Marks and Spencer safety conviction “a wake-up call” for retailers

High-street retailer Marks and Spencer and two of its contractors have been convicted for potentially exposing workers and members of the public to asbestos.

In 2006, the HSE received a complaint from an electrician who had been involved in the refurbishment of a Marks and Spencer store in Reading. He informed the HSE that he believed asbestos removal work was not being carried out safely. When HSE inspectors visited the store they found that asbestos-containing materials were present in ceiling tiles that were being removed from the store. Styles and Wood Ltd was the principal contractor for the overall refurbishment, while PA Realisations Ltd (formerly Pectel Ltd) was contracted to remove the asbestos.

The work was carried out at night in enclosures on the shop floor in order to remove the tiles bit by bit, to allow the shop to stay open to the public each day. During the investigation inspectors found evidence that asbestos had been spread around the store. The HSE alleged that Marks and Spencer had failed to allocate sufficient time and space for the asbestos removal.

The investigation also learned that PA Realisations had failed to ensure that the protective tent, which it used to prevent asbestos from spreading when removing the tiles, was in a suitable condition. Workers should have tested the tent by filling it with smoke to see if there were any gaps that would allow asbestos to escape. Instead, they used a glass vial to let out a small amount of smoke, which made it harder to identify if any fumes had leaked out. Although the solicitor for Marks and Spencer said the test was carried out differently.

In February 2007, the HSE visited a Marks and Spencer store in Bournemouth, which was also being refurbished. It found that the principal contractor at the store, Wilmott Dixon Construction Ltd, had failed to plan, manage and monitor the removal of asbestos materials. It had also failed to carry out an extensive asbestos survey and inspectors found evidence that asbestos had been spread around the store.

Earlier this week, on 18 July, Willmott Dixon Construction was found guilty, following a trial at Winchester Crown Court, of breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. The charges relate to refurbishment work it carried out at the Bournemouth store.

Marks and Spencer plc was found guilty of the same breaches, in relation to the work carried out at its Reading store from 24 April to 13 November 2006.

PA Realisations was also found guilty for contravening reg. 15 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, on account of the work it carried out at the Reading store.

At an earlier hearing, Styles & Wood Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, in relation to its role at the Reading store.

All four companies will be sentenced on 26 September 2011.

Related Course: Introduction to Managing Workplace Health Safety & Welfare

Warning on fridge-freezer fire risk after tower block blaze

London Fire Brigade has issued an urgent warning about the fire risk of certain fridge-freezers, following confirmation that a blaze last week in a London tower block was caused by a faulty appliance.

Beko fridge-freezers manufactured between January 2000 and October 2006 are at the centre of the safety warning, and it is thought as many as 500,000 could be in use. London Fire Brigade say there have been 20 fires in the capital alone involving the fridge freezers since 2008, which have seen one person die and 15 people injured.

Owners of the appliances are asked to contact Beko on 0800 009 4837. model .The same recall applies to a model badged LEC fridge freezer.

Last week’s fire, which was originally thought to have been caused by a lightning strike, damaged part of a flat on the 17th floor of a tower block in south London.

Over the last three years, fire investigators have been working to establish the link between a faulty defroster timer switch on the appliances and a number of house fires. The problem occurs when water gets into the defrost timer switch in the fridge freezer, which can lead to an electrical malfunction resulting in plastic components and other highly flammable insulation inside the appliance catching fire.

The fire service formally alerted Beko to the problem in June 2010, and the manufacturer has been trying to locate the products to remedy the fault.

“Any fire can be lethal, but the London Fire Brigade is particularly concerned about this because fires involving any sort of fridge-freezer develop rapidly and produce an enormous amount of toxic smoke Expert fire investigators have had to work for a long time to confidently establish these faulty fridge-freezers as the cause of a number of serious fires.

Related Course: Fire Safety & Fire Marshall Training

Essex school fined over caretaker injury

A Shenfield school has been prosecuted after one of its staff fell from height while at work.

Caretaker David Springett was recladding the outside of the kitchen at Shenfield High School near Brentwood in Essex on 28 July 2010.

The 54-year-old was working with a colleague on an unguarded work platform when he lost his footing and fell 1.9 metres to the ground. He broke two ribs and needed a three-inch metal plate and multiple metal screws inserted into a broken arm.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), prosecuting, told Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court today that Shenfield High School failed to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent an employee failing from height while carrying out work.

After the hearing the HSE commented: “As falling from height often results in severe injury or death, the outcome of this incident could have been much worse.

“However, it could have been avoided altogether if an appropriate work platform had been provided by Mr Springett’s employers. The school has a duty to protect its staff and working at height brings with it risks they should be aware of, and protect against.”

Shenfield High School Alexander Lane, Shenfield, Brentwood, Essex, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £6,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,243.85.

Related Course:
Health & Safety in Educational Premises

Fire risk assessor and hotel manager jailed for fire safety offences

An external fire risk assessor and a hotel manager have both been jailed for eight months for fire safety offences.

David Liu, who runs The Dial Hotel and Market Inn, both in Mansfield, had previously pleaded guilty to 15 offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, while John O’Rourke of Mansfield Fire Protection Services pleaded guilty to two offences under the legislation.

