HMO Condemned as Death Trap

Officers from Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) and Highland Council found life-threatening electrical, hygiene and fire safety concerns at the unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Inverness.  The Inverness Courier has reported that nine tenants were given four days to pack up and leave their home after it was condemned as a death-trap and their landlord could not be traced.

The premises, Drumdevan House, comprised of an eight-bedroomed listed building, neighbouring summer house and two caravans. The building appears to have fallen into considerable disrepair.

Complaints cited by residents and enforcing authorities included:

  • Exposed bare electrical wires and sockets too close to water sources
  • A defective drainage system which caused sewage to accumulate beneath the caravans
  • No fire detection
  • Inadequate means of escape

The SFRS issued a prohibition notice on 4 February 2016 requiring the tenants to leave Drumdevan House and its outbuildings by the 8 February due to the imminent risk of serious personal injury. Council officers assisted residents in finding alternative temporary accommodation.

Speaking to the Inverness Courier one resident said:

“Wires for the lights in the kitchen were just hanging out and some of the other people staying there complained of plug sockets being far too close to water, although I don’t know where that was myself. The sewage under the caravan was also a big problem.

There can be up to 12 people staying there at a time and some of them are single fathers who had their kids visiting. It’s worrying to think there were children in that environment now that I know how dangerous it was.

The fire service told tenants it was the worst place they have ever seen in Inverness.”

Highland Council also issued an enforcement notice requiring work to be carried out to repair the drainage system. A spokesperson said that the authorities had been unsuccessful in contacting the owner.


HMO risk

Houses in Multiple Occupation are a top priority for enforcing authorities due to the above average fire risk to residents. Government statistics have shown that residents are six times more likely to die in a house fire if they live in an HMO than if they lived in a single family home.

The risk increases the more persons are resident. Some of the factors which make the risk higher are extra cookers and heaters, high fire load, vulnerable occupants, obstructed escape routes and poorly maintained buildings.

An HMO is a building occupied by three or more occupants in more than one household and who share some amenities such as a bathroom, toilet or cooking facilities.

Due to the higher risk and the tendency for standards to be low, landlords of HMOs are required to comply with specific legislation. This requires proper management, prevention of overcrowding, fire safety precautions and more.

Some HMOs need to be licenced and the trigger point for this varies across different local authorities. In Scotland, where Drumdevan House is located, licensing is obligatory for all HMOs. In England and Wales, unless “additional licensing” byelaws apply, licencing is restricted to larger HMOs (those of over three storeys and housing five or more persons from two or more families).

It is a criminal offence to operate an HMO without a licence where one is required. In Scotland the maximum fine is £50,000.

Unsafe roof work leading to fines

A Bedford based contractor, Bernard Buck, has been fined for failing to comply with a Prohibition Notice,

The notice was served after the contractor was witnessed carrying out roof work in an unsafe manner at Premier Motor Company, Manton Lane, Bedford.

Luton Magistrates’ Court heard how tradesman Bernard Buck continued the reroofing work at Premier Motor Company’s Manton Lane site with subcontractors, without adequate means in place to prevent falls.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 1 October 2015 found that Bernard Buck failed to properly assess the risks associated with the work and implement appropriate controls. He showed no indication of caring about the safety of his own or the subcontractors’ safety.

Bernard Buck of Prinknash Road, Bedford, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was fined £1,200 and ordered to pay costs of £1,018

For further information on work at height visit the HSE website, or review our Health and Safety Risk Assessment services here.

Asbestos Exposure

A man from County Durham has been fined for potentially exposing members of the public to asbestos fibres during the refurbishment of a residential property on South Parade, Croft on Tees, County Durham.

Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard how Peter Wade of Staindrop, was converting an integrated garage into a bedroom at the property. While he was visiting the property for a quote, the home owners mentioned the possibility of asbestos in the garage.

While working in the loft space of the garage, the garage ceiling collapsed and Peter Wade proceeded to pull the remainder of the ceiling down, break it up and place in waste bags. It was not until he removed the material that he discovered it contained asbestos.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 14 March 2015, found that Peter Wade failed to ensure an asbestos survey was carried out prior to any work taking place.

Peter Nigel Wade (trading as P.N. Wade Building and Civil Engineering contractor), of Winston Road, Staindrop, County Durham, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 5(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, and was fined £267 and ordered to pay costs of £1,765.

Fined for unsafe work at height

Ideal Glazing (Euro) Ltd, a company which manufactured and installed windows has been fined £36,000 after carrying out work in the West End of London with no measures to prevent the workers falling eight metres and after dropping part of a window onto the public area below.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard Ideal Glazing (Euro) Ltd carried out window installation work at Aldford House, Park Street, London, between 19 and 20 January 2015 that put their workers and members of the public at risk of suffering serious injuries or a fatality.

A member of the public provided photos of workers leaning out of window openings eight metres above the ground.  They also provided a video showing the workers dropping part of a window which fell to the ground and missed a nearby pedestrian.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an investigation into the work.   The company had failed to provide equipment such as scaffolding which would have prevented the workers and window falling. None of the workers had received any formal training and no one was appointed to supervise the work.

The risks associated with the work had not been sufficiently assessed. The court heard the company had failed to invest in equipment for working at height and had a health and management system which relied entirely on the company’s managing director Mr Rashinda Joshi, despite his lack of relevant training and experience.

The work at Aldford House was halted when HSE served a Prohibition Notice (PN) . The court heard the company had previously been given advice by HSE in connection with work at height and that an audit by Ideal Glazing’s bank had previously identified a range of relevant health and safety failings. The court heard that neither written warning was heeded by the firm.

Ideal Glazing (Euro) Ltd of 29, The Green, Southall, Middlesex, pleaded guilty to breaches of Regulation 6(3) and 10(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £36,000 and ordered to pay £1,386 in costs.

HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers commented after the hearing:

“Ideal Glazing (Euro) Ltd put the lives of workers and members of the public at risk. People should be able to walk down a pavement without being exposed to the risk of a heavy window falling eight-metres onto them.  The company’s standards were appalling, and this was particularly unacceptable as previous warnings had been blatantly disregarded.

This is a case where equipment such as scaffolding was not provided. It’s vital that law abiding companies have confidence they will not lose work to others who underquote them because they take shortcuts at the expense of safety.

Thanks to the member of the public who alerted us, we were able to avoid the workers or any pedestrians being injured or killed. We encourage people to report unsafe work to us so we can act to protect workers and the public.”