Property firm fined for Fire Safety Order breaches

A property management firm has been fined £1500 and ordered to pay costs of £2000 for two offences under fire safety legislation.

Solitaire Property Management Limited pleaded guilty to the offences at a hearing in Southampton Magistrates Court on 2 November. The company failed to respond to a number of requests for information under Article 27 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 about a block of flats in Southampton.

The prosecution was brought by Hampshire County Council solicitors and Solitaire Property Management received a fine of £750 per offence and were ordered to pay £1,000 to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority and £1,000 to Hampshire County Council.

Assistant chief officer Steve Hamm, head of community safety at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We require information about premises to enable us to carry out our enforcement action and improve the safety of the people of Hampshire. Failure to answer our letters constitutes an offence under the Fire Safety Order and Solitaire Property Management has today been found guilty of this offence.”

Fire hits Welsh comprehensive school

The technology block of a school in Wales has been badly damaged by fire. Six appliances from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue service attended the blaze just before 11.00 pm on 5 November at the Coedcae comprehensive school in Llanelli.

Around 30% of the building and roof void of the 60m x 20m building was severely damaged by the fire, and the rest of it was damaged by smoke.

Fire crews had to briefly withdraw from the fire at one stage due to the presence of acetylene cylinders. Ten breathing apparatus, two main jets, a hose reel jet as well as a water bowser were used.

A joint fire service and police investigation is currently underway to identify the cause of the fire.

The school did not expect any significant disruption to pupils, with lessons being relocated to other parts of the school.

Art class injury left pupil with two fingers

A foundation school’s governing body has been fined £16,500 after a pupil lost six fingers and both thumbs during an A-Level art class.

The 16-year-old girl suffered serious burns in January 2007 at the Giles School in Boston, Lincolnshire as she tried to make a plaster of Paris sculpture of her own hands. Knowing that another pupil had done a similar cast a few weeks before, the girl asked her teacher for advice. But she remained unaware that when water mixes with plaster of Paris, the reaction produces extreme heat. As she plunged her hands into the substance, it quickly started to set, trapping them inside.

Fellow pupils, the teacher and paramedics all failed to remove the girl’s hands from the cast, which meant the substance continued to solidify. The chemical reaction left her with such severe burns that surgeons had to amputate all four fingers and the thumb on her left hand, and the thumb and two fingers on her right hand. A plastic surgeon reported the incident to the HSE after the school failed to do so.

The HSE prosecuted the governing body, rather than the local authority, because of the school’s foundation status. No one had risk-assessed the use of the hazardous substance, explained the potential dangers, or told pupils to wear gloves or other protective equipment.

After the case, HSE inspector Jo Anderson reminded schools not to see risk assessments as a burden. “It is simply not acceptable that pupils in a classroom setting are not informed and prepared for the risks involved in handling hazardous substances,” she said.

The governing body admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to ensure pupils’ safety, and Regulation 3(1)(c) of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations for its failure to report the injury. On 12 October, Boston magistrates fined it £16,500 with £2500 costs.

Overtime affecting staff’s health and wellbeing

New research by management consultancy, Hay Group, has revealed that many staff are working longer hours to help their employer through the recession, but many feel that overworking is affecting their health and are concerned that current levels are unsustainable.

The report – ‘The Loyalty Deficit’ – also suggests that some employers have broken an unwritten ‘contract’ with staff, jeopardising staff loyalty and commitment in the future.

The study of 1,000 frontline employees revealed that two-thirds (65%) of employees are currently working over and above contracted hours and over a third (36%) have increased the amount of overtime they put in over the past 12 months. The average amount of unpaid overtime workers are currently clocking up is six hours per week.

The majority (85%) of those working unpaid overtime are committed to helping their organisation survive the recession, while 84% say that people in their team are willing to go beyond their normal responsibilities to help each other out.

However, half (50%) of these employees warn that this level of work is unsustainable. Seven out of ten (70%) claim that overwork is having a negative impact on their relationships and family life, whilst 76% say that it is affecting their general health and wellbeing.

London Property Developer Fined

A London property developer and landlord was yesterday fined £10,000 at City of London Magistrates Court after workers on two of his developments were put at risk.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Lahrie Mohamed of South Woodford, London, after uncovering breaches of health and safety law on two sites in Waltham Forest, north east London.

