200 people evacuated from nightclub in air con blaze

A Cheltenham nightclub was evacuated in the early hours of after a fire spread from an air conditioning unit. Around 200 clubbers were led out of Lace nightclub just after 1am as 20 firefighters tackled a blaze in the roof space of the building.

They also used an aerial ladder platform to access electric motors, which were on the outside of the building and made up part of the air conditioning unit.

When the Fire Brigade arrived they were met by a full-scale evacuation and smoke pouring from the roof.

“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the building and quickly completed a search for anyone left. Other crews made their way to the top of the building and extinguished the fire, which had spread into cabling.”

Landlord pays £158,000 for breaches after tenants flee from blaze

A residential landlord has been found guilty of fire safety breaches, following a fire where his tenants were forced to flee for their lives.

Joseph Ernest Draper, then owner of 9 Hillsborough Terrace, in Ilfracombe, Devon, pleaded guilty to four offences under the Fire Safety Order 2005.

Appearing at Exeter Crown Court on 29 March, Mr Draper was ordered to pay a total of £135,000 in fines and £23,000 in costs.

It follows a fire at the four-storey building. The building had been subdivided into flats. The fire, which started on the ground floor, spread throughout the property and forced some of the 13 tenants to make their escape by clambering over the roof.

An investigation found that the door giving entrance to the ground floor flat was inappropriately constructed to resist fire, which enabled a fire in the said flat to spread into the escape route. The offence carried a fine of £75,000.

The three other offences cost £20,000 each, for three doors that had no self closing device fitted. This also impacted on fire spread to the means of escape.

Landlords and owners of properties used as flats should take notice of the outcome of this case – it has sent a clear message with the level of the fine awarded.”

First employee prosecuted for fire safety breach

A care home manager who was in charge when a fire alarm was silenced during a blaze has been convicted of a safety breach.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue, who brought the prosecution, this is the first time an employee has been prosecuted under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Karen Sykes appeared before Manchester Crown Court last week following the fire at Oldfield Bank Residential Care Home in Altrincham.

The court heard how fire broke out in May 2009 when Sykes was Duty Manager. The fire alarm went off at about 6pm. The alarm was silenced but Sykes failed to ensure that a proper search of the premises was carried out. A fire was later discovered in one of the rooms and a 999 call was made at about 7.15pm. The alarm was discovered in ‘silence’ mode when crew from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service arrived to tackle the blaze. Elderly resident, Beryl West, died following the fire and an inquest into her death is scheduled to be heard by Stockport Coroner later this month.

In sentencing Sykes, who was fined £500 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15, Judge Justice Lakin said: “My duty is clear. I have to apply the law. As the manager of the care home it was Sykes’ responsibility for the fire alarm and evacuation.”

Fire Alarm Engineer, Christopher Morris, has already been sentenced in relation to the same incident and was ordered to pay £5,000, with £6,000 being awarded to the Authority.

“This case clearly highlights and enforces the message that employees have a duty to ensure the safety of the people they are looking after. This type of behaviour simply isn’t acceptable and we should not forget that an elderly resident in Sykes’ care died that night.

“This is the first time an employee has been prosecuted under this legislation, as opposed to the employer

Reforms proposed for out of kilter civil-justice system

The Government is pushing ahead with plans to reform ‘no win no fee’ deals and overhaul the civil-justice system, as part of its efforts to release businesses from the fear of a compensation culture.

In a new consultation aimed at creating a simpler, quicker and more proportionate civil-justice regime, the Government is proposing to expand the use of an online system for resolving road-traffic accident personal-injury claims of up to £10,000, by making it available to process employers’ liability and public liability personal-injury claims.

The Government also plans to introduce automatic referral to mediation in small-claims cases, automatic referral to mediation-awareness sessions in higher-value cases, and consulting on making mediated settlements enforceable by courts.

Other proposals include raising the maximum value for small claims from £5000 to £15,000, enabling more cases to be heard through the small-claims process rather than through a costly trial.

Announcing the plans, Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke said: “With no major reform for 15 years, the civil-justice system has got out of kilter. Businesses and other people who have been sued can find that spiralling legal costs, slow court processes, unnecessary litigation, and the ‘no win no fee’ structures, which mean greater payments to lawyers than to claimants, are setting them back millions of pounds each year.”

According to the Government, statistics provided by insurers show that in 1999 claimant solicitors’ costs were equivalent to just over half the damages agreed, or awarded. By last year, however, average claimant costs represented 142 per cent of the sums received by injured victims.

Seeking reform in this area, the Government also confirmed it would be implementing Lord Justice Jackson’s blueprint to reform the cost of civil litigation. These plans include:

  • Abolishing recoverability of success fees and associated costs in ‘no win no fee’ conditional-fee agreements. Under the current regime, defendants must pay these additional costs if they lose. Under the reforms, claimants will pay their lawyer’s success fee, and will therefore take an interest in controlling the costs being incurred on their behalf.
  • Allowing damages-based agreements (also known as contingency fees) in litigation before the courts. These are another form of ‘no win no fee’ agreement, under which lawyers can take a proportion of the claimants’ damages in fees, and would increase the funding options available to claimants.
  • Introducing a 10-per-cent increase in general damages, and introducing a mechanism to protect the vast majority of personal-injury claimants from paying a winning defendant’s costs.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said the reforms would help tackle “the perverse situation in which lawyers can be awarded a greater proportion of payouts than claimants” and “help put an end to the fear of a compensation culture”.

