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Sentences handed down over fire safety issues at Huddersfield waste site 25/09/2023

SAMUEL HUNTER, aged 31 of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire and his mother Jacinta Hunter, aged 59 (also of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire) have been given a 24-month custodial sentence and a 12-month sentence respectively, suspended for two years, in the wake of waste-related offences at a site in Queens Mill Road, Huddersfield. Samuel Hunter must also undertake 300 hours of unpaid work, the maximum number of hours that any court can order, while Jacinta Hunter must undertake 80 hours of unpaid work.

The two defendants, who served as director and manager of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited (also known as Sam H Services Limited), pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to charges of waste offences and were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on 6 September. The defendants accepted the fact that they had kept waste which posed a fire risk in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to human health.

The company operated from premises at Scotland Yard on the Queens Mill Road in Huddersfield and held an environmental permit from The Environment Agency, which has conditions in place to ensure any waste activity does not adversely impact the environment.

Following site inspections conducted by officers from The Environment Agency in 2015 and 2016, the site was found to be repeatedly in breach of its permit. Huge piles of waste were found pushing against a perimeter fence, which was broken in places. Shredded waste was found stored between a roofed area of the site and a wall when it should have been stored in a building or otherwise held in bays.

The Environment Agency ordered the waste to be moved and the fences repaired, but return inspections found that no improvements had been made.

Following continued breaches of the permit, and concerns over the waste falling through the fence and potentially polluting a river, two Enforcement Notices were issued. When advice had been given to make improvements, Samuel Hunter was verbally abusive to officers on more than one occasion.

The Environment Agency’s officers were concerned over rubbish including wood, rubble and scrap metal (and a gas bottle hanging over the wall against the damaged fencing towards the river). In one place where the boundary fence was completely missing, some waste had fallen into the river. As such, there was a pollution risk.

A further visit found the amount of waste being stored had increased significantly and was rotting.

Fire risk

Officers from the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service attended the site. They duly advised Samuel Hunter that the site was a fire risk and that he needed to introduce fire breaks between the waste piles.

An Environment Agency officer estimated the volume of waste on site to be between 825 and 1,383 tonnes. Disposal of this quantity of waste at landfill would cost between £98,880 and £165,912. The amount charged by the company for accepting the waste at the site was estimated to be £120 per tonne.

In June 2016 another individual began running the company and site. The court then heard how, on 18 August 2016, a fire broke out at the site and a large amount of run-off had accumulated behind the premises of a nearby glass factory from the firefighting activities.

This was a major concern as it was about to overflow into the river or flood the building where the glass company had important compressor machinery. To avoid this, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service personnel deployed a small pump to move this run-off on to the access road such that it would flow into the sewer network, which meant the road was closed for the entire day on 19 August 2016.

On 25 August 2016, Kirklees Council took the decision to bring machinery to the site in order to dig into the waste pile and move the waste around on the site to help the Fire and Rescue Service extinguish the fire.

The fire was still smouldering on 30 August 2016. It took Kirklees Council until March 2017 to remove all the waste from the site and therefore reduce the risk of ongoing fires. The total amount paid by Kirklees Council for clearance of the site amounted to £1,142,131.

“Flagrant disregard for the law”

In sentencing, the Judge was satisfied both defendants had committed the offences deliberately with a flagrant disregard for the law, which he described as a financial decision.

Jacinta Hunter had followed Samuel Hunter’s lead as he was the controlling mind of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited. The Judge aired the view that Samuel Hunter should be ashamed of his behaviour in terms of interactions with The Environment Agency’s officers to whom he had been foul and abusive.

In mitigation, the legal team for the defence said the Hunters were trying to act within the law and were not rogue operators. Jacinta Hunter said she hadn’t been given enough time to meet the deadlines to rectify issues at the site. Samuel Hunter maintained that he had done everything he could.

