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Fire safety: Who is regulating the regulators?

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Kurt Barling | 16:46 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Lakanal House fire 2

Strange how a story can create ripples beyond the expectations of the story teller.

When BBC London reported on the absence of Fire Risk Assessments in hundreds of London tower blocks, a frenzy of public landlord activity seems to have taken place.

It has now come to light that that frenzy extended to at least one public building owned by the Crown; quite possibly others too.

On February 16th this year the HQ of the Communities and Local Government Ministry (CLG), Eland House, was served with an enforcement notice under the Fire Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. A freedom of information request from info4fire.com drew this one out of the woodwork.

There is a certain, 'so what?' factor about this; until you consider the statutory responsibilities of CLG.

The Lakanal fire tragedy in July 2009, where six people died, exposed serious weaknesses in the fire safety regime covering tower blocks and other multiple occupancy buildings.

The government department responsible for making sure these fire safety rules worked, you guessed it, CLG.

Not only that. Government buildings are not regulated in the same way as other London buildings which are the responsibility, in fire safety terms, of the London Fire Brigade.

The Crown Premises Inspection Group is the body making sure that public servants working in these buildings are safe from incineration. The man that group reports to is Sir Ken Knight.

This is the very same man, who as the government's Chief Fire Adviser, reported after the Lakanal fire that:

"Consideration should be given to conducting a review as to how the 'responsible person' under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, can be assured that their assessment of risk is suitable and sufficient, particularly where the premises is of a higher risk."

The breaches found at CLG are not insignificant according to the inspector who filed the report.

In a note to the boss, former Secretary of State John Denham, the inspector outlined the risk that the "Crown" may be putting its employees at a greater risk than "non-Crown employees".

In short, the Secretary of State may himself have been failing in his responsibilities as a "responsible person" under his own fire regulations for protecting those people working at Eland House.

It certainly wasn't clear to the inspector who the responsible person was. Sounds familiar, mightily embarrassing you might think.

Lakanal House fire

Ironically unlike New Look and Shell who have previously been fined six-figure sums for breaching the same fire regulations, CLG has Crown immunity from prosecution. No danger then of a very public furore arising out of a court case.

The enforcement order identified what it said were breaches of 13 out of 15 articles in the Fire Safety Order which were the responsibility of CLG.

It found that in the building's atrium fire engineering to stop the spread of a blaze had been crucially compromised. It noted that by installing a cafeteria after the building was completed no-one seems to have considered the possibility of "uncontrolled fire spread throughout the building."

The inspector also found there was an unsuitable and inadequate Fire Risk Assessment. No evidence of adequate training of officials. Crucially, in an echo of the problems Sir Ken Knight identified in Southwark, there was no clearly nominated responsible person to make sure fire safety regulations were adhered to.

They say a fish rots from the head first.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Kurt's comments being both timely and pertinent highlight another aspect in that the previous administration introduced major legislation in the form of the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order without the necessary fanfare and education it deserved. When even the department responsible for its implementation doesn't understand its own responsibilites (and clearly doesn't understand what a fire risk assessment is and how to do one)what chance has the rest of UKPLC got - the majority of which is not free from prosecution. Compare this non-campaign for the RRO to the yearly Asbestos Awareness campaign and even presently running campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits. Ignorance may be bliss but as we know Fire costs lives.

    Graham Ferris
    General Manager : IFEDA
    (the voice ofthe independent fire trade)

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Fire Risk Assessments
    25 Years Experience in running a Guest House


    “You’ll have to pull down that beautiful moulded Victorian ceiling and put ½” plaster board on to conform to the fire regulations”.

    Before I go any further I would like to state that I think the relatively new laws on having a Fire Risk Assessment produced by the owner of a building or by any person that has some level of control of a premises, there buy removing responsibility for making sure all fire precautions are in place from the then Fire Officers, now Fire Inspectors, is absolutely, 100% correct.

    That said the advice that is given by the Fire Inspectors must be collectively identical in each situation that arises and that the whole extent of options be presented.

    I’ve read one or two complaints on the internet with regard to businesses in different parts of the country; having to solve the same fire precaution problem but in totally different way’s and at totally deferent levels.

    The opening statement was conveyed to me by a Fire Officer’s assistant with the fire officer stood beside him making notes. He then went into why it had to happen; the point he made was a very good one and the way it was explained to me anyone would have agreed it had to happen.
    It was only that the ceiling was so ornate (1872) and I was in the very early stages of developing a guest house that I said;

    “I couldn’t”
    “I couldn’t bring down that beautiful ceiling; I’ll do something else with the building”

    This kind of flummoxed them a little and prompted them to come up with an alternative, which was go to the room above and put down hard board over the floor boards to create an ½ hour ceiling below.
    That is the type of thing that was happening prior to the 2006 introduction of Fire Risk Assessments; the latter cost around £80, replacing the ceiling would have cost a whole lot more.

    It still appears to be happening today. I was told by our Fire Inspector that he will not tell me what to do, but he will offer me advice. This came in the form of being asked what I though of a situation, having identified a potential problem, and it progressed with, what do you think could happen? How can you put it right? This is all part of relinquishing responsibility for any action taken which as I've already stated is 100% correct.

    So I thought it might be a good idea to have some where to record these different problems, how the problems are solved and most importantly what advice you received from your Fire Inspector.

    It should be really helpful to all businesses and fire inspectors alike, having some where to vent there frustrations, view what’s happening to other people in other parts of the country, find out the best way to solve a problem and compare Fire Inspectors advice.

    The Law states that "Fire Risk Assessments must be carried out by the owner of the building or by any person that has some level of control in the premises, taking reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire".

    That in it’s self puts the owner of the building or the person that has some level of control more or less on their own, alone, with all the fire regulations and his local Fire Inspector.
    I don’t know all the fire regulations and nether do most business owners and that probable applies even more so to the people who just have some level of control.

    So I hope this site will develop into a haven for us all, so where not to alone.

    I’ve also put a copy of my Fire Risk Assessment, on the site, that was given the thumbs up by our local fire officer for anyone who wishes to download it to give you an idea of what to expect.


    Please enter your experiences in the comment section
    www.fire-riskassessments.co.uk
    And don’t hesitate to ask me any question. I’m not an expert in fire regulations but I’ve been through the process of developing our fire risk assessment and had the fire inspector call to comment on it.

    Have a good year.

    Tony

  • Comment number 4.

    My issue is general fire safety awareness within the community.

    A lot of people who get visits from the fire services, do not even know what a fire risk assessment is.

    I think an awareness programme from the fire services in the community be a good idea.

    The fire risk assessor.

    https://www.facilitiesconsultancy.co.uk/fire-regulations
    https://www.london-fireriskassessment.co.uk

 

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