Following the announcement, it was commented upon “This is a welcome step forward in delivering a system that reflects a fair balance between rewarding those who have been harmed, and the significant efforts of companies to manage risks. The current system of high legal costs for small claims is encouraging poor claims and is failing to meet the needs of genuine claimants, insurers and employers.”

Forty-five workers exposed to asbestos during Topshop renovations

Topshop the well-known high-street clothing retailer and a shopfitting firm have appeared in court after workers were exposed to potentially deadly levels of asbestos at a Topshop store in Liverpool.

The shop’s owner Arcadia Group Ltd contracted Vincents (Shopfitters) Ltd to be the principal contractor for renovations at the store in Church Street. Arcadia occupied five of the six floors in the building and the renovations were being carried out as part of an expansion project so it could occupy the final floor.

Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard the refurbishment work was allowed to go ahead despite a survey, carried out before the project started, identifying that asbestos was present in the building.

Vincents sub-contracted McVey Brothers Demolition Ltd to remove electrics on the first floor of the building, involved workers removing air conditioning, sprinklers and other equipment next to ceiling beams, which had previously been sprayed with asbestos.

During a site management visit Vincents identified that asbestos had been disturbed, and immediately made attempts to seal off access to the first floor of the building. But work was allowed to continue elsewhere on the premises, which also houses Topman and Miss Selfridge. On 20 June, the firm carried out a bulk analysis of debris at the site and found that asbestos fibres had spread across the building. It subsequently notified the HSE of its findings.

The HSE issued a Prohibition Notice to Arcadia to stop work at the site until a licensed contractor had been appointed to clear the asbestos.

HSE comments revealed the incident could have been avoided if the asbestos survey had been followed and the work was properly planned and monitored. He said: “It’s shocking that workers were exposed to deadly asbestos fibres, and that the refurbishment work was allowed to happen without the proper control measures in place.

“Neither company took adequate action to prevent workers being exposed despite a survey alerting them that asbestos was present in the building. The refurbishment work on the first floor was likely to disturb the asbestos, and so a licensed specialist contractor should have carried it out.

“Instead, up to 45 individuals, who were working in the building, now have to live with the knowledge that they may become ill with a life-threatening lung disease.”

Vincents (Shopfitters) Ltd appeared in court on 17 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 22(1)(a) and 23(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for failing to properly plan, manage and monitor the project, and for not identifying the risks from asbestos and taking action to address them. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,769 towards costs.

Arcadia Group Ltd also appeared at the hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 16(a) of the same legislation, by failing to prevent work starting on the site until Vincents had produced a construction plan, outlining how it would deal with the asbestos. It was fined £5000 and was also ordered to pay £10,769 in costs. In mitigation, Vincents said it had no previous convictions and stressed it was an oversight that the asbestos survey had not been followed.

Golf-resort guest died from Legionnaires’ Disease

An exclusive leisure resort in Scotland has been fined £120,000 for failing to put in place adequate controls to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease.

Forfar Sheriff Court heard that Mr Edward Warnes, 60, his partner Rosemary Powell, and his children and respective families stayed at the Piperdam Golf and Leisure Resort in Dundee between 28 March and 4 April 2008.

During the course of their stay various members of the party made use of the facilities at the lodge, which included a hot tub that was located on the upper-floor balcony, adjacent to the room occupied by Mr Warnes and Ms Powell. The day before the family returned to their home in Suffolk, Ms Powell began to feel unwell.

On 5 April 2008, Mr Warnes developed a temperature and started to suffer aching pains across his body. Two days later both he and Ms Powell began to feel worse and they contacted a doctor, who prescribed them antibiotics. Overnight, Mr Warnes’ condition deteriorated, and he was rushed to hospital where he underwent blood tests. The results showed that he had contracted Legionnaires’ Disease and, owing to the severity of his condition, he was sedated and monitored. Ms Powell also underwent blood tests, which found she was suffering from Pontiac Fever, a short feverish form of Legionnaires’ Disease.

On 11 April, Mr Warnes’ vital organs began shutting down. The decision was taken to switch off his life-support machine and he died shortly afterwards.

Environmental health officers from Angus Council visited the resort on the same day of Mr Warnes’ death and took water samples from showerheads, the hot tub and various other water outlets at the site. The results came back three days later and indicated the presence of the legionella bacteria in showerheads in two bedrooms and in the hot tub.

The investigation found that no suitable risk assessment had been carried out in relation to water systems at the resort. The council, however, decided not to issue any enforcement notices, as the resort immediately closed the lodges, pool, spa pool and communal showers until adequate controls were put in place to manage the risk of legionella.

Piperdam Golf and Leisure Resort appeared in court on 25 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) and s33(1) of the HSWA 1974, and was fined a total of £120,000. No costs are awarded in Scotland.

Following the case, head of the COPFS health and safety division said: “Control of legionella in water systems is a complex matter and it is essential that duty-holders have a robust system in place to ensure that any person using that water system is not exposed to it. The control measures that were in place at the Piperdam resort were inadequate and led to the proliferation of the legionella bacteria in the lodge where Mr Warnes and his family were staying.

“Mr Warnes’ death was entirely avoidable and had Piperdam met its statutory health and safety obligations he would be alive today.”