Sentencing the two defendants last Friday (8 July) at Nottingham Crown Court, the judge said that the time had come to send out a message to those who conduct fire risk assessments, and to hoteliers who are prepared to put profit before safety.

Officers from Nottingham Fire and Rescue Service visited both hotels as part of a routine inspection. They found that both premises were being used to provide sleeping accommodation on the upper floors and that fire precautions, which should have been provided to safeguard the occupants in the event of a fire, were inadequate.

Due to the serious risk to life, they issued prohibition notices preventing any further use of both premises for sleeping accommodation until suitable improvements had been made.

Mr O’Rourke was prosecuted because he had prepared fire risk assessments for both premises. However the fire risk assessments failed to identify a number of significant deficiencies, said the prosecution, which would have placed the occupants at serious risk in the event of a fire.

The offences common to both hotels to which Mr Liu, as the responsible person, pleaded guilty were:

  • A lack of a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment
  • A failure to ensure effective means of escape with doors leading onto corridors not being fire resisting or having self-closers fitted
  • A failure to ensure that emergency routes and exits were provided with emergency lighting
  • A failure to ensure the premises were equipped with appropriate firefighting equipment, detectors and alarms in that there was no fire detection within the bedrooms
  • A failure to ensure that equipment and devices provided were subject to a suitable system of maintenance in that the fire alarm system, emergency lighting system and firefighting equipment were not tested.

In addition at the Dial Hotel, officers found both staircases from upper levels terminating in the same ground floor area with no alternative escape routes or separation, a locked fire exit door, and exit routes obstructed by combustible materials.

The other offence at the Market Inn related to a missing fire door and a window not being fire resisting. Mr Liu was also ordered to pay costs of £15,000.

John O’Rourke, as a person other than the responsible person who had some control of the premises, pleaded guilty to two counts (one for each hotel) of failing to provide a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. He was ordered to pay costs of £5,860.

Related Course: Fire Safety & Fire Marshall Training

1500 evacuated from Park Lane hotel after music awards

Around 1500 people were evacuated from the prestigious Hilton Park Lane hotel in London after a fire started in a basement kitchen of the hotel.

Eight fire engines and around 40 firefighters, who were called at around 6.45pm on 1 July, managed to get the fire under control by 11.00pm.

Ducting between the basement and the fourth floor was damaged.

Earlier in the day, the hotel had hosted a music awards ceremony attended by stars including Liza Minelli and Annie Lennox, according to BBC news.

There were no fire-related injuries but London Ambulance Service confirmed that an elderly woman was treated after feeling unwell.

Related Course: Fire Safety & Fire Marshall Training

Building managers fined £100,000 after failing to act on fire risk assessment

The managing agent of a block of flats in London has been fined £100,000 and ordered to pay almost £13,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaches of fire safety law.

Douglas and Gordon Ltd pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 at Southwark crown court on 29 June. The leasehold owner of the premises in Gloucester Terrace, Paddington, Atomlynn Ltd, was fined £33,000 after pleading guilty to one offence under the Order and ordered to pay costs of £6,440.

Following a fire in one of the flats, London Fire Brigade carried out an audit of the communal areas. Officers found a number of fire safety breaches which included a failure to install a fire alarm system and a failure to ensure that the electrical intake cupboard was locked.

A fire risk assessment had been carried out but the managing agent and leaseholder had failed to act on its significant findings, said London Fire Brigade. These included the failure to make an emergency plan, ensuring that fire doors were self-closing and installing emergency lighting.

The London Fire Brigade will continue to take action against managing agents, lease owners or landlords who do not take their fire safety responsibilities seriously. Failure to comply with the law can, as this case has shown, result in a prosecution.”

In a statement issued following the sentence, Douglas and Gordon Ltd (D&G) said: “D&G and its legal and technical advisors were surprised at the level of the fine as they believed the breaches represented a low level of risk, the avoidance of which is the central criteria for implementing fire precautions under the Order.

“The introduction of the Order has caused difficulties for landlords, managing agents, consultants and enforcing authorities alike when it comes to applying the legislation to blocks of flats like Gloucester Terrace. This was demonstrated by the five separate fire risk assessments D&G commissioned for the building, all of which provided different advice. We welcome the Government’s commitment to the provision of new national guidance on fire precautions in blocks of flats, which will be developed by CS Todd & Associates Limited.”

The company added that since 2008, it has worked to ensure that all of the 150 properties it manages are compliant and that its clients are properly advised of their responsibilities.

Related Course: Fire Safety & Fire Marshall Training

Feeling the Heat – How safe is your barbecue?

Barbecues are an important part of summer for millions of people, yet despite their unwavering popularity they are not without risk. Barbecues contribute to hundreds of accidents each year, including scalds, severe burns and cuts. Although having a barbecue may be deemed relatively safe by many people, in one year alone, around 1,800 people were admitted to A&E due to a barbecue-related accident*.