Mr Mohamed was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,103 after pleading guilty to breaching regulations 4(1) (a) and 9(1) (a) of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations for offences committed at 78-80 Spruce Hills Road and breaching regulations 9(1) (a) and 4(1)(a)of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 for offences committed at 67-67a Chingford Mount Road.

The court heard how Mr Mohammed failed on both sites to appoint a competent contractor and failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that proper arrangements were in place for work to be managed safely – putting workers and neighbours at risk.

Open flames were used at Chingford Mount Road site, which is close to a petrol station, but there  were no fire extinguishers on site. Inspectors also found that scaffolding at the property was substandard or missing and had insufficient guard rails, while 240 volt power tools were used in areas where the cables were likely to be damaged, creating a risk of electrocution and fire. Domestic quality cables were also run through damp areas. HSE inspectors ordered works to down tools after visiting the site.

HSE Construction Inspector Sarah Snelling said: “Mr Mohamed put the lives of the men working on his sites at serious risk by failing to appoint competent contractors to carry out and manage the work.

“As a long-standing property developer and professional landlord who owns over 100 properties in and around Waltham Forest, Mr Mohamed should have had the knowledge and resources to ensure the work was carried out safely and legally.”

Record £400,000 fine for retailer’s fire safety breaches

High street retailer New Look has been fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £136,052 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of fire safety legislation, following a serious fire at its Oxford Street store in London.

Thirty five fire engines and around 150 firefighters attended the fire on 26 April 2007, when around 450 people form the store and surrounding premises were evacuated. The first call to the fire service did not come until an office worker in an adjacent building took action, and the delay meant that the fire had already broken through the second floor windows when firefighters arrived. Despite the building’s fire alarm sounding, the alarm was reset on at least one occasion, said London Fire Brigade.

Crews remained on the scene for the next three days and a section of Oxford Street was closed to traffic and the public for two days. The cause of the fire was never established and the store was subsequently demolished.

One charge to which New Look pleaded guilty was for an inadequate fire risk assessment which was found to have a number of flaws, including no record of the appropriate procedures to be taken during a fire alarm. Another breach was insufficient staff training, which led to a delayed evacuation of the premises. This lack of training, said LFB, also led to staff evacuating around 150 people through the main entrance which was directly underneath the fire on the second floor.

Other alleged breaches taken into account included the absence of an interface between the swipe card system and the fire alarm panel which would have deactivated the doors. In addition, green emergency door release units were fitted on the wrong side of the basement doors.

The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority,  said: “Good business management includes taking responsibility for fire safety, knowing the law and acting on it. This conviction shows that large companies are not exempt from prosecution and that London Fire Brigade will take action when businesses do not take their fire safety responsibilities seriously. Failure to comply with the law can, as this case has shown, result in a substantial fine.”

Sentencing of New Look took place at Southwark Crown Court on 25 November 2009.

A third of employees incur driving fines

According to figures released today, the UK’s small businesses are seeing a significant number of driving offences being committed by employees. In the last six months, a third (31%) of employees using a vehicle for work committed an offence whilst driving on the road.

Over half (51%) of the driving offences committed were due to speeding whilst a quarter (24%) were due to drink / drug driving. Inappropriate insurance was the cause of one in ten (10%) offences and a failure to pay fixed penalty notices affected one in six (16%).

Currently, more than one in three workers (35%) use their own car for business purposes, making it the most common form of business transport.

Rob Ingram, Director of business rental at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, commented:

“The findings show that a significant number of small businesses are facing a problem when it comes to managing their drivers.

“Although employers cannot directly control their employee’s driving habits, they can ensure that the car they drive for work is regularly serviced and safe to drive. Whether a driver is in a company car or a private vehicle, responsibility remains with the employer.

“They also need to be clear on what their drivers’ insurance actually covers. A lot of drivers use their cars for work without the appropriate business insurance. This can result in significant fines and time lost for small businesses with drivers off the road.

“We would recommend companies should also be checking their employees’ driving licences at least once every 12 months to ensure they are legally allowed to drive a vehicle on company business.”