Enforcement notice details wide-ranging fire safety breaches at CLG headquarters

Info4fire have today reveal that the London headquarters of Communities and Local Government – the government department that steers fire safety policy in England and Wales – has been served with an enforcement notice under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

In a damming critique of the building’s fire safety arrangements, an inspector from the enforcing authority, the Crown Premises Inspection Group, states:

“The concepts of ‘responsible’ and ‘competent’ persons, and the duties placed upon those persons under the Order, appear not to be understood within CLG premises”.

The notice, served on 16 February on the then secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, John Denham, details numerous shortcomings in fire safety measures and management at CLG’s Eland House premises in Victoria. It lists alleged breaches of 13 of the 15 Articles of the Fire Safety Order that impose duties on the CLG, as the responsible person, including:

Introducing a fire load in the atrium which was not considered in the building’s fire engineered design, by installing a cafeteria which, it is said, may lead to “uncontrolled fire spread throughout the building”
An unsuitable and insufficient fire risk assessment
Failing to nominate competent persons to help the responsible person discharge his duties
Failure to adequately maintain the fire alarm system, interconnections between fire safety systems, and smoke vents throughout the building
Lack of evidence of adequate training and provision of essential fire safety information to staff

In an apparent reference to other CLG premises, the inspector goes on to say: “At present there is a lack of national policy, guidance and ownership of fire safety management across the CLG estate.”
The fire engineering at Eland House had been compromised in the atrium
Details of the inspection and the enforcement notice have come to light under a Freedom of Information request made to CLG by an individual linked to the fire safety industry.

“Unacceptable” policy
Other deficiencies found include an “unacceptable” policy that no one should use portable fire extinguishers in the building; the inability of the building to support the phased evacuation strategy; no adequate arrangements to ensure visitors and contractors are accounted for in an evacuation; and shortcomings in the means of escape for the number of people likely to occupy the building.

Although Eland House is categorised as Crown premises, it is still subject to safety legislation including the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, and enforcement procedures are similar to those of other premises. However, Crown Immunity means the responsible person cannot actually be prosecuted for offences.

The enforcement notice also reveals that the contracted facilities company, having some control of the premises, was sent a copy of the notice. However, it makes it clear that although the company is considered a ‘nominated competent person’, they had not been provided with sufficient means to undertake this role.

Responding to the revelation of the enforcment notice, a CLG spokesman said:

“Following the remodelling of parts of the interior of Eland House, the Department requested that the Crown Premises Inspection Group (CPIG) audit the facility to review the impact that the changes had on the fire safety of the building. The CPIG made a number of recommendations in the form of a Crown Enforcement Notice which was issued on 16 February 2010. The Department has accepted these recommendations which are now in the process of being fully implemented.”

The enforcement notice is dated 16 February 2010 and relates to a fire safety audit which was carried out on 26 November 2009. Ironically, the Crown Premises Inspection Group comes under the remit of the government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, whose unit is itself based at Eland House.

In January, it was revealed that the Fire Service College – an executive agency of CLG – had not carried out a valid fire risk assessment at the time of the fire which destroyed an appliance bay at its Moreton in Marsh premises.

£130,000 fine after breaches of fire safety legislation.

The owner of a timber yard has been ordered to pay a total of £130,300 after pleading guilty to several breaches of fire safety legislation.

Paul Ashley, of P and S Ashley Timberworks, in Cheshire, was found guilty of eight offenses against the Fire Safety Order at the Cheshire Crown Court on 11 May.

He was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay Cheshire Fire and Rescue service £50,300 in costs after repeatedly refusing to carry out fire safety measures.

Despite being visited on several occasions by fire safety officers, the first time in February 2008, Mr Ashley failed to provide a suitable fire alarm or proper means of escape. He also failed to implement a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment.

Mark Cashin, deputy chief fire officer, said: “This is an excellent result. Fire safety is a key part of good business management and Mr Ashley showed little or no regard for the safety of his employees or the people living and working around his premises.”

Secret report reveals university buildings could breach fire regulations

A ‘secret’ database showing the poor condition of many university halls of residence and non-residential buildings – including in some cases those deemed ‘inoperable’ because they are in breach of fire regulations – has been published by the Guardian newspaper.

The database has been the subject of a two-year legal tussle by the newspaper, which ended when an information tribunal ruled that it was in the public interest to release the data.

The information – held by the Higher Education Funding Council for England – reveals that scores of university halls of residence and other buildings were judged “at serious risk of major failure or breakdown” and “unfit for purpose”. At the most extreme, these buildings could break fire regulations, have leaks and be subject to rot.

According to the Guardian, the database shows that more than 90% of higher education establishments had at least 10% of their building stock judged below the “sound and operationally safe” category”. One in 10 institutions had at least 10% of their estate categorised as inoperable and at serious risk of major breakdown.