With the BBQ season in full swing here are some essential barbecue safety advice, to ensure that the risk of accidents is greatly minimised:

  • Check your barbecue is in good condition (particularly if you have not used it for some time) and look for loose or damaged parts that may need adjustment or repair
  • Stability is essential – check that your barbecue is strong and stable
  • Consider the location – level ground, away from fences, sheds and overhanging trees, which are prone to catch fire
  • Never pour petrol or meths onto a barbecue. Some of the most serious barbecue-related accidents happen when people do this and the barbecue explodes in their face
  • Use long-handled tools
  • Only move the barbecue once it has cooled down
  • Never leave children unsupervised near a barbecue.

This list is not exhaustive. So please make sure that you enjoy the barbecue season without ending up in A&E.

Related Course: Fire Safety & Fire Marshall Training

School-trips digest to ease bureaucracy burden

The Government has torn up reams of health and safety guidance for schools and condensed them into eight pages of simplified advice.

In a move designed to alleviate teachers’ fears of legal action being taken in the event of an incident in which a child suffers harm, as well as encouraging teachers to take children on more school trips, the Department for Education (DE) has slashed 150 pages of health and safety guidance for schools into eight pages.

The fear of prosecution is often cited as a barrier to the organisation of school trips, but the Department emphasises that convictions are rare. In the past five years, the HSE has pursued only two cases for breaches of health and safety law in relation to school visits, and both were taken in the light of evidence of recklessness, or a clear failure to follow sensible precautions.

The revised guidance:

  • summarises the legal duties of head teachers, governing bodies and local authorities on health and safety, and covers activities that take place on and off school premises;
  • clarifies that a written risk assessment does not need to be carried out every time a school takes pupils on a routine local visit;
  • tackles teachers’ fears about being prosecuted by making the law clearer; and clarifies that parental consent is not necessary for pupils to take part in the majority of off-site activities organised by a school, as most of these activities take place during school hours and are a normal part of a child’s education. To help schools further, the DE has also developed a ‘one-off’ parental consent form, which covers activities outside the normal school day.The consent form will cover all activities and will only need to be signed once, when a child enrols at the school. Rather than filling in forms for every excursion, schools will then only need to inform parents in advance of each activity to give them the opportunity to withdraw their child from the activity if they wish.

Education secretary Michael Gove said: “Children should be able to go on exciting school trips that broaden their horizons. That is why we are cutting unnecessary red tape in schools and putting teachers back in charge.

“This new, slimmer advice means a more common-sense approach to health and safety. It will make it easier for schools to make lessons more inspiring and fun.”

The HSE has also prepared a myth-busting statement for schools and local authorities, explaining what issues they need to focus on when organising excursions.

Said Safety minister Chris Grayling: “Memories of our school trips stay with us. Learning outside the classroom brings the curriculum to life and is essential to our children’s development. We cannot let confusion over health and safety requirements deprive them of the opportunities we had.

“I want to dispel the myths and remind schools, teachers and local authorities that a disproportionate fear of prosecution should not get in the way of common sense.”

However, teaching unions have questioned whether the revised guidance will have a positive impact on outdoors learning and health and safety.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said the decision to simplify the guidance to such an extent could, in fact, lead to fewer school trips, as parents would be more likely to question schools’ safety procedures.

Describing the move as “potentially reckless”, she said: “The dilution of guidance for schools is likely to reduce rather than increase the number of educational visits.

“The previous health and safety guidance was developed in response to particular needs and in response to incidents in which children had died, or been seriously injured. The previous guidance was widely accepted by teachers and there is no evidence that the generality of schools found the guidance to be off-putting.

“The existence of robust and detailed guidance provides schools and teachers with an important safeguard if things go wrong. The Coalition Government’s decision to dilute the guidance could make teachers more vulnerable.

A spokesperson for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said it is hard to tell what effect the new guidance will have. She commented: “We think it’s very important that children get the opportunity to go on school trips because they can learn a lot outside the classroom but it’s equally important that schools take all the proper safeguards and carry out proper risk assessments before organising trips.

“But because we live in a litigious society, teachers are often very nervous about being held liable if something goes wrong.”

Related Course:
Health & Safety in Educational Premises

Economic climate leads to a fifth of employers ‘revising’ fire safety measures

UK employers are potentially putting their employees’ lives at risk by cutting back on fire safety in the current economic climate, according to a survey commissioned by the Fire Industry Association (FIA).

Almost a fifth of bosses said they had revised fire safety measures, such as delaying maintenance checks of fire safety equipment, reducing staff training or delaying updating their fire risk assessments. This is despite the fact that 20% of them saying they have had a fire in their premises.

Some 16% admit to not having an up to date fire risk assessment and a quarter don’t even know who does their fire risk assessment.

The survey also found that a third of staff don’t know what to do in the event of a fire. Over half of staff surveyed don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher or fire alarm, while a quarter of workers don’t know where their nearest fire exit is and a third don’t know where their fire assembly point is.

“The figures are very worrying; 82% of employees would like more training on fire safety and 14% don’t believe their company has any fire protection. We would like to remind all businesses across the country to review their fire risk assessments, making sure they are up to date, and to continue the maintenance schedule for all their fire safety equipment.”

Related Course:
Fire Safety & Marshall Training