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‘No excuse’ for widespread fire safety failings in flats

London Fire Brigade (LFB) has raised serious concerns around compliance with fire safety standards in blocks of flats and other rented residential accommodation in the capital. Are we facing another unnecessary disaster?

The Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Paul Jennings, said: “There’s no excuse for leaving people’s safety to chance, especially when information is so readily available to those with responsibility for safety in buildings to understand what their duties are and ensure they comply with the law.”

His comments came after a property management company was ordered to pay more than £80,000 for safety failings which “exposed a potentially large number of people to risk of death or serious injury from fire.”

LFB inspectors found serious fire safety defects during two visits to a five-storey building consisting of more than 40 self-contained flats in Islington, managed by Eurolets (UK) Limited. Deficiencies included combustible material near the entrance to the premises, lack of fire extinguishers and signage; doors wedged open, holes within the walls and a non-functioning fire alarm. Eurolets was charged with 10 separate offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and the company entered guilty pleas at Westminster Magistrates Court to all charges in November 2021.

Significant blaze

In a separate case brought by LFB recently, a building owner was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £11,500 after a “significant blaze” at a building made up of three self-contained flats above a shop in Bayswater in 2018 raised concerns about fire safety measures.

Inspectors found the person responsible for the building, John Kyriakides, had failed to carry out a fire safety risk assessment and to keep the risk assessment up to date. He had also failed to make effective arrangements in relation to the protective and preventative measures required, including to arrange for safe evacuation, or ensure the presence of an appropriate and functioning fire alarm and detection system.

Escape hindered

In a further case, a landlord was found guilty in December 2021 of fire safety breaches in flats above a London takeaway. Inspectors visited the premises after concerns were raised by a tenant and the local council. They found a series of fire safety failings which left residents with only one option to escape a fire - via a single staircase to the restaurant, which had a metal shutter on the front when the shop was closed.

The breaches included missing fire doors, insufficient fire risk assessment, no fire alarm system and no evacuation procedure or plan. The situation was considered so serious by LFB that a prohibition notice was issued immediately and residents ordered to vacate the building. As the landlord and the person responsible for fire safety in the building, Mr Jin Zhang was subsequently charged with six offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. He was fined £500 for each offence and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £50 and £17,335 in costs.

Poor standards

The number of unsafe buildings identified by LFB in London rose to more than 1,000 last year. Of the buildings subjected to a simultaneous evacuation strategy, more than 700 were due to issues with cladding, with the remainder having other fire safety defects. More than 800 of these buildings were over 18 metres in height.

RiskSTOP’s Head of Risk Engineering and Surveys, David Reynolds, said: "Despite the Grenfell Tower tragedy four years ago, the number of buildings identified with fire safety issues in London increasing. The LFB have revealed there is a far higher number of high-risk buildings there than anywhere else in the country. Poor fire safety standards are clearly widespread and the situation is unacceptable.

“How long before another tragedy emerges? Clearly more needs to be done to raise fire safety compliance levels in the capital.”

For information on legal obligations under the Fire Safety Order visit here.



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