No tolerance for waste crime

Ben Hocking, environment manager for Yorkshire at The Environment Agency, explained: “The seriousness of this sentence sends out a message that waste crime will not be tolerated. This case followed action from The Environment Agency with support from our colleagues at the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and Kirklees Council. Despite repeatedly being warned, waste was still brought to site, in turn posing a risk to the environment and contributing towards a fire which affected the surrounding community and businesses and left the authorities with significant clearing up costs.”

A timetable has been set for Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings to deprive the defendants of any financial benefit arising from their offending. As such, there were no financial orders for costs imposed on the defendants at this hearing.

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Survey suggests proportion of certified fire doors in use on the decline 25/09/2023

IN THE year after the Building Safety Act became law, awareness of the benefits of fire door third party certification is growing, but the proportion of certified fire doors in use has dropped slightly. That’s one of the key findings exposed by new research conducted for the British Woodworking Federation’s Fire Door Alliance.

The survey of 1,000 individuals across the UK with direct responsibility for fire door specification, installation and maintenance found that over half (52%, in fact) now look for third party certification – as opposed to other means – to provide proof of performance for a given fire door. This is a higher figure than the 46% recorded in 2022 when the same audience was surveyed.

Two-thirds (66%) of interviewees said they’re more likely to seek certification as a consequence of the Building Safety Act, while 92% stated that the traceability of a complete fire door assembly is important. That statistic compares with 89% in 2022. These attitudes could indicate that new legislation aimed at increasing accountability is starting to take effect.

Despite the growing awareness of third party certification and greater intention to specify third party certified fire doors evidenced by these figures, this hasn’t yet translated to a higher uptake. Last year, respondents suggested that 56% of the total number of fire doors for which they’re responsible are third party certified. The 2023 figure is lower at 54%.

Disconnect between awareness and intent

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation’s Fire Door Alliance, commented: “It’s clear that new legislation is having an impact on attitudes towards traceability and accountability in fire safety, which is hugely positive to see. For fire doors specifically, we’re witnessing a greater understanding of the benefits that third party certification can deliver in aligning with the intentions of new legislation.”

Hewitt went on to state: “However, the study findings highlight something of a disconnect between greater awareness and intent and the number of third party certified fire doors being specified. This is concerning and highlights the belief that more guidance and training support is needed to increase uptake.”

Further, Hewitt noted: “We do anticipate that, as legislation leads to more robust systems over traceability, we will see an increased demand for third party certification. Certification provides robust proof of performance and traceability of a fire door’s components, its manufacture and journey through the supply chain. As such, it’s a ready-made solution for complying with new regulations.”

Further education and guidance

While the impact of legislation over attitudes and intent appears to be significant, the research also highlights areas where further education and guidance is needed over implementing the new laws.

Some 30% of respondents were unsure of – or otherwise didn’t understand – their responsibilities in terms of the new legislation and pointed towards the need for more support.

Despite 78% of respondents having read new fire safety documents published by the Home Office to assist the ‘Responsible Person’ in fulfilling their obligations, one-third (ie 33%) expressed the belief that more information from the Government would improve understanding of their responsibilities.

That said, not all guidance is expected to emanate from the Government. 39% of respondents want to see more input from employers, while 55% observed that they need better training support.

Helen Hewitt concluded: “The Building Safety Act is still in its relative infancy and it’s only natural that there should be an adjustment period in terms of meeting requirements. The onus isn’t just on organisations or individuals themselves to comply, though. This process also requires the Government, employers and the fire safety and building industries in general to continue to provide education and support in navigating what are major changes. Only by treading this path can we make our buildings safer for all.”

*For more information visit https://firedoors.bwf.org.uk/be-certain-be-certified/

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FIA and Rathbone Results collaborate on Management Development Programme 25/09/2023

THE FIRE Industry Association and Rathbone Results have announced the forthcoming launch of a new Management Development Programme created for – and in conjunction with – business owners, leaders and managers in the fire safety sector. To be introduced on 26 October, the five-day online Management Development Programme aims to equip fire and security managers with the skills necessary to attain higher performance levels.

