Fire risk assessments in unoccupied premises.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) requires a fire risk assessment (FRA) is carried out on all premises other than those which are a ‘single private dwelling’.

Furthermore, the fire risk assessment is only valid if it is carried out after the building is occupied. If it is carried out before this, then the management of the building, its fire safety provisions and any regard for the maintenance of a safe working environment cannot be assessed. Such matters as wedged open fire doors, overloaded multiple adaptors and so on are not evident until people start to use the building.

However, there are occasions when a building owner or management company ask for a FRA either whilst refurbishment works are being carried out or after they have been completed and before occupation. Although a FRA carried out at this juncture is not a legally valid document, there are various benefits to be gained from having one completed.

In the case of the latter, the building may have been refurbished in accordance with the approval given by the local authority building control officer so the owner knows that it is legally compliant in that respect. However, it is with regard to the ‘fine tuning’ of the fit-out that the owner/manager needs a straightforward list of what is needed to be compliant as an operational building.

This includes:

  • Provision and allocation of portable fire fighting equipment.
  • Fire safety signage including directional signage towards the fire exits.
  • A fire evacuation strategy.
  • Deployment and training of fire wardens.
  • A review of the compartmentation provided to protect the means of escape and prevent the spread of fire.
  • Advice on storage of hazardous materials.
  • A management strategy for testing and maintenance of fire safety provisions.
  • Waste management facilities.
  • Provision of facilities for the fire brigade in the event of a fire.
  • Snagging items such as penetrations in fire compartmentation which have occurred after the building control sign off and during the latter stages of the fit-out.

Some, if not all, of these issues will be a lot less expensive and disruptive to implement before occupation than to attend to them with a building full of people.
One of the other benefits of using this process is that, if all of the recommendations are complied with, then the final FRA is almost a formality – it is a checking process which is unlikely to involve any further requirements for remedial works and actions.

If a FRA is carried out earlier in the building process, then it is only really an advisory document regarding, perhaps, fire compartmentation, fire doors, evacuation routes, automatic fire detection, emergency lighting and so on. All of this should already have been provided but there may be instances where the owner suddenly realises that there is a gap between what is required and that which is being provided.

In either case, it must be stressed that any FRA carried out prior to occupation should be annotated as a ‘pre-occupation’ FRA. The recipient must be made aware that a full FRA is required after occupation in order to be compliant with the RRO. Failure to do so will render the owner/manager liable to prosecution.

Should you require any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Fitzgerald.

Blaze leaves a 21 year old engulfed in flames

Wolverhampton Crown Court has fined a distillery in Oldbury, Alcohols Limited, after an employee was engulfed in flames in a fire that destroyed the warehouse and its contents.

It was heard how ethyl acetate (highly flammable liquid) was being transferred from a bulk storage tank into an intermediate bulk container when an employee was engulfed in flames. The 21-year-old sustained twenty percent burns to his head, neck and hands.

The fire, at the Alcohol Limited distillery on Crosswell road in Oldbury, destroyed the warehouse and caused damage to nearby cars and houses. West Mercia Fire and Rescue Service were called to bring the fire under control.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) began their investigation into the incident, which occurred on 26 November 2012 and found that the most likely source of ignition was a discharge of static electricity generated by the transfer of the liquid.

There was poor maintenance of pipework and associated valves. There was a failure to competently inspect the equipment or monitor the systems of work.

Alcohols Limited, of Charringtons House, The Causeway, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was fined £270,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,009.

After the hearing HSE inspector Kieron Jones said:

“Companies that fail to ensure the integrity of their safety critical equipment place their employees, members of the public, emergency services and their entire livelihood at risk of serious harm.

Poor management of highly flammable liquids can have catastrophic results both for individuals and businesses.”

Workers arm severed

Bristol Crown Court has fined a Bristol based manufacturer of concrete products after a worker’s arm was torn off when it was pulled into the rotating tail pulley of a conveyor belt.  It was heard that the injured man was making adjustments to a misaligned conveyor belt at Concrete Fabrications Ltd plant in Henbury, Bristol on 18 May 2015.

The court heard that to do this, the man who does not wish to be named, had to adjust tensioning rods which were located inside the machine’s guards, in close proximity to the conveyor belt and rotating tail pulley.  The worker noticed that aggregate had built up on the tensioning rod and he tried to knock off the material with a hammer so he could use a spanner to adjust the rod. However, the hammer was dragged into the rotating machinery along with the employee’s arm which was severed between the shoulder and the elbow.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), prosecuting told the court that Concrete Fabrications Ltd should have had adequate guards on dangerous parts of machinery.

  • Clear procedures should exist regarding maintenance and adjustments of machinery and arrangements should be in place to ensure that machinery is not run without the necessary guarding in place, and that clear isolation and lock off procedures exist.

An unsafe system of work existed for the maintenance of machinery, in so much that the dangerous moving parts of the machine were exposed during maintenance operations. A sufficient risk assessment would have identified the risks associated with tracking conveyor belts, and identified appropriate control measures.

