The Grenfell Tower Inquiry hearings schedule has been announced
Phase one will focus on the factual narrative of the events of the night of 14 June 2017. This will include:
- the existing fire safety and prevention measures at Grenfell Tower
- where and how the fire started
- the development of the fire and smoke
- how the fire and smoke spread from its original seat to other parts of the building
- the chain of events before the decision was made that there was no further savable life in the building
- the evacuation of residents
Serious fire safety breaches have led to a Scarborough hotel being prosecuted. Owing to the poor safety conditions that were evident, a Prohibition Notice was issued that prevented the use of the upper floors. An enforcement notice for remedial work to be completed was served with a deadline date that was missed by two months.
Fire Safety Officers from North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (NYFRS) visited the building and identified a number of serious fire safety breaches, including:
- No suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment (FRA) had been undertaken
- The existing fire alarm was inappropriate for the premises
- it did not sound above the lower ground floor, meaning anyone sleeping in the rooms above ground floor would not have been alerted in the event of a fire
- Numerous defective fire doors
- not fitted with self-closers
- lack of intumescent strips and smoke seals (which would allow smoke and fire to enter into the means of escape impeding anyone’s evacuation from the building
- Fire doors held open with (what looked like) automatic hold open devices
- these were not connected to the fire alarm system and so would remain open in the event of a fire
- There were fire separation issues in storage rooms that led to means of escape and which contained ignition sources
- There was inadequate routine maintenance or testing of the fire alarm, emergency lighting and firefighting equipment
- There was no training of staff including the manager
An incident that occurred in January 2015 has led to a fine for an oil company.
When contractors working for ESL Fuels Ltd cut into a sealed pipe using a grinder, there was an explosion. The pipe in question was attached to a tank and part of a waste oil recovery process at ESL fuels Ltd’s North Blend Tank Farm. Flammable gases within the pipe ignited, resulting in an explosion within the tank and the tank lid and vent pipe being partially detached and projected over a raised walkway.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive discovered that the company was having difficulty with the waste oil recovery process, which was foaming out of the vessel and filling its bund. The company’s tests were inadequate and failed to identify the cause of the problem, which was generating flammable carbon monoxide gas. A decision was taken to connect the vessel by pipework to an emergency relief dump tank to prevent a potential catastrophic overpressure in the tank but the safety implications of this modification and its design were not risk assessed. The HSE also found systemic failings with the company’s management of contractors and an inadequate Permit to Work system.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said:
The fire and rescue service is in crisis. Seven years of budget cuts have left the public at greater risk as there are far fewer firefighters left to respond to emergencies. We’ve seen thousands of frontline firefighter posts axed and dozens of fire stations closed with the result that it’s taking a lot longer for fire crews to arrive at emergencies.
In a fire, every second counts – it can make the difference between life and death. If the government is serious about keeping the public safe, they should use the upcoming budget as an opportunity to bring the cuts to fire and rescue services to an end and invest in the service instead.
Disasters like the fire at Grenfell Tower show how important and valued our emergency services are. MPs from all parties should support investment into the fire and rescue service in order to maintain a world class, professional service that keeps us all safe.
It is clear that the country is facing fire safety crisis in the area of social housing. It has been reported that:
The Local Government Association has said that local councils cannot afford the substantial fire-safety upgrades to social housing recommended in the wake of the Grenfell fire
The Local Government Association represent more than 400 English and Welsh local authorities. It has released a statement saying:
It is clear that the current building regulation system has failed. It is also clear that councils cannot afford to carry out this work.
A paper coating company has been fined after a worker suffered burns following a fire on a coating machine. Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court heard how an Olympic Varnish Company Limited employee suffered burn injuries following a fire caused by the use of highly flammable liquid to clean rollers on a coating machine.
An investigation by the HSE into the incident found that the company did not ensure that risks from the use of highly flammable liquids were eliminated or reduced across a number of areas of that activity. There was an absence of a suitable safe system of work as well as a lack of suitable training.
Olympic Varnish Company Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6 (1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and has been fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,505.40. The DSEAR fine was awarded after an operative was injured by a fire resulting from the use of highly flammable liquids used for cleaning rollers.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE principal inspector Andrew Kingscott said:
Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to inform, instruct, and train their workers in that safe system of working. In this case, if a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the serious injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.
If you wish to avoid a similar DSEAR fine, then you need to assess the risks, put control measures in place, and train your workers. If you need help with this, please contact us.
The Central Hotel (in Golders Green, London) has been fined £20,000 for a range of fire safety offences, including the lack of a fire risk assessment, and the absence of smoke alarms and emergency lighting.
The Hoop Lane Trust (owners of the Central Hotel) was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court after pleading guilty to five offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) was also awarded costs of £15,000.
When fire inspectors from London Fire Brigade visited the 24 room hotel following a small fire in its 13 bedroom annexe in June 2013, they discovered a number of fire safety issues, including:
- no evidence of fire risk assessment
- no smoke alarms or smoke detectors
- inadequate fire doors
- no emergency lighting
- no evacuation procedures in place
Fire safety failures resulted in a corporate landlord and its management company being handed a large fine. They both failed to carry out a fire risk assessment for an apartment building, which was destroyed after a fire broke out.
Property owner Crownpark Investments, along with City Estates (who managed the six-floor terraced house conversion in Pimlico) pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court to three offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
The fire broke out during the early hours of 21 February 2011, and 8 fire engines and about 60 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze. The fire damaged the second, third and fourth floors, and thirteen people had to be rescued.
Inspectors from the London Fire Brigade discovered several fire safety failings. These included a lack of fire alarm or detection system inside the flats and the communal areas, and no fire risk assessment in place for the building. They also found that the doors to the individual flats provided inadequate protection to the escape route in the event of a fire.
The oil and gas industry around the world has been responsible for many serious incidents of fire and explosion, some of which have claimed lives and some of which has resulted only in property damage. Start up is a notoriously dangerous time in the process safety of the plant. In this case, Liverpool Crown Court was told that during the start-up of the main distillation unit, highly flammable hydrocarbons entered an unused furnace. Heat from another furnace triggered the blast, which started several fires that the fire service had to bring under control. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, which happened in November 2013. The incident caused more than £20m worth of damage, including collapsed internal structures.
The explosion was reported to the EU as a major accident under schedule 7 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) investigation found that Essar had incorrectly installed a safety critical valve and had failed to properly validate its operation. The installation of a new safety-critical trip was also inadequately assessed by Essar as it did not note the system had a bypass line which defeated the trip’s operation. Though the company’s policy was to isolate main fuel lines to the furnace, a secondary fuel line had not been isolated during the shutdown. This allowed the hydrocarbons to enter the furnace, the HSE said.
The failure to manage flammable liquids properly resulted in a serious fire at a distillery. The spirits division of a chemical distributor was fined £270,000 for Health and Safety at Work Act breaches after an employee was engulfed in flames when a fire broke out at its distillery in Oldbury, West Midlands.
In August 2016, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard how the 21-year-old Alcohols Limited worker was transferring ethyl acetate (a highly flammable solvent) from a bulk storage tank to an intermediate bulk container in November 2012. According to the HSE, it is thought that an electrostatic discharge generated during the transfer process started the fire. As a result of the blaze, the worker sustained 20% burns to his head, neck and hands. The fire destroyed the warehouse and damaged nearby houses and cars before West Mercia Fire and Rescue Services could bring it under control.