In essence, the Management Development Programme is aimed squarely at fire safety and security managers who need to confidently lead their staff, teams and organisations towards the delivery of enhanced operational regimes.

Entitled ‘Equipping Your Fire and Security Managers for Higher Performance’, the online Management Development Programme consists of a series of seven half-day modules delivered via Zoom, plus two half-days of self-work, covering the following areas:

*Change management and change resistance

*Time management and priorities

*Delegation and performance management

*Clear communication and effective meetings

*Building high performance teams and great places to work

*Developing a ‘whole business’ perspective

*Understanding business finance

With a view towards ensuring high impact, the powerful and practical course is limited to just 12 participants. This will then optimise participation, the application of learning in the workplace and the formation of new ‘business as usual’ Best Practice.

Landmark initiative

Fire Industry Association CEO Ian Moore explained: “We are pleased to collaborate with Rathbone Results on this landmark initiative. Our primary focus has always been on technical competency, but given the ever-evolving dynamics of our industry, equipping its leaders and managers with top-tier management skills is paramount. This tailored Management Development Programme reflects our steadfast commitment to fostering excellence across all facets of the fire safety sector.”

Moore continued: “Our ambition is to create an holistic ecosystem of professionals who are not only technically proficient, but also have the vision and capability to steer their teams and organisations towards higher horizons when it comes to performance. With this Management Development Programme, we are elevating standards and paving the way towards a more resilient, efficient and high-performing fire industry.”

Jim Rathbone, chair and founder of Rathbone Results, stated: “We’ve worked closely with the Fire Industry Association to fashion this Management Development Programme and make it relevant for fire industry businesses. We’ve drawn on our extensive experience of working both within and alongside clients in the sector and identified the key milestones and challenges fire and security companies face during business transformation and growth.”

Rathbone concluded: “This Management Development Programme has been designed to practically equip managers and leaders in these growth-focused business sectors to understand and achieve the high performance needed from their teams such that they can then seek to scale upwards.”

Certificate of Participation and Completion

Attendees of the full Management Development Programme will receive a Certificate of Participation and Completion, co-badged by the Fire Industry Association and Rathbone Results, plus 28 CPD hours awarded by the Trade Association.

Programme fees per participant as follows:

Fire Industry Association members: £1,350

Non-members: £2,160

*Further details concerning the Management Development Programme can be found online at https://www.rathboneresults.com/mdp

**Bookings can be made through the Fire Industry Association’s website at https://www.fia.uk.com/training/training-course-browser/equipping-your-fire-security-managers-for-higher-performance.html

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Property management company and risk assessor guilty of breaching fire safety laws 18/09/2023

A HARTLEPOOL-based property management company and its fire risk assessment provider have pleaded guilty to a number of offences relating to the provision of fire safety arrangements. Asset Property Management North East Ltd has been prosecuted following a fire within a flat at Tower Chambers on Tower Street in Hartlepool.

The fire occurred in the early hours on 2 February last year and resulted in a total of 17 people being evacuated from the premises, with five individuals having to be rescued by the Cleveland Fire Brigade (two of them by Fire Service ladder).

Asset Property Management North East Ltd pleaded guilty to a total of four offences including failing to provide adequate general fire precautions, failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment, failing to provide adequate fire doors to protect the escape route and a failure to maintain fire safety facilities provided (specifically the fire detection and warning system).

Total Safety Events Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. At an earlier hearing, Justin Morgan had pleaded guilty to failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment and failing to co-operate and co-ordinate his activities with other ‘Responsible Persons’.

Asset Property Management North East Ltd had contracted Total Safety Events Ltd to complete the fire risk assessment on its behalf. The latter then sub-contracted the work to Justin Morgan.

Sentencing will take place on 26 October at Teesside Crown Court.

Seriousness of the offences

Ian Hayton, chief fire officer at the Cleveland Fire Brigade, stated: “We welcome the outcome of the court case, which reflects the seriousness of the offences committed under current fire safety legislation.”

