High Rise Tower Fire Checks (UK)

Update 29th August : Independent fire specialists order different fire tests – reported in Inside Housing here

Update 6th July : new fire tests are ordered on cladding. So far, tests have covered only the plastic “core” on panels similar to those used on Grenfell Tower (and all but one fire test was a failure – 190 out of 191 samples). The new process will subject a demonstration wall to a “severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window” and aim to establish whether it will then spread up the outside wall. It will also assess how different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels behave with different types of insulation in a fire, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said.

Update 22nd June : DCLG letter is issued to local authorities and housing authorities of immediate safety tests to be undertaken should the cladding material fail Fire tests – this letter is here

Update 16th June : a public inquiry is announced amid calls for an inquest to be held into the deaths. Scotland Yard will also conduct a criminal investigation. 

A devastating fire started last night in a high rise tower block in Kensington, West London – many of you will be watching the news reels that are covering this.

Nick Hurd, appointed yesterday as Police and Fire Minister, has announced immediate fire safety checks of similar high rise blocks. The scope of these checks is not presently clear. The instruction appears to be to Local Authorities. 

Part B of the Building Regulations 2010 (fire safety) is in the spotlight and has been with the government for review since 2016, following a devasting fire in another tower bloc in 2009 and that coroner’s report issued in 2013. The current Part B documents are here

Please remember that employers’ obligations vis a vis Fire Safety are consolidated by the Fire Safety Order (the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005), and its equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland, these are in EHS Legislation Register systems, in the various Fire Safety Registers. The Building Regulations are found in ENV Energy. I will add the Part B documents to the OHS Fire Registers for completeness.

The Building Regulations are in the spotlight because of eye witness observations of the fast speed of fire spread. 

Concerns over external cladding were raised in the UK as early as 1999, here

This post will be updated, as and when further regulatory information is available. 

Forklift Truck Fatality (Britain)

A worker was killed on his first day of work, when the forklift truck he was driving overturned, crushing him.

Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) press release is here.

The court was told that the deceased was not wearing a seatbelt and there was no company policy in place to ensure seatbelts were worn.

HSE’s investigation also found that the forklift trucks in use at the company were not suitable for operation on uneven surfaces or over loose material such as that found on the site. Alternative vehicles, such as four-wheel-drive, all terrain shovel loaders, could have been used and were already in use elsewhere on the site. Since the incident, the company now uses these vehicles to move all the material on the site and it is now company policy for seatbelts to be worn at all times in all vehicles.

Recresco Ltd, of Lane End, Urban Road, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottingham, was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £38,693 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 17 December 2014.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Martin Paren said:

“Ian was just a few hours into his first day at work for Recresco Ltd when this tragic incident occurred. Our investigation revealed a series of failures at the plant, with forklift trucks being used in an area that was completely unsuitable because of the uneven surface created by waste material scattered around the floor. There was also no policy in place for the use of seatbelts.

Sadly it was entirely foreseeable that someone was at risk of being badly injured or killed. If the company had taken some simple measures to reduce the risks, such as using the all-terrain vehicles in use elsewhere on the site, then Ian’s tragic death could have been avoided.”

Vibration Causes Nerve Damage (Britain)

A Nottinghamshire aerospace engineering company has been ordered to pay more than £190,000 in fines and costs for failing to protect its employees from the effects of vibration, after 24 workers were diagnosed with debilitating nerve conditions.

Nottingham Crown Court heard that although HSE was notified of an employee being diagnosed with HAVS in 2010, the issue dated back to 2005 when the company’s health and safety committee asked it to carry out a suitable risk assessment for exposure to vibration, and act on the result. An assessment of the company’s tools took place in 2006 which identified some, including drills, grinders and hammers, posed a high risk from exposure to vibration. However, they were not taken out of service and no controls were put on their use until 2010. In addition, some employees used their own tools, which were also not assessed and therefore no controls put in place. HSE found that although the company provided some health surveillance for employees, it was not sufficient to identify symptoms early and refer individuals to occupational health specialists for timely diagnosis and management.

The symptoms of HAVS syndrome include blanching and numbness in the fingers, especially in the cold, as well as pins and needles, which can be extremely painful. This is due to damage to the small blood vessels and nerves supplying the hands. Sufferers can have difficulty picking up small objects and performing tasks such as doing up buttons. As sufferers cannot be exposed to cold without pain it can restrict some work and hobbies such as fishing, cycling or gardening.

Sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome also experience pain and pins and needles, especially at night, and a reduction in grip. An operation is normally needed to release the nerve, although this is less successful if they have been exposed to vibration.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Dawn Smith said:

“SPS Aerostructures Ltd was, from 2005, regularly being made aware that employees were suffering from vibration-related symptoms. They were being supplied with this information directly from staff and from their Occupational Health Nurse. However, they chose to ignore this information and allowed employees to work unrestricted with high risk tools, or their own tools.”

“The company was slow to implement improvements even after HSE’s involvement and had to be issued with an Improvement Notice in 2011 to ensure compliance.”

“Adequate assessment of the risk from vibration, provision of tools with lower vibration levels, and a good system of work would have ensured workers were not over-exposed to vibration. A better health surveillance system would also have identified problems earlier, and symptoms could have been managed to prevent them getting worse.”

Prosecution was for breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

The HSE press release is here.

