The human factor associated with fire risk

Paul Stock gives an overview of the new management system PAS 7, and how it can help to reduce Human failings and poor management that so often contribute to the risk of fire.

Fatalities resulting from Fire, often results in conjecture and questions.  Fire prevention is primarily seen as a case of dealing with the procedures associated with fire management and assessing the associated risks.   The question is; does this emphasis on physical measures miss the point?  Real risks often come from human failings associated with poor management and appreciation of the human elements.  In terms of fire risk, do businesses and organisations concentrate too much on the physical buildings and not enough on the way they manage the people?

The physical aspects of fire management

Ensuring the buildings are fire-proofed, escape routes are accessible and correct materials have been used, are all vital elements in the early stage of fire management.  Managing people and ensuring they know what to do, how to do it and when to act is often neglected to the point of criminality.  There is simply not enough understanding of how important this human angle is to fire prevention and risk.

The London Fire Brigade has said that the quality of fire risk management can play a greater role in managing fire risks than fire protection measures.  One of the major issues in fire risk management is not the way the buildings react in the event of a fire, but the way people react and are managed. Ignorance has to be eliminated from this process and that starts from the moment a commercial premises comes into operation. This is not about telling anyone to ignore the physical element, but rather to acknowledge and work with the people who work in the buildings, manage the buildings and are directly affected by the risk of fire in them.

In order to raise standards and help save lives, a new fire risk management system specification (PAS 7) has been developed in conjunction with leading figures in the fire industry.

In simple terms it helps an organisation demonstrate how it is taking responsibility for managing fire risks and complying with the law. It also provides assurance to fire and rescue authorities in undertaking an audit under the Regulatory (Fire Safety) Order 2005. For commercial premises it will deliver a completely new level of best practice throughout any organisation.

Undertaking the process of achieving PAS 7 certification helps organisations understand the true fire risks and how best to manage them. It ensures they spend their allocated budget in a way that truly makes their people and their premises safer. No standard will reduce the errors individuals make or the unforeseeable and unexpected coincidences that can start a blaze. What such a standard will do is make people appreciate there is more to fire risk management than physical safeguards. Crisis management is often about working after an event to reduce the impact of a crisis or disaster. In terms of fire risk management, shouldn’t it be more about preventing it in the first place and taking more notice about the human element?

This standard is not only new to the fire industry sector, but it is also a new concept in this sector. We know risk starts with a person, can develop because of an individual and potentially cause the deaths of many. So it makes sense to handle the prevention in these terms. The PAS 7 standard is just one way of managing fire risks and it has to work in conjunction with engineers and designers, fire industry specialists and knowledge accumulated over a long period. But it does offer organisations a new way of showing they understand and appreciate the risks – and that they are actively managing them.

Management failings – not badly designed buildings or lack of equipment – are the main reason people die in major fires. If we accept this then any management system on offer to help reduce the risks must be embraced and not viewed with suspicion or apathy.

Sourced from SHP online.

Care home resident dies, care home owner in court

The owner of a Leicester care home has been fined £100,000 after Walter Powley, a vulnerable 85-year-old resident, died from serious burns.

Walter Powley was admitted to Western Park View in Hinckley Road for emergency care in May 2012 after an occupational therapist advised his family he could no longer be safely left alone at home due to his risk of falling.  Four days later, on 8th May, Mr Powley fell in his room and became trapped between a wardrobe and a radiator. He suffered serious burns right through the skin of his right leg from the radiator pipe and valves, and superficial burns to both legs probably from hot water leaking from the valve. He died in hospital from his injuries eight days later.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the pipes and valves at the home, owned by Western Park Leicester Ltd, were not covered and to touch had temperatures of around 73 degrees centigrade.  It also found Western Park Leicester Ltd was aware that Mr Powley was at risk of falls and injury and that staff should be vigilant, but the company failed to assess the risks in his room and take appropriate action to control and manage them.