Hayton continued: “We always seek to work with business owners in the first instance in order to maintain fire safety standards within their premises. However, where individuals responsible for building fire safety completely disregard their duty and place people at risk, the Cleveland Fire Authority will not hesitate to use all of its powers and prosecute offenders where necessary.”

Further, Hayton stated: “We would like to remind all businesses that they have a duty to comply with current fire safety legislation and support is available from our dedicated team of fire safety officers. In bringing this case to a prosecution, it demonstrates how seriously we take our responsibilities to protect the lives of people within our community.”

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales. A ‘Responsible Person’ must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and implement and maintain a fire management plan.
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Mayor of London calls for “urgent action” on impending fire safety rules 18/09/2023

MAYOR OF London Sadiq Khan has demanded “urgent action” from Housing Secretary Michael Gove as new figures show that the Government is “holding up the delivery of new homes in London” by leaving housebuilders “in the dark” about impending new fire safety requirements.

Ministers first proposed rules requiring a second staircase in new tall buildings in December last year in response to the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017. In a speech delivered back in July, Gove committed to this major change for new tower blocks over 18 metres tall and promised a transition period that would ensure “there is no disruption to housing supply”.

However, new data issued by City Hall reveals that there are now 34,000 homes on major developments being held up due to a “lack of clarity” from the Government on these new fire safety requirements. This figure only includes the biggest developments (ie those that require Mayoral planning sign-off), in turn meaning that thousands more homes will also be affected on other smaller developments across the capital.

With construction costs rising rapidly and developers already warning they could be forced to down tools, this delay from the Government could – according to the Mayor – cause some schemes to be abandoned altogether.

The Mayor has used his London Plan and funding programmes to go further than the national Building Regulations with a push towards greater building safety, for example requiring sprinklers, and a complete ban on combustible cladding on all new homes.

Local authorities and housing developers currently have no guidance on what the promised ‘transition period’ will cover. Further, they haven’t been informed what technical requirements they will need to meet to satisfy the new rules (for example, whether the two staircases will need to be entirely separate or whether they can be contained within the same building core).

Challenging time

This “lack of clarity” from the Government comes at what is an already challenging time for housebuilding across the country. The Mayor wrote to Gove last month warning that housing experts are forecasting a major drop in housebuilding driven by high interest rates and building cost inflation, which could see housebuilding across England fall to its lowest level since World War II.

It could also put the capital’s housebuilding boom, which has been growing ever since Khan became Mayor in 2016, at risk. In recent years, City Hall has completed more homes of all types than at any juncture since the 1930s, built more council homes than at any time since the 1970s and exceeded its target of building 116,000 new genuinely affordable homes in the capital by the end of the last financial year.

Khan explained: “While I strongly support the highest fire safety standards for new buildings, the chaotic way in which these new rules are being put in place by the Government is now holding up the delivery of thousands of homes across the capital. We’ve made huge progress in London since 2016, building more new council homes that at any time since the 1970s, but we still have a long way to go to fix the housing crisis. We simply cannot afford this confusion caused by the Government to slow down crucial housing delivery in our city.”

Khan continued: “Ministers must cut through this bureaucratic dither and delay to urgently bring clarity on these new fire safety rules. This should be done alongside the other steps we know are needed to help fix our housing crisis, including investing the £4.9 billion perannum the capital needs to meet the demand for new, high-quality and genuinely affordable homes.”

Combating the crisis

Stephanie Pollitt, programme director for housing at BusinessLDN, added: “Building more residential developments at pace is vital to combat London’s housing crisis. The Government must provide urgent clarity on Building Regulations, including the requirements for second staircases, in order to enable developers to build the homes that Londoners need. Providing this certainty is critical to help the industry deliver high-quality and well-designed homes that meet the highest safety standards.”

A copy of the Mayor of London’s letter to Michael Gove is available on request at economicdesk@london.gov.uk

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BAFSA launches online fire sprinkler training centre 18/09/2023

THE BRITISH Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) has boosted its fire sprinkler training offer with the introduction of a new online training centre that affords those working in the industry an opportunity to improve their skills in fire sprinkler inspection, design and installation.