The Bristol firm, Concrete Fabrications Ltd of Cole Road, Bristol, United Kingdom, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 and was fined £100,000 with £7758 costs awarded to HSE.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Matthew Tyler said:

“Company’s need to ensure the risks associated with maintenance tasks are adequately assessed, and effectively controlled, through adequate guarding of dangerous parts of machinery, and the existence of clear robust procedures in respect of maintenance and adjustments of machinery, including isolation and lock off requirements. The consequences of not doing this are clear to see here today.”

Inadequate fire safety precautions

A south Wales construction company, JG Hale Construction, has been fined £100,000 after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered inadequate fire precautions of 54 timber-frame houses it was constructing.

Inadequate fire precautions were taken at JG Hale Construction’s site in Blaenavon, where 54 timber-frame houses were being built.

On 27 July the HSE launched an investigation after an unannounced inspection of J G Hale Construction’s site in the town of Blaenavon, found the company did not properly plan and manage its site and there were no control measures in place to prevent a fire starting and spreading.

There was a lack of site management control, insufficient means to detect a fire and raise the alarm, poor control of ignition sources and a general lack of emergency planning. Workers were also at risk of being hit or run over by construction vehicles, Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard.

The HSE issued J G Hale with improvement notices for fire safety and vehicle safety and the company complied with these after two further inspections.

J G Hale pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 27 and 29 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, which stipulate that traffic routes must be organised to ensure pedestrians and vehicles can operate safely in close proximity to each other, and that steps must be taken to prevent injury from a fire or explosion. It was fined £40,000 and £60,000 for each offence and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £4,634 plus a £120 statutory surcharge.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Liam Osborne said: “Hale Construction had been given plenty of warnings about fire safety and traffic risks in the recent past, including from the HSE.

“Timber-frame houses are perfectly safe once they’re finished and protected, but when under construction they can be very dangerous. Stringent fire safety standards need to be in place well before the build starts, and then maintained and monitored.”

Worker fell from height at a school

A school in Brentwood has been fined after a worker fell from height.  The School has pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations after a worker was injured as he fell from a roof.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard how in January 2014 a maintenance team at the school was working to replace components on a bay window of a residential flat within the school grounds. A 63-year-old employee was working on the roof of the bay window when his foot got caught and he fell approximately 2.6metres to the ground below. He was taken to hospital and was found to have suffered injuries including a broken collarbone and chipped vertebrae.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident found that there were no effective guardrails or any other means of protection to prevent workers from falling from the roof. There were no supervisory arrangements and the work was not carried out in a safe manner.

Brentwood School Charitable Incorporated Organisation, Brentwood, Essex, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £1,477 in costs.

Worker crushed by door

Hereford Magistrates’ Court have fined a Worcestershire-based manufacturer after a worker nearly lost his life when a door collapsed and pinned him to a baler.

The court Court heard that on 5 May 2015, two maintenance workers were replacing the bottom of a heavy sectional door at the factory. While removing the hinges and brackets the door collapsed, pinning one of the workers between it and a baler that was next to the door.

The worker suffered serious injuries including broken ribs and asphyxiation which led to a lost of consciousness for eight hours. He has since made a full recovery.

The HSE investigation found that managers had failed to recognise the risks involved in the maintenance work that was taking place. There was no appropriate equipment, instruction or training provided to the workers to ensure the method of work was safe.

Essential Supply Products Limited of Enigma Business Park in Malvern pleaded guilty to Section 2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £2,714.10 in costs.

 

Nursing Homes – Legionella Control

Here at Quantum compliance, we are an innovative, UK-based health and safety consultancy that provides a range of consultancy services including Legionella Risk Assessments and Legionella Awareness Training. Our team of qualified and experienced consultants are well equipped to assist care home managers in carrying out their duties in respect to the control of bacteria.

Care and nursing homes specifically present an elevated risk of Legionnaires’ Disease infections due to the vulnerable nature of the occupants. Under UK health and safety law the operators of such establishments have a duty to control the risk from Legionella bacteria and in doing so provide a safe environment for those in their care. Philip Lonsdale, Quantum’s Technical Manager for Water Safety explains…

Briefly put, Legionella is a naturally-occurring waterborne bacteria that exploits suitable conditions within building water systems wherever they arise. The bacteria is an opportunistic pathogen causing a range of illnesses, the most widely-known illness being Legionnaires’ disease, which can prove fatal. Once a water system becomes colonised, bacteria numbers may increase to level where they pose a risk to human health.

The disease is transmitted via tiny droplets of water containing the bacteria; which when inhaled deep into the lungs can result in an infection. This is a particular concern for the elderly and others with impaired immune response, who are more at risk and therefore care home operators, are expected to achieve high standards of risk management, similar to those applied in hospitals.

Conditions that encourage the growth of Legionella bacteria include warm water temperatures, poor hygiene and infrequent or intermittent water use. Knowing the preferences of the bacteria assists in developing clear and effective means of control. The basic principles of Legionella control are as follows:

  • Water temperatures between 20°C and 50°C should be avoided. In simple terms, this means keeping hot water hot and cold water cold.
  • Water should be kept moving through the system, keeping water age* to a minimum. Storage tanks and water heaters should be sized appropriately according to the demand for water. Non-essential water services should be removed and essential infrequently-used outlets (e.g. outside taps) should be flushed regularly.
  • Water systems should be maintained in hygienic condition. This means that outlets should be kept clean, especially showers. Storage tanks and water heaters should be routinely inspected and cleaned and disinfected as required.
  • Legionnaires’ disease can only occur where there is means of creating and disseminating breathable droplets and therefore, wherever practical, non-spray or low spray options should be adopted.