Decommissioning Project Fatality (Britain)

Joint investigation by Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the South Wales Police identifies fatal head injuries had occurred because a company had failed to adequately plan and resource decommissioning work. During dismantling of a section of industrial pipework at factory premises in Llantrisant in June 2010, a structure, weighing around 300kg, had collapsed and struck an employee (an engineer) who was assisting the specialist contractors.

During the decommissioning, the factory had become a construction site with the company electing to plan, manage and monitor the project themselves instead of appointing a competent Principal Contractor. As a consequence, it had overlooked various hazardous tasks such as the removal of overhead industrial pipes and their supporting structures. This work consequently fell to the in-house engineers because they had not contracted the specialists to do it.

The court was told that the employee’s work had not been adequately planned, risk assessed, communicated or monitored by management, and that the various safety systems the company used to manage its specialist contractors had not been used to manage its own engineering staff on the same site.

The police and HSE investigation established that because no written plan was provided to the company team explaining how the structure was to be taken apart, various bolts and structural elements were removed in an unsafe sequence. This is what led to the eventual collapse.

The Court also heard that a production manager for the factory was in charge of the hazardous decommissioning project, despite never having done this work before or having received any formal training. Furthermore, a safety officer only visited once or twice a fortnight and was based in Somerset.

Speaking after sentencing, HSE inspector Liam Osborne, said:

“Gavin Bedford, a young hard-working and highly-regarded engineer, was killed because of Gerber’s basic corporate failure to plan, manage and monitor a construction project. “Any demolition or dismantling work must be set down in writing and strictly monitored – as the law requires. It is also basic common sense.”

“If Gerber had given enough time at the beginning to think through what needed to be done, and how it should be done, then Gavin would still be here today.”

Prosecution was carried out under Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

The fine was £80,000, with an order to pay costs of £75,000.

The HSE press release is here.

Acetylene cylinder explosion causes serious injury (Britain)

When an employee of a dissolved acetylene filling plant was filling an acetylene cylinder as part of a routine operation, the acetylene solution within the cylinder became unstable and the cylinder exploded, starting a fire which was allowed to burn for eight days, until, after careful consideration, it was extinguished by the Fire & Rescue Service.

The employee suffered multiple lacerations and significant burns to his left thigh, left arm and head.

An investigation by Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees and did not take necessary measures to prevent a major accident.

The company was fined £175,000 with costs of £85,000 after admitting breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. No evidence was presented on the other charge concerning a breach of the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Evan Bale, said: “The employee’s serious injuries could have been avoided with some simple measures such as a thorough assessment of the risks, including an identification of human error potential and the design of the work.”

“Acetylene is a colourless gas which is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. It is very unstable in its pure form and is normally dissolved in a solution within a cylinder prior to distribution. The company fell below the standard expected for controlling risks associated with handling this hazardous chemical.”

“The plant is a top tier major hazard site and is subject to the COMAH regulations. There is no excuse for any major hazard operator failing to take all necessary measures to prevent major accidents.”

Link to the HSE Press Release.

Forklift Truck Fatality (Britain)

An employee was using his forklift truck to load a lorry trailer outside his factory workplace when another lorry reversed into the side of his vehicle. The forklift overturned, killing him instantly.

Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that forklift truck drivers had regularly driven onto a public road to load lorries, without the company putting any safety measures in place.

The company had not carried out an adequate assessment of the risks to its employees or visiting drivers using the ‘Goods Out’ area. Drivers were also not given any information, instruction or training on how to load the lorry trailers safely, and there was poor supervision.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Deborah Walker said:

“Our investigation revealed a chaotic and dangerous system, and sadly it was entirely foreseeable that someone was at risk of being badly injured or killed.

“Neither Mr Moran nor the lorry driver had any way of knowing they were both about to start operating their vehicles, and sadly Mr Moran did not have time to get out of the way when the HGV began to reverse.

“Following the incident, the company created a no-parking zone along the ‘Goods Out’ area by Davy Road which means there is now space for forklift truck drivers to load trailers without having to come out into the road. The firm also set up a booking-in system for vehicles delivering to the factory.

“If these simple measures had been in place at the time of the incident then Mr Moran’s tragic death could have been avoided.”

AAK UK Ltd, of King George Dock in Hull, was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £22,657 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

The HSE press release is here.

Gas Cylinder Fatality (Britain)

Safety failings led to the death of an experienced fire-fighter while he was moving a pressurised gas cylinder during work to clear out a number of disused shipping containers.

Britain’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the circumstances and identified that there was no assessment or consideration of the risk by the employer with regards to how the fire suppression system would be decommissioned safely.

As part of the process, a number of redundant gas cylinders, which were formerly part of a fire suppression system, needed to be removed. An earlier trial heard that the employee was attempting to move a large freestanding cylinder weighing 65kg when the gas in the cylinder discharged very rapidly. This caused the cylinder to spin round violently striking him on his head and body leaving him with fatal injuries.

The Court was then told 13 May that had the removal work been suitably assessed and managed the incident could have been avoided.

Kemble Air Services Ltd, of Cotswold Airfield, Kemble Nr Cirencester was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £98,000 in costs after being found guilty of two breaches of Regulation 3(1) of the management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Regulation 3(1) of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that: “Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of (a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work and (b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking.”

The HSE press release is here.