Industry professionals can now select the appropriate course – and book and pay for their instruction – on the BAFSA website.

Available courses include the L2 certificate in Fire Sprinkler Installation, itself a blended learning programme that covers Health and Safety, maintaining compliance and residential and commercial installation. This qualification is part of the requirement for the Fire Sprinkler Installer Blue Skilled Worker Card.

There are also three sprinkler system design courses available. The BAFSA Basic Design (Commercial) five-day course covers the classification of systems, storage types and categories, water supplies, spacing and location of sprinklers and component selection.

The BAFSA Intermediate Design (Commercial) is a two-day online course that examines the zoning of systems, water supplies, alarms and hydraulic calculations for high-rise buildings.

Also, the BAFSA FHC Design (Commercial) four-day course follows on from the basic and intermediate design instruction and covers sprinkler designs which use the fully hydraulically calculated method of pipe sizing and water supply selection. 

Further to the above, there’s a BAFSA Inspection and Commissioning (Commercial) three-day course relating to the inspection and commissioning of commercial fire sprinkler systems design in accordance with the LPC Rules including BS EN 12845. This qualification is part of the requirement for the Fire Sprinkler Engineer (Commercial) Blue Skilled Worker Card.

*Further information is available online at www.bafsa.org.uk/booking/

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Building Safety Alliance invites collaborators for golden thread tools 11/09/2023

THE BUILDING Safety Alliance, a cross-sector collaboration of leading industry figures and various associations and bodies, is inviting stakeholders in the occupation phase to join the collaboration to further contribute towards the development of a standardised approach to support accountable persons in discharging their duties in relation to the golden thread.

The Building Safety Act 2022 requires accountable persons to demonstrate the effective assessment and management of building safety risks. Since engaging in Government consultations for the legislation, the Building Safety Alliance has been developing guidance to enable the sector to comply with the legislation’s objectives and its regulatory requirements regarding the golden thread.

It has now reached a point in developing this standardised approach where it would be helpful to have third parties involved. Having collated a ‘master list’ of relevant documents and other sources on information, the Building Safety Alliance wishes to validate and then proceed to the development of a recognised structure to collate both historic and current information, which is codified to allow sharing to the right people – in the right form and at the right time – in order to support better decision-making.

Gordon Mitchell, chair of the Building Safety Alliance Special Interest Group 3, said: “I’m proud to help drive this cross-sector collaboration, which involves the key stakeholders from across the digital built environment world. Our aim in this work is to deliver on the 2023 needs while future-proofing them for a long-term vision of a fully integrated and digitally enabled built environment of the 2050 world. We invite others in this space to collaborate with us so we can simplify the complex regulatory environment for those needing to navigate it.”

Integrate existing standards

The guidance under development looks to integrate existing standards and industry frameworks – such as ISO 19650, various safety standards and Uniclass – to enable harmonisation and compatibility, streamline processes and enhance information sharing across the built environment. In achieving this, the guidance should help to provide greater clarity and transparency overall.

The guidance focuses on three key areas:

*Information Requirements and Alignment – The Golden Thread List

A master list of documents and other information sources currently used by industry, which can be used to identify the key data which needs to be specified for the golden thread information requirements. This can then be aligned to a standardised data structure, which can collate and exchange both historical and current data in a manner which provides the golden thread of information required to manage buildings throughout the building safety lifecycle. This work can form the basis of a pragmatic and achievable roadmap allowing people to progress towards their digital future, wherever they may be on that journey.


An inclusive and well-defined model of individuals and communities affected by the Building Safety Act and their specific information management requirements with a view to providing targeted support.

*Impact Assessment and Support

To effectively address the impact on stakeholders identified in the previous areas, this guidance aims to qualify the broad impacts and identify potential support mechanisms.