There are several sources of official guidance in respect to the control of Legionella bacteria, these include:

  • The Health & Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) L8 (Fourth Edition) 2013
  • The Department of Health’s Health Technical Memorandum HTM04-01, Parts A & B
  • The Health & Safety Executive’s HSG274 Technical Guidance, Parts 1, 2 & 3.
  • British Standard BS 8580:2010 “Water Quality – Risk Assessments for Legionella control – Code of Practice”

Management of health and safety is cited as a common failing in cases where outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease have occurred. The first step in controlling the risk should be to ensure that a robust management system is in place. This includes appointing individuals to take specific responsibility for managing the risk and carrying out the control measures, carrying out a risk assessment and devising suitable control measures (a control programme), implementing the control programme, monitoring its effectiveness, keeping records and ensuring that a suitable review / audit programme is in place. These arrangements should be documented; this is often referred to as “the written scheme of precautions” or “written scheme”.

Personnel appointed to carry duties under the written scheme should be competent. They should have the required authority, resources and equipment, knowledge, skills, training and other qualities to perform the duties or tasks required of them correctly. Suitable training should be provided and refreshed regularly.

A risk assessment is required in order to identify and evaluate the risk of exposure to Legionella. The risk assessment should involve a detailed survey of the site water services. Such a survey will allow any defects to be identified and an appropriate action plan to be prepared. The findings of the risk assessment should be documented and it is also advisable to produce a simple yet accurate drawing of the water systems (e.g. a schematic drawing). The assessment report should include both recommendations for remedial actions to repair any defects and also details of the ongoing precautions required to control the risk. This then becomes an integral part of the written scheme.

It should be noted that the way that water systems are designed and installed can be as important as the manner in which they are operated and maintained. This is particularly important for designers of residential care premises, whether new-build or refurbished, who should ensure compliance with the design standards of the guidance documents listed above. Designers should generally opt for the more stringent requirements wherever the documents differ.

Water systems should be designed in such a way that the risk of Legionella colonisation is minimised. This includes amongst other factors some key requirements:

  • Storage tanks, water heaters and distribution pipework should be sized appropriately, ensuring regular turnover and low water age;
  • Buildings and water systems should be designed and installed with consideration for their maintenance requirements. Most importantly, a suitable means access should be provided to allow inspections, servicing and repairs;
  • Hot and cold water systems should be capable of achieving and maintaining the correct water temperatures;
  • Both hot and cold pipework should be properly insulated to assist with maintenance of the correct water temperatures;
  • High usage outlets should be positioned downstream of intermittent or infrequently used outlets, this ensures that fresh water is regularly drawn to the extremities of the system;
  • Water systems should be carefully commissioned prior to handover. Water heaters should be set to the correct temperature and recirculating hot water distribution systems require balancing to ensure that hot water is distributed at the required temperature to all points of use;
  • The risk of scalding must also be addressed. The use of thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) to control hot water temperatures at the outlets is widespread. These devices should be positioned as close as possible to the outlet and should be accessible for routine maintenance. Centrally blended systems are not recommended.

The requirement to act on this guidance is based in law, the person in control of the premises (known as the “Duty Holder”) has a duty to:

  1. Appoint a Responsible Person;
  2. Undertake Risk Assessments to identify and evaluate the risk;
  3. Prepare a scheme for controlling the risks;
  4. Implement and manage the scheme; and
  5. Keep records.

These duties are enforced within:

  • Section 3 (2) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA)
  • Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR)
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)
  • The HSE’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP), L8 (4th Edition) 2013.

The Appointed Person / Responsible Person is usually a senior member of staff with the required authority and access to resources to carry out the Duty Holders obligations. There will usually be a need to delegate tasks to other members of staff or even contractors. The more complex organisation the more complex the organisational structure is likely to be. However, complex, it is necessary to document this structure and ensure that all parties understand and agree to their role.

Managers will often have many duties, not limited to health, safety or facilities management. In these circumstances it can be challenging to set time aside for programme reviews with staff and contractors. Fortunately, both legislation and guidance make provision for duty holders and their appointed persons to seek assistance and specialist advice from either within their organisation or from external consultants. Selecting the right type of support is crucial to a successful programme. The British Standard BS8580:2010 advises that risk assessors should be competent and should be able to demonstrate impartiality and integrity along with possessing the required specialist knowledge of Legionella bacteria and the water systems to be assessed.

Quantum Compliance are a Legionella Control Association (LCA) registered company offering Legionella Risk Assessments, Training Services, Independent Consultancy and Analytical Services to the highest standards.

“*” Water age is a term used to describe the length of time that water remains within the building water system from water source (e.g. mains supply) to the point at which it leaves the outlets (i.e. taps, WCs, showers etc.).