Letter from Melanie Dawes to owners, landlords and managers of private residential blocks about safety checks following the Grenfell Tower fire

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Melanie Dawes, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), has written to owners, landlords and managers of private residential blocks about safety checks following the Grenfell Tower fire. The government is making available testing facilities for private owners of residential blocks that have cladding made of aluminium composite material, and the letter explains how to identify this cladding, and access the testing facilities.

The letter, and supporting documents, can be viewed by clicking on the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/safety-checks-on-private-residential-blocks and we have published the contents below. Queries should be directed to PRShousingchecks@communities.gsi.gov.uk, but if you require any general assistance regarding fire safety in blocks of flats, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 07896 016380 or at fiona@eljay.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to help.

Safety checks on private residential blocks

This letter is intended for owners, landlords and managers of private residential blocks in England. Representative bodies for the private residential sector have kindly agreed to disseminate this letter to their members, and we are grateful for their assistance.

Following the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington last week, we want to ensure you are aware of help that is available in checking your buildings.

There has been much public concern and comment about potential flaws in the cladding that was on Grenfell Tower. While the exact reasons for the speed of the spread of fire have yet to be determined, we have concluded that there are additional tests that can be undertaken with regard to the cladding. We have asked local authorities and social housing providers to identify whether any panels used in new build or refurbishment of their own housing stock are a particular type of cladding made of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM). These checks will be relevant to privately owned and managed residential buildings too, so please can you consider carrying out these checks on your buildings.

More details on how to identify this cladding are in Annex A below.  It is important to stress that ACM cladding is not of itself dangerous, but it is important that the right type is used. If you identify that cladding on any of your buildings is made of ACM, then a sample can be tested.

This testing facility is also being made available to blocks that are privately owned, and your local authority may already have been in touch to make you aware of this.  The procedures for taking up this offer of testing, which will be paid for by DCLG, are set out in the annex. We are prioritising buildings over six storeys or 18 metres high.  The offer is for the initial testing only and the cost of any remedial action will be the responsibility of the owner of the building. The information from the checks will be available to DCLG from BRE. Please contact us at PRShousingchecks@communities.gsi.gov.uk if you have any queries.

Where the entire block is not owned and managed by the same party, please ensure that only one sample is provided and that any necessary permissions are obtained for taking and sending off the sample. We would not expect individual leaseholders within a building to send off samples for testing.

As well as this work it is of course important that owners / landlords have robust fire assessments for their properties.

Thank you for your cooperation in this important work.

MELANIE DAWES

Annex A

Protocol for Sampling of Aluminium Composite Material Cladding

Identification of Aluminium Composite Material Cladding

Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) is a type of flat panel that consists of two thin aluminium sheets bonded to a non-aluminium core, typically between 3 and 7mm thick. The panels can have a painted or metallic finish (eg copper or zinc effects). It can be differentiated from solid aluminium sheet by looking at a cut edge whereby the lamination is visible. It may be necessary to cut a hole in a panel if a cut edge is not readily accessible.

On buildings with a floor over 18m above ground level, where ACM panels are identified, it is necessary to establish whether the panels are of a type that complies with the Building Regulations guidance ie the core material should be a material of limited combustibility or Class A2.

Testing of ACM

To allow for the identification of core materials, we are putting in place Government-funded testing capacity that will allow a small sample of the cladding to be tested and its type identified. If you wish to take up this offer, then you will need to submit samples for testing.