Uniclass codes

Sarah Delany, head of classification at NBS (the organisation behind Uniclass) observed: “We were delighted to support this important work by allocating the right, and sometimes newly developed Uniclass codes. For decades now, we’ve supported the requirement for high-quality, easily accessible and interoperable asset and product information. This golden thread project builds on a strong foundation and will be pivotal towards better information sharing and more informed decision-making about building safety.”

Dr Anne Kemp OBE, chair of nima and technical director at SNC Lavalin, Atkins Ltd explained: “nima is a strong advocate of industry collaboration and co-ordination to propel the advancement of better information management for the built environment. The work undertaken to integrate information management processes through standards such as the ISO 19650 series for the improvement of delivery and managing of safer buildings is critical. We welcome the push for digitalisation, standardisation and a cultural change within the sector, which will allow us to simplify information for the end user.”

*For more information and to enquire about collaborating on the Building Safety Alliance’s work visit www.buildingsafetyalliance.org.uk

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Government issued warning over post-Grenfell building safety crisis 11/09/2023

CHANCELLOR OF the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has been warned that the Government could face a “multi-billion pound bill” to rescue up to 1.7 million potential financial victims of the post-Grenfell building safety crisis. If nothing is done, the Government could face the risk of large numbers of innocent people losing their homes and lenders facing heavy losses as leases are forfeited.

The crisis arises because the Government’s leaseholder protection legislation introduced last year, with the aim of tackling the fall-out across Britain from the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, does not cover three groups of people: those living in low-rise flats, those who have enfranchised and those who own more than three flats.

Unless this situation is rectified, up to 1.7 million individuals could find themselves in an impossible position until all buildings have been assessed for fire safety issues.

Not all buildings will have fire safety issues, but the entire flats market has been hit as no-one yet knows which buildings are affected. Those in buildings found to be unsafe are either left with a flat they cannot sell or otherwise forced to pay thousands – or even tens of thousands – of pounds in costs they simply cannot afford in order to remediate a range of building safety defects (including Grenfell-type external wall cladding). They may even be living in potentially dangerous flats that need to be urgently made safe.

Partial protections

The Government implemented partial leaseholder protections last year, duly protecting only a proportion of the financial victims from ruinous building safety remediation costs.

However, this has created a problematic three-tier flat market comprising those fully protected, partially protected and not protected at all. This is causing difficulties for conveyancers obtaining professional indemnity insurance as they have to determine a buyer’s potential liability by analysing complex information relating to the status of the seller and building owner. This risks a significant percentage of conveyancers declining fresh instructions on flats, in turn running the risk of stalling a significant element of the UK’s housing market.

The crisis could deepen next year when new banking rules take effect. The Bank of England is due to say how it will implement Basel 3.1 standards from the beginning of 2025. These will force landlords to re-value a loan if “an event occurs that results in a likely permanent reduction in the property’s value.”

With the current legislation creating a three-tier flat market, widespread re-valuations would appear to be unavoidable. Leaseholders who are partially or wholly unprotected will suffer, while the banks that have forwarded funds to them could find that their mortgages turn into bad debts that cannot be repaid.

Tabled amendment

The crisis is addressed by an amendment to the Government’s Parliamentary Bill tabled by the Earl of Lytton, a crossbench peer, and which is scheduled for debate in the House Lords 13 September.

The amendment seeks to make the developer or lead contractor permanently liable for building defects at the time of construction or otherwise recover the money from a wide building industry levy if the builder no longer exists. This amendment would work alongside the existing Government schemes, but crucially aims to fund the remediation of every financial victim of the building safety crisis, in turn protecting the 1.7 million currently excluded ‘victims’ and removing the three-tier flat market.

The amendment is widely supported by 48,000 signatories, the National Residential Landlords Association and, most recently, by Property Mark (who represent 17,500 property agents).

Property Mark has stated: “We believe that the amendments proposed by the Earl of Lytton provide greater protections for leaseholders, removing loopholes and establishing an independent body that would enforce liability, while also expanding the types of buildings where leaseholders would qualify for protections.”