Universities respond saying they have invested many millions of pounds in their buildings since the assessments were made two years ago.

Read the full Guardian report here

Leicester company fined for huge fire risk

A Leicester haulage company has been prosecuted for creating a massive fire risk by illegally storing huge quantities of highly flammable aerosols.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the firm had not properly managed the risks associated with storing large amounts of aerosol products at their Hilltop Industrial Estate site in Leicestershire.

A.M Widdowson & Son Ltd of Mill Lane Industrial Estate pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6(2) of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH) and Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at Coalville Magistrates Court.

The company were fined a total of £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,900.

The court heard that the company stored large amounts of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) for around seven months. It failed to notify the authorities of its operations on site, did not complete a risk assessment and then failed to implement many good practices recognised by industry.

HSE Inspector, James Wright, said:

“The arrangements this company had in place for the storage of aerosol products fell well below what HSE would expect to find.

“On this occasion, with the amount of LPG being stored on site, there was a real risk of a major fire, which would have posed a threat to employees on site and those in the surrounding area.

“The company also failed to notify the HSE that they were operating a site which came under the COMAH Regulations.

“This case should serve as a reminder to all operators of sites warehousing aerosol products – where there are serious failures to implement suitable arrangements for managing the risks from LPG, HSE will not hesitate to prosecute.”

Landlord fined for fire safety law breaches

A landlord has been ordered to pay over £20,000 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to breaches of fire safety legislation.

City of Westminster magistrates’ court fined the landlord £10,150 for seven breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The prosecution followed inspections of the property at 23 Streatham Common North Side in London on 17 April 2007 and 3 October 2007.
London Fire Brigade said the breaches included no fire safety procedures in place or a way of informing tenants about fire safety arrangements, storage blocking an escape route and smoke alarms which had been removed or had low batteries inside them. There was also no fire risk assessment for the premises.

An enforcement notice was served on the premises highlighting the work that needed to be carried out. Fire safety inspectors revisited the property on 3 October 2007 and found that that the notice had not been complied with.

Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Regulation, Steve Turek, said: “Housing providers like the ‘Responsible Person’ in this case have to carry out a fire risk assessment and even more importantly act upon its findings in a timely manner. Landlords have to know their responsibilities to protect and inform their residents if a fire breaks out. The result of not taking appropriate action can have very serious consequences.”

Construction site fire spreads to neighbouring homes

Around 150 firefighters have been tackling a large fire

which engulfed the whole of a construction site and quickly spread to neighbouring blocks of maisonettes in Peckham, south London early this morning.

Around 310 people were evacuated from their homes and moved to emergency accommodation as firefighters tackled the fire, which started at around 4.30 am.

There are reports that four people were taken to hospital suffering from minor injuries and smoke inhalation.

A London Fire Brigade spokesman told the telegraph.co.uk: “The fire seems to have started on a large building site and has now spread to some nearby maisonettes and a pub. So we are dealing with lots of scenes of fire, which is making tackling it very difficult. It seems to have spread very rapidly.”

A local resident told BBC News that she woke to see a total blaze from the construction site across the road. “There was flying debris all over the place and there were cars ablaze and we were told to get out of the area.”

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Record £400,000 fine for retailer’s fire safety breaches

New Look has been fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £136,052 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of fire safety legislation, following a serious fire at its Oxford Street store in London.

Thirty five fire engines and around 150 firefighters attended the fire on 26 April 2007, when around 450 people form the store and surrounding premises were evacuated. The first call to the fire service did not come until an office worker in an adjacent building took action, and the delay meant that the fire had already broken through the second floor windows when firefighters arrived. Despite the building’s fire alarm sounding, the alarm was reset on at least one occasion, said London Fire Brigade.
Crews remained on the scene for the next three days and a section of Oxford Street was closed to traffic and the public for two days. The cause of the fire was never established and the store was subsequently demolished.
One charge to which New Look pleaded guilty was for an inadequate fire risk assessment which was found to have a number of flaws, including no record of the appropriate procedures to be taken during a fire alarm. Another breach was insufficient staff training, which led to a delayed evacuation of the premises. This lack of training, said LFB, also led to staff evacuating around 150 people through the main entrance which was directly underneath the fire on the second floor.
Other alleged breaches taken into account included the absence of an interface between the swipe card system and the fire alarm panel which would have deactivated the doors. In addition, green emergency door release units were fitted on the wrong side of the basement doors.
Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Councillor Brian Coleman, said: “Good business management includes taking responsibility for fire safety, knowing the law and acting on it. This conviction shows that large companies are not exempt from prosecution and that London Fire Brigade will take action when businesses do not take their fire safety responsibilities seriously. Failure to comply with the law can, as this case has shown, result in a substantial fine.”
Sentencing of New Look took place at Southwark Crown Court on 25 November 2009.