Fire Safety failures and Legionnaires Risk

A West Sussex local authority has been issued with a regulatory notice for failing to assess fire and legionella risks in properties it is responsible for maintaining.

In the notice, the UK’s Regulator of Social Housing said that up until 2016 Arun District Council risk assessed its housing stock on a reactive basis only, after issues had been reported.

“This means that Arun District Council cannot provide assurance that all of the relevant properties had a risk assessment in place until very recently,” it said.

The social housing regulator added that, though the council has since risk assessed its entire property portfolio, it has not yet completed the actions highlighted in the assessments.

Arun has also been criticised over water safety.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, the council has a statutory duty to identify and assess the risks of legionella exposure and to implement measures to control them.

However, as with fire safety, the Regulator of Social Housing said that until recently the council had only carried out risk assessments in response to concerns raised.

Due to the seriousness of these issues and the lack of urgency to address them, the regulator concluded that Arun had breached part 1.2 of the Home Standard “and caused the potential for serious detriment to [its] tenants”.

The regulator said it will now “work with Arun as it seeks to remedy this breach” while it considers whether to take any enforcement action.

In May the results of an external review commissioned by the council reported that there were

“significant weaknesses” in its safety and health management system.

Although there is now a programme of works in place to resolve the issues relating to fire and water safety, the regulator also noted that Arun District Council had not previously addressed these issues at a speed which would reflect the level of risk to its tenants. Taking into account the seriousness of the issues and the durations involved, the regulator has determined that it is proportionate to find a breach of the Home Standard in this case.

Both fire safety and water safety are self-evidently important because of the potential for serious harm to tenants. In this case the regulator has concluded that the risk of serious harm is demonstrated because of the large number of tenants potentially exposed to an unknown risk of danger over a long period of time. Therefore, the risk of serious detriment existed.”

A spokesperson for Arun District Council told IOSH Magazine:

“Arun District Council has been notified by the Regulator of Social Housing that it breached the regulator’s Home Standard in relation to fire safety and water safety.

The safety of residents living in our homes is of the utmost importance to the council and we are fully committed to ensuring that our homes meet statutory requirements in all aspects of health and safety.

As soon as the council became aware of the historic issues in relation to fire risk and legionella we have been working to address these as a matter of urgency. We are now in possession of a full and detailed suite of fire risk assessments and a programme of works formulated to ensure that the actions identified in respect of both fire risk and legionella are undertaken as our priority. We have purchased a new IT system to help us manage the ongoing work and an improvement plan is in place and progress is being made.

Arun District Council recognises the seriousness of the situation and can assure residents that we are continuing to work with the regulator to provide documentary evidence that the breach is being rectified and that our ongoing commitment to the safety of residents is paramount.

 

Primary school Asbestos exposure – Council fined £200k

Kent Council County (KCC) has been fined £200,000 after asbestos was disturbed in a primary school in Sittingbourne during a routine food inspection at Lansdowne Primary School.

Canterbury Crown Court heard how environmental health officers from the council were carrying out the inspection in the School’s kitchen on 6 November 2014 when they found asbestos rope hanging from the ceiling.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the school’s caretaker had disturbed an asbestos flue pipe and an asbestos rope gasket during the removal of an air steriliser in May 2013.  Neither the caretaker nor the headteacher were trained in asbestos management or awareness, the HSE said, and the council had failed to control the risk of exposure.  It served a prohibition notice on the primary school, which is now the Stour Academy Trust and no longer run by the council.

The notice said:

“You have failed to prevent the exposure of employees to asbestos so far as reasonably practicable, in particular the partial steriliser flue and sealant in the school kitchen.”

KCC pleaded guilty to breaching reg 10(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, which covers the provision of adequate information, instruction and training to employees, and was ordered to pay the fine plus costs of £21,500 within one month.

During the sentencing hearing judge Heather Norton said the dangers of asbestos had been highlighted in reports from 2010 and 2012 as the housing around the flue pipe contained amosite and the flue itself comprised chrysotile, Kent Online reported.

She went on to question why the headteacher had ticked boxes stating that the caretaker had received asbestos training in 2012 and 2013 when he said that he hadn’t been given any.

“The headteacher’s explanation as to why she did this, if it was not correct, is at the very least extremely vague,” judge Norton was reported as saying.

After the hearing HSE inspector Kevin Golding said:

“The council had implemented a system, but they had failed to take the simple step of checking to ensure it was being rigorously adhered to, resulting in employees not receiving the appropriate training.”