Potential for change

The amendment is also backed by Ted Baillieu (former State Premier of Victoria, Australia and former co-chair of its cladding task force). Baillieu commented: “Lord Lytton’s [Building Safety Remediation] scheme has the potential to change the building industry for the better, forever and across the world. It’s the only comprehensive and equitable solution on the table. It’s not just a ‘one-off’ remediation, either. It’s permanent.”

If this proposed amendment is rejected, the Chancellor faces the difficult choice of residential valuation write downs and even people losing their homes with all the negative repercussions that will exert on the banking system or the Government having to step in to bail out up to 1.7 million people and continue with the problematic three-tier flat market.

*Further detail concerning the Earl of Lytton’s amendment is available online at buildingsafetyscheme.org

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Record numbers recorded for e-bike and e-scooter fires in London 04/09/2023

FIREFIGHTERS IN London have tackled more e-bike and e-scooter fires so far in 2023 than they did for the whole of 2022, with e-bikes swiftly becoming the capital’s fastest-growing fire trend. By the end of August, crews had fought 104 e-bike fires along with 19 e-scooter blazes, overtaking the 116 total fires attended last year. This number is higher than in any other year in London.

Photograph: London Fire Brigade

Tragically, three people have lost their lives this year in fires believed to have been caused by the failure of e-bike lithium batteries, while 51 people have been injured. A coroner has now written to the Office for Product Standards and Safety asking for further safety standards to be introduced following the death of a man in an e-bike fire back in March.   

e-bikes and e-scooters can catch fire incredibly quickly if their lithium batteries become damaged or begin to fail. Privately owned e-scooters remain illegal in public places and on London’s roads, but they’re not illegal to purchase.

The London Fire Brigade continues to support the police service’s enforcement activity in order to prevent e-bikes and e-scooters from being used in a dangerous manner.

Further, the London Fire Brigade has been running its #ChargeSafe campaign, which is designed to raise awareness of the fire risks posed by e-bikes and e-scooters and outline what Londoners can do to protect themselves and their livelihoods. The most recent incident witnessed a man taken to hospital suffering from burns after an e-bike fire broke out in Brixton.

Senior London fire officials have called for regulations and/or standards to be introduced for e-bikes, conversion kits, batteries and chargers, as well as the continual surveillance of online marketplaces, where products are being sold that may not meet the correct safety standards.  

The London Fire Brigade strongly believes it’s far safer to purchase such bikes and scooters from reputable sellers, in which case there’s a greater degree of confidence that the product has been built to the required safety standard. e-bikes or e-scooters that have been fitted with batteries or other parts purchased separately online pose a far greater risk.  

In New York, the City Council is set to introduce new laws prohibiting the sale, lease or rental of e-bikes and e-scooters, as well as storage batteries for these devices that fail to meet recognised safety standards.

Incredibly dangerous  

Deputy Commissioner Dom Ellis said: “Unfortunately, we are seeing an ever-growing number of fires caused by e-bikes and e-scooters in London. Roughly one every two days, in fact, and already more this year than we saw in 2022. We recognise the environmental benefits they bring to travel in our city, but the stark reality is that some of these vehicles are proving to be incredibly dangerous, and particularly so if they’ve been modified with second-hand products or if batteries are used with the wrong chargers.”  

Ellis continued: “Without urgent research into the causes of these battery fires and proper regulation that will help to prevent people from unknowingly purchasing dangerous products, such as batteries and conversion kits, by visiting online marketplaces, we fear that we will continue seeing a high level of these types of fires in London.”

London Fire Brigade fire investigators have analysed the 73 e-bike fires that occurred in the first six months of this year, and found that at least 40% of those fires are believed to have involved a converted e-bike. At least 77% are believed to have involved the failure of the bike’s battery. Cheaper batteries purchased from online sources which don’t necessarily adhere to UK safety regulations are more likely to fail and cause a fire. That’s particularly the case if they’re not used with the correct charger.   