Leicester Crown Court today (23rd January) heard Western Park Leicester Ltd, of Queen Street, Wolverhampton, plead guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay a further £35,000 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Dr Richenda Dixon said:

“This was a foreseeable and preventable fatal incident. While most of the residents at Western Park View are physically disabled with limited mobility, Walter was not. He was more mobile, and known to be so, hence at greater danger from any risks in his room.

“The scalding or burning risks from the pipes were longstanding and could have caused injury to any resident. Western Park Leicester failed to heed published guidance from HSE about the need to cover hot pipes and valves. Had they been covered or boxed-in Walter’s death could have been prevented.”


In a statement on behalf of Mr Powley’s family, his son, Colin, said:

“We are still devastated not only by our Dad’s death but also how it came about. His stay at Western Park View was only to be for two weeks’ respite while we explored all options for future care.  We had supported and cared for Dad daily and kept him safe in his own home for six years following a stroke. The fact that he died from injuries sustained as a result of, in our view, inadequate care in a place where he was supposedly safer than at home, is heart-breaking.

We all have to live with the thought that Dad trusted our decision to place him in temporary respite care and that decision ultimately cost him his life. We have lost valuable time with our dearly-loved Dad and his young grandchildren have lost the time to build on their relationship and memories of him. Nearly three years on we are still grieving for our loss and for the huge hole left in all our lives.

We hope that the lessons learned with regard to exposed pipe work and acceptable temperatures for hot surfaces in care homes will prevent other families having to experience what we have.”


Read our Peverel Case Study.

Asbestos failure in Colwyn Bay leading to fines

A court has heard that businessman, Peter Rees allowed the spread of asbestos in an industrial building by not employing licensed contractors to remove the potentially deadly material.

The owner of the  business unit in Eagle Farm Road on the Mochdre Business Park, was selling the building to another business when the incident happened in September 2012.  He appeared at Llandudno Magistrates’ Court on the 21st January after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified clear failings with his management of the material.

The court heard that the company purchasing the unit had commissioned an asbestos survey that showed the presence of a large amount of asbestos insulating board.  However, instead of employing a qualified and licensed asbestos removal contractor – as the law requires – Mr Rees used a general contractor, which resulted in asbestos dust being spread inside the building.

A complaint was raised by a licensed contractor and a significant clean-up operation was then required by an authorised contractor.

Peter Rees, of York Road, Deganwy, was fined £8,000 ordered to pay £7,400 in costs after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

HSE Inspector, Chris Wilcox, speaking after the hearing, said:

“The potentially lethal effects of exposure to asbestos are well known.  Mr Rees’ failure to use a qualified and licensed company to remove the asbestos led to contamination inside the building. Fortunately, HSE was made aware of the incident before it was reoccupied by the new owners.

“Anyone who owns or has control of non-domestic premises has a legal duty to manage the risk of asbestos in their buildings. When asbestos is removed, it must be done by someone who is trained and competent to do the work.”

Further information on asbestos management can be found here.

Are health and Safety failings to blame for a teenager that breaks their back?

W Hughes and Son Ltd, a  building firm from Preston, has been fined £10,000 after a 17-year-old mental health patient broke her back and pelvis when she fell over six metres from the roof of the Royal Preston Hospital in Fullwood.

They were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the company had failed to prevent access to the scaffolding on the site.

Preston Magistrates’ Court heard , on the 14 January 2015, that the firm had been hired to replace the flat roof on a single-storey section of the hospital. It used scaffolding to reach the roof but failed to properly fence off the steps leading up the scaffolding tower.

The 17-year-old, who was staying in the hospital’s Mental Health Unit, was able to climb the scaffolding on 17 October 2013. She fell from the roof in the gap between two buildings and the emergency services had to remove a hospital window to free her. She was in hospital for several weeks as a result of her injuries.

W Hughes and Son Ltd, of Collinson Street in Preston, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £516 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Chris Smith said:

“A vulnerable teenager was badly injured because W Hughes and Son Ltd failed to make sure its scaffolding was properly fenced off.

“Construction firms have a legal duty to make sure construction sites are secure and clearly signed but that didn’t happen in this case.

