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.
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.