Meanwhile, at least 41% of the bikes are believed to have been on charge at the time of a fire starting. Using the correct charger for an e-bike or e-scooter battery is vital. They should only be bought from a reputable seller.

Deputy Commissioner Ellis continued: “We know just how ferocious and harmful these fires can be, so if something was to go wrong, we don’t want an e-bike and scooter inside a property. However, we appreciate that, for some people, keeping it inside is the only option. If that’s the case, it’s best to follow crucial safety advice.”  

For example, it’s Best Practice never to store e-bikes or e-scooters by the front door, in a hallway or on any escape route. There can be devastating consequences when an exit is blocked due to an e-bike fire. It’s best to keep them in a room where the door can be shut.

It’s also Best Practice never to charge an e-bike or e-scooter while asleep. Chargers should be unplugged once the vehicle has finished charging.

Regulatory framework

Fiona Twycross, Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, explained: “The rising number of e-bike and e-scooter fires that the London Fire Brigade has attended this year demonstrates the need for these vehicles to be stored and charged safely, as well as being built to the required standards. That’s why I’m continuing to call on the Government to introduce a regulatory framework which can help to improve product safety.”

Twycross added: “Transport for London has extended its successful e-scooter rental trial until May next year. We know how important safe and sustainable travel is in our city as part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s commitment to building a greener London for everyone.”

New guidance on this issue for landlords and ‘Responsible Persons’ has also been published on the London Fire Brigade’s website. The purpose of this guidance is to provide information for those storing and/or charging electrically powered personal vehicles, such as e-bikes and scooters, within buildings that are covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, as amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021.

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Manchester company director fined after obstructing HSE investigation 04/09/2023

MANCHESTER-BASED construction company Amro Construction Ltd and its managing director David Taylor have been fined after a catalogue of fire-related Health and Safety failings were unearthed following an inspection process conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

On 13 January last year, HSE inspectors visited a timber-frame housing development under construction off Brookwood Drive in Meir, Stoke-on-Trent. Work was being carried out by a company named Amro Construction Ltd.

During a hearing at North Staffordshire Magistrates’ Court on 24 August, HSE enforcement lawyer Nathan Cook said that the regulator had identified several Health and Safety failings at the site, including the presence of an open flame gas stove among large volumes of combustible material, a lack of fire precautions, poor site security and inadequate washing facilities.

Cook went on to state that an investigation conducted by the HSE found that Amro Construction Ltd had also failed to assess the on-site and off-site fire risks, despite it being a timber-frame project located in a highly residential area. This was despite previous advice and enforcement from HSE in relation to the matter.

As a result, the company failed to implement measures to prevent a fire from occurring or spreading, in turn placing workers and members of the public at risk. The investigation also found the company had received previous enforcement in relation to the provision of adequate washing facilities.

Obstructing the inspector

During the course of the investigation, David Taylor (Amro Construction Ltd’s managing director) also deliberately obstructed the inspector by refusing to provide information requested as part of the ongoing enquiries, thereby causing a delay of several months.

At North Staffordshire Magistrates Court, Amro Construction Ltd (of The Junction, Rolls Crescent, Hulme in Manchester) pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,587.

David John Taylor (of Clarendon Street in Hulme, Manchester) pleaded guilty to breaching Section 33(1)(h) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,935.

Proactive prosecution

Speaking after the hearing had concluded, HSE inspector Rob Gidman commented: “This type of proactive prosecution should highlight to the construction industry that the HSE will not hesitate to prosecute companies for repeated breaches of the law, and that directors will also be prosecuted where they intentionally obstruct our inspectors.”

Gidman added: “In order to protect workers and the public, it’s vital that fire risks are adequately considered when planning timber frame construction projects so that suitable control measures can be put in place from the outset. This includes consideration of how to prevent fire spreading from site during the construction phase, as well as providing general fire precautions focused on fire alarms and fire detection systems.”

*HSE has guidance concerning fire safety in construction can be found online at Construction – Fire Safety Industry Health and Safety (hse.gov.uk)

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