02 Jul 2021

A fire risk assessor who provided an inadequate assessment for a residential block in Southampton has been fined and given a suspended prison sentence, following a prosecution brought by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service.

Commented Phil Turtle, Compliance Director with Landlord Licensing & Defence, “This is just one of many examples of the risks if a Fire Risk Assessment is not performed forensically. Many landlords consider themselves competent to do their own Fire Risk Assessments. 99% of landlords are not competent because they do not have the in-depth knowledge nor experience of what is an extremely complex subject. Nor indeed are the majority of council officers who give bad advice and then prosecute landlords with fines in the multiple £10,000s for what they consider to be inadequate fire precautions against a tick-list”   

In this case, at a hearing at Southampton Crown Court last month, a fire risk assessor was at fault. Charles Morgan – a director of UK Fire Consulting Ltd – pleaded guilty to providing a fire risk assessment that was not suitable or sufficient for Cranleigh House, a fully-occupied block of flats. 

Morgan was fined £2,750, ordered to pay costs of £19,952 and a given a three-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months. UK Fire Consulting Ltd was fined £20,000 and also ordered to pay costs of £19,952 for the same offence.

Prosecuting on behalf of the fire authority, Klentiana Mahmataj said that Morgan had not lifted ceiling tiles or even opened riser cupboard doors to check for fire safety risks at the three-storey building. 

During a visit to Cranleigh House, a Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service fire safety inspector also discovered electrical wiring penetrating the compartment walls. Compartmentation is critical in a residential property with a ‘stay put’ policy and at Cranleigh House there was no apparent fire stopping added to holes in the walls, meaning that smoke or fire could travel into the communal escape routes to other parts of the building. 

‘THE JOB OF A FIRE RISK ASSESSOR IS A HIGHLY RESPONSIBLE ONE. LIVES ARE IN THEIR HANDS AND THEIR JUDGEMENT IS CRUCIAL. IT IS NOT A JOB TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY’

His Honour, Judge Burrell QC said: ‘The job of a fire risk assessor is a highly responsible one. Lives are in their hands and their judgement is crucial. It is not a job to be taken lightly. It is important to hold risk assessors to account and these are serious breaches. I find it odd that there exists no regulatory framework in regard to fire risk assessors.’

Denfords Property Management, the managing agent for the premises, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to failing to comply with an enforcement notice to provide a suitable fire risk assessment. It was fined £10,000 with £6,000 costs. The individual manager specifically responsible for the premises was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £1,800 costs.

The Fire Safety Order places the onus on the responsible person to comply with the legislation. However, in this case, Denfords Property Management had put its trust in UKFC Ltd to complete the fire risk assessment to a satisfactory standard.

Speaking after the case, deputy chief fire officer Steve Apter said: ‘Fire risk assessments underpin the whole process of building fire safety. Mr Morgan failed to inspect and identify fire safety deficiencies within the building and failed to note a compromised alarm and evacuation strategy for the residents.

‘This shortfall meant that those responsible for implementing fire safety measures were unable to fulfil their legal obligations and placed occupants at risk of death or serious injury had a fire occurred.’

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