“It’s vital that companies think carefully about how they plan projects in public places, such as hospitals, so that members of the public are not put at risk.”

New figures underline importance of workplace safety

Safety watchdog the Health and Safety Executive is marking its 40th anniversary with an appeal for businesses to make the wellbeing of workers their top priority for the new financial year.

It comes as new figures show that six people lost their lives while at work across the North East region in 2013/14 and 3,452 suffered injury. That compares to two deaths and 3,682 injuries in the North East the previous year.  Statistics were also released today (14 Jan) showing the scale of workplace illness. Across the North East some 55,000 people were estimated to have been made ill through their work over the same period.

Nationally, across Great Britain, there were 133 deaths at work in 2013/14, more than 79,500 injuries were formally reported (through RIDDOR) and over 1.1 million people are estimated to have been made ill.  That is a huge reduction from when HSE was formally established in January 1975 to enforce the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 – the statute that underpins all health and safety legislation, and that is credited with making the UK one of the safest places to work in the world. In 1974/75 a total of 651 employees alone were killed, and that is without including self-employed workers whose deaths were not recorded in the same way.

The stark decline is welcome, but local employers are being urged to review whether they can do more to protect their workforce.  The latest figures show that those involved in construction, manufacturing and waste and recycling are most at risk, with agriculture another industry where sustained improvement is needed.

Areas of particular concern include falls from height; work on machinery that is poorly maintained and guarded; and failing to properly manage workplace transport.

John Rowe, HSE Head of Operations for the North East said:

“The families of the workers in the North East who sadly lost their lives last year have just had to spend the festive period without their loved ones, while hundreds of other workers were made ill through their work or had their lives changed forever by a major injury.

“Workplace conditions have improved dramatically in the past four decades, but as employers plan and prepare for the new financial year they need to ensure that health, safety and welfare is a clear focus.”


HSE Chair, Judith Hackitt, added:

“In the forty years since HSE was formed, we’ve worked with businesses, workers and government to make Britain a healthier and safer place to work.

“Thousands of serious injuries have been prevented and work-related deaths have reduced by 85 per cent. HSE has helped Britain become one of the safest places to work in the world.

“But we must also recognise that there is still a big challenge to prevent the suffering which does still occur. Seeing the annual statistics always leads to mixed emotions, sympathy for those who have suffered injury themselves and for the families and workmates of those who have lost their lives, determination to improve things further as well as encouragement that we are continuing to make progress in reducing the toll of suffering.

“For the last eight years we have consistently recorded one of the lowest rates of fatal injuries to workers among the leading industrial nations in Europe. However, in HSE’s 40th year it is right that we acknowledge the progress we’ve made and look to a future of striving to bring down these statistics even further.”

Information on tackling health and safety dangers in workplaces can be discussed by our highly experienced consultants by contacting Quantum Complaince.

Prosectutions lead to £50,000 fines!

Directors William Friend and Robert Plume have been sentenced after a young worker dies on his first day at work at Sweetings Farm, near Tiverton, on 27 October 2009.

The 20-year-old man, Daniel Whiston, who died on his first day at work for a new company, Wedgewood Buildings Ltd, was fatally crushed when the four-tonne dumper he was driving toppled over, a court has recently heard.  A number of serious failings were revealed including the fact that no suitable or sufficient risk assessments had been carried out for the work and no safe system of work was used.

Daniel Whiston, from Dulverton, was allowed to drive the dumper, which had a number of serious defects, before it overturned down the embankment at Sweetings Farm.

The HSE investigated the incident, and prosecuted Mr Whiston’s employers, company directors William Friend and Robert Plume, at Exeter Crown Court on 22 Dec.  The court heard that Plume and Friend’s company, Wedgewood Buildings Ltd, had been contracted to expand a pond on the farm, which involved excavating and moving spoil around the site.

Mr Whiston received about 30 minutes’ training from a more experienced colleague, who was also operating an excavator and filling the dumper, before he started his first day’s work.  During the afternoon, the excavator operator, who was the only other worker on site saw the fully-loaded dumper driven by Mr Whiston topple off the side of the causeway and down the 60 degree slope, turning over and crushing him underneath.

