New Cladding Materials Tests Announced

The Government has widened its fire testing regime to include other materials than aluminium composite material (ACM), which could mean ‘potential uncertainty for thousands more residents’.

The Guardian reported on the announcement that the government’s Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse, has ordered combustibility tests on cladding panels used on high rise residential blocks, hotels and student accommodation ‘that differ’ from ACM panels used on 437 buildings ‘identified so far’. Research has suggested that ‘at least’ 160 high rises have been built with materials used in rainscreen cladding systems ‘that have not been accounted for’ in prior government testing.

These include high pressure laminate (HPL) panels made from compressed wood or paper fibre, used to produce ‘colourful skins for new buildings’, and some of which are classed as combustible. The development follows pressure from the Labour party, with The Guardian pointing out that it has ‘the potential to dramatically increase the number of buildings that may require action to make them safe’.

Earlier this week in parliament, Mr Malthouse stated that fire safety experts had updated guidance for the government, adding that ‘we have commissioned the Building Research Establishment to conduct a programme of testing on non-ACM materials and we expect that testing to start shortly’. He added that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government had been ‘cajoling’ private building owners to remove ACM panels, and was considering ‘more assertive’ measures.

This was because the latest government figures showed that only five of 176 privately owned towers identified as having combustible ACM cladding had seen panels replaced. An urgent question in parliament had been lodged by shadow housing and communities secretary John Healey, to which Mr Malthouse replied: ‘There remain 42 private residential buildings for which the owner’s plans are unclear, so we are maintaining pressure and rule out no solutions.’

Death of daughter, five, whose head got trapped in a lift

Two companies have now been fined more than £1.5m after the death of a girl, five, whose head got trapped in a lift.

Alexys Brown died from ‘horrific’ head and neck injuries when she got her head trapped between a disability lift and the ceiling of her home in Weymouth, Dorset in August 2015.  The lift had been installed in the family home for Lexi’s older brother Jack, who is wheelchair-bound.

The incident happened when Jack asked his five-year-old sister to fetch his mobile phone from upstairs, Bournemouth Crown Court heard.

Yesterday a judge at Bournemouth Crown Court fined housing association Synergy Housing Ltd, which owned the property where Alexys lived with her family, £1million.

Maintenance contractor Orona Ltd, which was responsible for servicing and maintaining the lift, was fined £533,000.

Both companies were ordered to pay £40,000 towards the costs of the Health and Safety Executive prosecution.

Lexi’s mother Lorraine Brown described the last three years as ‘unimaginable’.  She said:

‘Hold your children a little tighter, love your family a little harder because you never know when you might not be able to anymore.  The loss of Alexys has impacted our lives and our children’s lives immensely.  Nothing can ever bring Alexys back to us. The fines to us are irrelevant. All we ever wanted was an apology from Synergy and we got that.  Alexys was a loving, carefree and angelic little girl who was full of energy, love and laughter.  I hope that what has happened to our family sheds light on others in order to avoid anything like this ever happening again.  We are now looking forward in raising our children with memories, photos, videos and stories of their sister.’

Mrs Brown, who was accompanied by her husband Matthew, added:

‘Hold your children a little tighter and love your family a little harder. You never know when you won’t be able to anymore.’

Bournemouth Crown Court heard that as the little girl went up on the platform lift she was able to put her head through a hole in the Perspex door panel, which had not been repaired – and she got trapped.

Firefighters had to cut Alexys free because there was no emergency key or handle to manually free her, the court heard.

Sadly Alexys couldn’t be saved and she died at the scene from head and neck injuries.

They told Health and Safety Executive investigators there had been ongoing problems with the lift since they moved in, including the doors not opening. By May 2015 the Perspex door panel was damaged and should have been repaired or replaced.

The lift should have been serviced every six months and subjected to a ‘thorough examination’ twice yearly by a third party insurer.  That examination was last carried out in 2012 after Synergy told the insurance company the lift had been removed.

Orona had twice quoted Synergy a price to replace the lift but the housing association did not approve the work as it was investigating the building of a ground floor extension instead.

At a previous hearing both companies pleaded guilty to a single charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Dominic Kay QC, for Synergy, said:

‘Synergy accepts wholeheartedly its failings. It is important to understand the feelings of regret and remorse felt at Synergy.’

James Ageros QC, representing Orona, expressed his ‘sincere regret and condolences’ to Alexys’ family.

‘Nothing I say is meant to detract from the human tragedy of this case,’ he added.

Passing sentence, Judge Stephen Climie listed several failings, including a failure to ensure the proper maintenance and repair of the lift.

‘No one should ever lose sight of the fact that this was industrial machinery operating in a domestic setting with young children present which should have resulted in the most careful assessment of safety measures and controls at all times,’ he said.

Each defendant has accepted responsibility through the basis of plea documents and has accepted that to some extent each is responsible for causing Alexys’ death.

Between them I am satisfied that they were wholly responsible for her death and the desperate loss to her family.’

Both companies are to pay £40,000 prosecution costs. Charges against a third company, Aster Property Ltd, were ordered to lie on file.

After passing sentence, Judge Climie praised the Brown family for the ‘dignity and strength that would be beyond many of us’.

