that fire safety can be a life or death issue and building owners, managers, leaseholders and landlords take it seriously at all times.

“If we find they are not we will not hesitate to prosecute them.

“The case also highlights the importance of carrying out a proper fire risk assessment and of employing someone who is qualified and competent to carry it out.”

Emergency work carried out at Woking care home after safety measures deemed ‘inadequate’

Local news source Get Surrey has reported that blocked fire escapes and insufficient  numbers of staff trained in fire safety were just some of the failings identified at Avens Court Nursing Home in Pyrford.

Inspectors found the fire precautions in a Woking care home so bad that emergency safety work had to be undertaken to avoid residents being moved out that day.

Blocked fire escapes and inadequate numbers of staff trained in fire safety were just some of the failings identified at Avens Court Nursing Home in Pyrford, following visits by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in November and December.

Dusty premises and ‘soiled’ curtains were also criticised in the report, which rated the home on Broomcroft Drive as ‘requiring improvement’.  The safety of the service was branded ‘inadequate’.

The report said: “The inspection was carried out over three days because on the first day we identified serious failings with regard to the health and safety of the premises.

“In particular, we had significant concerns about the way fire safety was being managed.

“For example, we found that fire escapes were blocked, not enough staff were trained in fire safety and actions from the fire risk assessments were outstanding.

“We therefore spoke with the local fire service and requested that they visit the service with us.

“The conclusion of the fire inspection was that there were multiple failings in the prevention, detection and evacuation systems at the service.

“As a result, emergency work had to be carried out that day in order to allow people to remain living in the service.”

The company which owns Avens Court, Surrey Rest Homes Ltd, this week refused to comment on the CQC report, which also pointed out maintenance failures which put residents at risk.

“For example, window restrictors were not robust enough to protect the people living in the service from the risk of falling out of them,” according to the inspectors.

“This had been highlighted to the provider in 2014, but no action had been taken to address the risk.”

Aside from safety issues, the state of the premises was another area of criticism, with the report highlighting cracked windows, damaged paintwork and holes in ceilings, with stained and damaged carpets and other soft furnishings.

“We found that floors in communal areas were stained and unclean underfoot,” said the report.

“The surfaces in bedrooms were thick with dust and there was no plan to clean hard-to-reach areas such as skirtings.”

Inspectors also raised concerns over staffing levels and the effect it had on residents’ dignity and the stimulation they received, with the report noting: “Staff did not always take appropriate steps to ensure the privacy of those people sharing a bedroom.

“Similarly, when staff forgot to shut the door when supporting one person to use the toilet.”

However, the inspectors said that staff and most relatives were confident that the new manager, who took over last August, was including them in the decisions being made to improve the quality of care.

They noted that steps were being taken to provide a more ‘personalised approach’ to care.

The inspectors have now set out a list of regulation breaches that the Avens Court will be expected to address.

The home has been ordered to send the CQC a report outlining what action it is taking.

Fine after dangerous work over West End street

It has been reported by shponline and elsewhere that a company which manufactures and installs windows has been fined £36,000 after carrying out unsafe work in the West End of London . A member of the public alerted the HSE after it became clear that there were no measures to prevent workers falling eight metres and after part of a window was dropped onto the public area below.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard Ideal Glazing (Euro) Ltd carried out window installation work at Aldford House, Park Street, London, between 19 and 20 January 2015 that put their workers and members of the public at risk of suffering serious injuries or a fatality.

It was heard in court how the company had:

  • failed to provide equipment such as scaffolding which would have prevented the workers and window falling;
  • not provided workers with any formal training and no one was appointed to supervise the work;
  • not sufficiently assessed the risks associated wth the work;
  • failed to invest in equipment for working at height; and
  • a health and management system which relied entirely on the company’s managing directorn Mr Rashinda Joshi, despite his lack of relevant training and experience.

The court heard the company had previously been given advice by HSE in connection with work at height and that an audit by Ideal Glazing’s bank had previously identified a range of relevant health and safety failings. The court heard that neither written warning was heeded by the firm.

HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers is reported to have commented after the hearing: “Ideal Glazing (Euro) Ltd put the lives of workers and members of the public at risk. People should be able to walk down a pavement without being exposed to the risk of a heavy window falling eight-metres onto them.”

“The company’s standards were appalling, and this was particularly unacceptable as previous warnings had been blatantly disregarded.”

“This is a case where equipment such as scaffolding was not provided. It’s vital that law abiding companies have confidence they will not lose work to others who underquote them because they take shortcuts at the expense of safety”

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