HSE’s investigation found a number of serious failings on the site:

  • the excavator driver was not trained to teach Mr Whiston how to use the dumper and was not competent to supervise him;
  • the dumper had a number of serious defects, including steering failure, defective and inoperative front braking and a non-functioning handbrake with worn-out parts;
  • no suitable or sufficient risk assessments had been carried out for the work and no safe system of work was used; and
    the causeway used by the dumper was too narrow for a front-tipping dumper to be positioned and safely tip the load down the embankment.

Robert Plume, of East Street, South Molton, and William Friend, of Hannaford, Swimbridge, near Barnstaple, each pleaded guilty to a breach of Health and Safety legislation.  Each was given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, and 180 hours of community service, to be completed within a year. They were also ordered to pay costs of £25,000 each.

HSE Inspector Jonathan Harris, speaking after the hearing, said:

“The very serious failures to manage this job properly contributed to the tragic and needless loss of a young man’s life.  Workers have a right to expect that the equipment they use is appropriate for the task, properly maintained and in a safe condition.

“Mr Whiston was not given suitable basic or advanced training under the industry’s Construction Plant Competence Scheme and was, instead, given a short briefing by a worker who himself had no formal qualifications for driving the dumper.

“Anyone in control of construction projects must ensure the work is properly planned and risk assessed to avoid similar tragedies in the future. Knowing what needs to be done is not the same as knowing how it should be done safely.”

Asbestos Failings cause Northamptonshire Firms to be Fined

After a routine safety inspection revealed serious asbestos-related failings, two Northamptonshire firms have been fined!  On 22nd December Northampton Magistrates’ Court heard that Lifting Systems Ltd (of Crown Works, Main Road, Far Cotton, Northampton) had contracted Durasteel Services Ltd (of Kingsfield Way, Kingsfield Heath Industrial Estate, Northampton) to refurbish an asbestos cement roof at its Crown Works in Far Cotton.  The court was also told that neither company had a licence to remove asbestos.

On 22nd October 2013, when inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the site, they found asbestos insulation board had been removed and stored on the premises, and that debris had been placed in waste skips around the site!

A Prohibition Notice was served to immediately stop any further work.

A subsequent investigation found that although Lifting Systems Ltd was the client, the company had undertaken a lot of the refurbishment work, including the removal of the majority of old asbestos cement roofing panels.  It did not have an up to date asbestos register and did not carry out a demolition and refurbishment survey, which would have highlighted areas of asbestos to be considered during the refurbishment.

Durasteel Services Ltd failed to carry out an assessment to identify the potential for asbestos to be disturbed and put effective control measures in place.  They were fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £523 after admitting one breach of the same regulations.

Lifting Systems Ltd, was fined a total of £14,000 and ordered to pay £523 in costs after pleading guilty to three breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Sam Russell said:

“This case highlights the importance of businesses having strong policies to enable identification of asbestos as part of their normal working practices. The refurbishment work started three months before HSE visited the site, so the risks from asbestos had not been controlled for some time.

“Lifting Systems Ltd made little effort to survey or identify asbestos in the premises before starting work, so failed to identify the presence of asbestos insulation board lining panels underneath the asbestos roofing sheets. The panels were broken up and placed in skips, putting construction workers and other employees at risk of exposure to carcinogenic asbestos fibres. An asbestos survey had been carried out by the previous owners of the premises and highlighted the asbestos which was removed. However, the premises had been derelict for a period of time and the infrastructure had been damaged and vandalised meaning the old survey was not current and fit for purpose and a new one was required.

“Durasteel Services Ltd was complicit in the removal of asbestos insulation board during the refurbishment. The company should have conducted an assessment to see if any work it undertook would have the potential to disturb asbestos materials and taken appropriate action to introduce control measures.”

On average, 20 tradespeople die each week from asbestos-related diseases. To find out how we can assist you in your asbestos management, please contact Quantum Compliance.  Also, please view out Asbestos Management page.