‘It is clear the family feel responsible for Alexys’ death. The only fault which attaches in this case as far as Alexys’ death is concerned lies with the defendants,’ he said.

‘No words or actions by this court can compensate the family for their loss.

‘The financial penalties which are imposed in this case are not a reflection of value of her life. She was beautiful, and she was priceless.’

The list of fatal errors included;

  • A key switch preventing the lift being used unsupervised was never given to the family
  • A handle to operate the emergency lowering system was never supplied to the family
  • The family were never given any training on operating the lift or a user manual
  • In 2012 Orona quoted Synergy £14,000 for a new lift after a series of failings with the existing one but this was never followed up
  • A third party insurance company stopped bi-annual inspections of the lift in 2012 as it was wrongly told the lift had been removed
  • Orona was notified of the damaged door three months before the tragedy but nothing was done to fix this.
  • The Browns were so worried about the safety of the lift they applied for planning permission to extend their end-of-terrace house so Jack could have his bedroom downstairs.

A judge at Bournemouth Crown Court fined Synergy, which is part of Aster Group, £1m. Orona Ltd was fined £533,000. Both companies were ordered to pay £40,000 towards the costs of the Health and Safety Executive prosecution.

Judge Stephen Climie told Alexys’ parents, Lorraine and Matthew, that the fine was in no way a reflection of the value of their ‘beautiful and priceless’ daughter’s life.

 

Landlord and Contractor fined after asbestos breach

A landlord and building contractor have been fined after large quantities of asbestos fibres were released from the demolition of a conservatory at a rented property.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard how the landlord commissioned a building contractor to replace a conservatory containing asbestos panels at a property in Selly Oak, Birmingham between Friday 18 August and Tuesday 29 August 2017. Asbestos was spread as the panels were removed in a haphazard and uncontained way.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the landlord should have had an asbestos survey carried out prior to work beginning, and the building contractor should not have started work without one. The building contractor took no precautions and asbestos was spread to the home, contents and next door.

Wah Kei Dany Ng of Penns Lane, Sutton Coldfield pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and has been fined £1,200 and ordered to pay costs of £607.21.

Jasvir Singh Sangha of Tunnel Road, West Bromwich pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 5 and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and has been sentenced to 150 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £596.61.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Gareth Langston said

“Asbestos surveys need to be carried out prior to any construction work which disturbs the fabric of a structure.”

Second ‘fall from height’ death at Canary Wharf

A second man has died after ‘falling from height’ this week.

The man, reported to be in his 50s, fell at a shopping centre which is part of the Canary Wharf estate in east London, according to police.  He was pronounced dead at the scene just after 9am on Tuesday morning, after London Ambulance and London’s Air Ambulance had been called to attend.

Canary Wharf Group, the company which owns the property, tweeted:

“We can confirm that there has been a medical incident on the Canary Wharf estate. We are supporting the emergency services in their response.

We can confirm there was a fatality this morning on the Estate. This is subject to an on-going police enquiry. Our thoughts are with the individual’s family at this difficult time. We are unable to comment further at this time.

 

The incident comes less than 24 hours after a 32-year-old man fell to his death from an escalator at Canary Wharf tube station on Monday.

Leisure centre users at significant risk – Council pays £27,000 over Legionnaires’ case

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which launched an investigation into the incident at Walton Lifestyles in Walton-on-the-Naze in November 2016, identified a failure in the council’s system for managing the risk of legionella.

Tendring District Council in Essex has been fined £27,000 after a leisure centre customer who contracted Legionnaires’ Disease was hospitalised for nearly three weeks.

Colchester Magistrates’ Court was told that the regular user of the centre’s facilities, fell seriously ill and was taken to hospital where he remained for 18 days. He was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease, sepsis, pneumonia and chronic kidney failure.

The investigating officer said the council’s failures could easily have led to a fatality and Walton Lifestyles users were put at significant risk.

Water samples were taken from the men’s shower and tested positive for legionella bacteria.

The HSE found that the council had failed to adequately manage the water systems at a number of leisure centres in the district, including Walton Lifestyles, Dovercourt Lifestyles and Clacton Leisure Centre.

Significant failings included not having suitable and sufficient legionella risk assessments for the leisure facilities. Staff were not adequately trained, and a lack of monitoring meant the failures went unnoticed for several months.

HSE inspector Tania van Rixtel said:

“Controls such as maintaining water temperatures, regular flushing of low-use outlets and adequate cleaning are all necessary in order to reduce the risk of legionella developing.”

Van Rixtel said that, given the number of people who use the facilities, the potential legionella risk to the public would have been significant.

The council, which pleaded guilty to breaching s 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, was fined £27,000 and must pay £7,500 costs.

Chief executive Ian Davidson apologised to the individual who was affected and reassured customers that the council’s legionella management systems had been overhauled.

“I would like to reassure the public, and particularly our leisure centre customers, that our leisure centres are safe,” he said.

He added that the council took its health and safety responsibilities seriously and said:

“We deeply regret that standards fell below the high level that we hold ourselves to, and we know which the public expect from us… We fully accept the fine issued by the court.”