High Rise Cladding Update

Just three tower blocks out of almost 300 with the same cladding as Grenfell Tower have had panels taken down and replaced.

Seven months after the fire a report published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government revealed “three buildings have finished the installation of replacement cladding”.

Only a further six had begun to replace the cladding, made of aluminium composite material.

The report said it had identified 299 tower blocks that had failed safety tests because they had the same cladding system that “therefore present fire hazards”.

Sajid Javid, the Housing Secretary, told MPs that 312 buildings had been tested for fire safety and that all but 13 had failed.

The fire in the 24-storey tower block in west London in June is now subject to a public inquiry. The cladding, installed as part of a multi-million pound refurbishment, has been blamed for the rapid spread of the blaze which began with a fire in a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor.

Local authorities have been seeking extra funding from central Government to pay for the work in taking down and replacing the flammable cladding. Camden council, which has stripped cladding from five tower blocks, has estimated the cost of replacing it at £50 million and will take until the summer of 2019 to complete.

The official report identified six councils with 11 or more tower blocks with a ‘cladding system’ that failed safety tests. Four are in London and the other two in the north west.

Out of the 299 high rise residential blocks with the dangerous cladding, 168 are managed by either local councils or housing associations. Of those 160 “are unlikely to meet current Building regulations guidance” states the report, issued monthly as part of the Government’s response to Grenfell.

The Housing Ministry declined to say why just three buildings had been re-clad in the wake of the fire but insisted that the number one priority was the safety of tower block residents.

Smoking related fire deaths rise in London

Most fatal fires are started by discarded cigarettes, matches and lighters according to Fire Facts, the London Fire Brigade’s comprehensive annual review of fire data. The report covers up to the end of 2016 and does not include the tragic Grenfell tower fire that happened in June last year.

So many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented

Overall fires are down, but the Brigade remain concerned about the number of fatalities and injuries from fires that are largely preventable such as those caused by smouldering cigarettes, unattended candles but also faulty white goods such as fridges and freezers.

London Fire Brigade Director of Operations Tom George said:

“Last year, there were around 11 smoking related fires per week and at least one smoking related fire fatality every month. These are often small fires started when people have fallen asleep smoking or have been drinking and smoking. It’s not uncommon for people to have died in these sorts of fires before the alarm is even raised.

So many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented either by switching to vaping or, providing personal sprinkler systems and fire proof bedding for the most vulnerable.

This shows how important our community safety work is. Modern firefighting is about stopping fires happening in the first place, prevention is much than better cure.

These figures show that there is still more prevention work that can be done and the Brigade is keen to maximise its partnership work with local authorities, health providers and community groups. Far too many older and vulnerable people are dying unnecessarily in avoidable fires due to mobility issues or because fire detection systems are just not in place or working properly.”

Homes need multiple smoke alarms so that they are properly covered

Last year crews carried out around 84,000 home fire safety visits where they fitted smoke alarms, provided safety advice and worked with councils and housing providers to provide fire proof bedding and other practical equipment. The Brigade’s focus is to visit vulnerable people who have lifestyle characteristics that put them at greater risk from having a fatal fire.

The Brigade wants to see homes with multiple smoke alarms so that they are properly covered. Smoke alarms should be fitted in all rooms where fires can start, including rooms where you leave electrical equipment running like satellite boxes, computers or heaters; any room where you smoke, and anywhere you charge your mobile or laptop. As a minimum you should have smoke alarms on every floor – in the hallways and the rooms you use the most, plus a heat alarm in the kitchen.

The report found that;

• Half of accidental fatal fire deaths in the home were caused by smoking.
• Kitchen appliances caused 419 fires last year, up 15 on the previous year.
• There were more fire related injuries caused by cooking than smoking and candles combined.

Fewest primary fires since records began
Fire Facts also shows that there were 10,587 ‘primary fires’ in 2016, the fewest since official records were logged in 1966. Primary fires include all occupied building fires, those involving casualties or rescues and any that require five fire engines or more.

Primary fires are down by over 50 per cent from their highest point in 2001 (22,655) when the Brigade’s community safety strategy started. This changed the Brigade’s focus from being a permeably reactive emergency responder to a more proactive service with community fire safety at the core of its activities. Since then primary fires have reduced on average by around 850 fires per year and all other fire categories have shown a consistent downward trend.

The Fire Facts series gives the public more access to key London Fire Brigade data. It is divided into four sections: long term trends, where fires happen, fires in the home and fires in other buildings. The report also finds;

• The busiest time for fires in London is 7pm with the quietest being 6am.
• Most fires start in the kitchen but are less likely to be fatal, most fatal fires in the home start in the living room but this is often where people are asleep.
• 1976 had the greatest number of fires followed by 2003, 1989, 1995 and 2001.

Quantum’s Advice
These statistics illustrate the need for us all to take care when using electrical appliances and especially when charging electrical devices, and to ensure higher risk sources of ignition e.g. smoking materials and candles are disposed of safely and never forgotten about.

Housing Association receives £100k fines for exposing workers to HAVS

Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard how Charter Housing Association Ltd. reported six cases of HAVS following a health surveillance programme launched in June 2015. The affected employees were all part of the maintenance team for this programme.

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a serious and permanent condition caused by regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration. HAVS results in tingling, numbness, pain and loss of strength in the hands which may affect the ability to do work safely and cause pain, distress and sleep disturbance.

An investigation by The Health and Safety Executive’s found the six workers’ conditions were likely to have been caused or worsened by the use of vibratory power tools while in Charter Housing’s employment. It was also found that staff in the maintenance and refurbishment departments at Charter Housing experienced significant exposure to hand arm vibration in their daily work which put them at risk of developing or exacerbating existing HAVS.

The investigation also revealed that the company:

neither adequately planned its working methods nor trained or informed employees on the risks to their health
did not limit the duration and magnitude of exposure to vibration
failed to put in place suitable health surveillance to identify problems at an early stage.

Charter Housing Association Ltd (now part of Pobl Group Ltd) of High Street, Newport pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The company was fined £100,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £9,896.88.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Joanne Carter said:

“An individuals’ health should not be made worse by the work they do. If Charter Housing had correctly implemented its health surveillance earlier, it would have ensured the right systems were in place to monitor workers’ health. The six affected employees’ conditions may have been prevented from developing or developing to a more severe stage.

How people work today can affect their health and wellbeing tomorrow. This case serves as an important reminder of the necessity of task based risk assessments to establish the level of exposure, control measures to reduce that exposure to as low as is reasonably practicable and effective health surveillance systems. In the case of Charter Housing this realisation came too late.

All employers need to do the right thing to protect workers’ health.”