Where the surveyor undertaking assessment of a composite panel determines that it is necessary for cladding to be subjected to laboratory screening they should follow this procedure:

  1. Cut out two samples of at least 250x250mm in size from each location sampled. Take photographs as necessary to identify the location of the sample. You should take samples from above and below 18m above ground level as appropriate and check different multiple panels where you have concern that material specification varies.
  1. Using an indelible ink pen, note the building name / number, postcode and a unique identifier (i.e. name of building owner followed by unique sample number e.g. ABC/001) traceable to the specific location within the building of each sample. Add a direct dial telephone or mobile contact number to be used in the event that there are any queries on the sample.
  1. You must make good by closing the hole using a non-combustible sheet such as steel fixed with self-tapping screws or rivets.
  1. Complete the data return form attached to this letter (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/620798/Data_Return_Form_for_testing_of_ACM_-_private_residential.xlsx) and include a hard copy of it with the sample. You should provide as much information as is readily available, but not if this will delay submission of samples for testing.
  1. Place one of the samples from each location in a padded envelope with a copy of the data return form. Clearly mark the envelope URGENT – CLADDING TEST SAMPLE.
  1. Send the test samples by recorded delivery or courier to:

BRE, Bucknalls Lane, Garston, Watford, Herts, WD25 9XX

For any testing related queries please email material.screening@bre.co.uk

  1. Retain the second sample from each location for your own records or for testing in the event that samples are lost or misplaced in transit

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

 

Gas boilers – flues in voids (HSE Safety Notice); housing association prosecuted for safety failings

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Housing association prosecuted for safety failings

A housing association has been prosecuted after allowing renovations to take place that put residents at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

A Sheriff Court heard that one of Scotland’s largest registered social landlords had allowed chimneys to be removed from properties on two separate occasions. It was later discovered during the annual gas checks that the chimneys acted as the necessary gas flue for adjacent properties.

HSE’s investigation into both incidents revealed that at the time the chimney removals took place not only was there was no procedure in place for the company’s workers to follow in respect of this type of work, neither were any risk assessments carried out in relation to the chimney removals which would have identified the risk to carbon monoxide poisoning for the residents.

The housing association pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (1974) and was fined £8,000.

Around seven people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated.

Gas boilers – flues in voids (updated 20th May 2013)

This Safety Notice provides updated information to that in the safety alert that was issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 2nd October 2008 following a death earlier that year.

The purpose of the original Alert was to raise awareness of the potential dangers from certain types of flues connected to gas-fired central heating installations in some properties (particularly, but not exclusively, a large number of flats and apartments completed since about 2000) that may not have been installed properly, or may have fallen into disrepair.

Where boilers are located away from external walls, flues are more likely to run through ceiling (or wall) voids. In such cases when the gas appliance is serviced or maintained it can be difficult, or impossible, to determine whether the flue has been installed correctly or whether it is still in good condition.

Where a flue fault exists in combination with a boiler which is not operating correctly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) could be released into the living accommodation. CO is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels. It stops the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs and can kill quickly, without warning.

The 2008 Alert referred to the relevant gas industry technical guidance which gas engineers were expected to follow. A revised version of this guidance has now been published by Gas Safe Register. This changes the approach that Gas Safe registered engineers will take when they encounter relevant installations.

The purpose of this Safety Notice is to make homeowners, landlords and tenants aware of these changes as action might be required. It is not, however, the only means of communication. An industry working group (including representatives of the gas industry, home builders, home warranty providers and boiler manufacturers, assisted by HSE) will ensure that information is readily available to all those who may be affected.

Background

The introduction of fan-flued gas appliances in the mid 1990s allowed gas central heating boilers to be installed away from external walls. This meant that builders could design new-build and refurbishment properties with boilers being installed on internal walls to make better use of the available space. The flues to these boilers were, in some cases, routed through voids in the ceiling space (and through stud walls) between properties above.

This practice became progressively more popular from 2000 onwards and the vast majority of affected systems are thought to be located in new build flats and apartments completed since 2000. It is however possible that other types of home may have similar central heating systems installed.

Gas engineers are legally required to check the flue after carrying out any work on the boiler. This will include a visual inspection. Similarly, when an engineer installs a boiler they need to ensure that it can be used without constituting a danger to anyone; this would include checking whether the flue is safe. The original installer and every subsequent servicing or maintenance engineer need to be able to check that:

  • the flue is continuous throughout its length;
  • all joints are correctly assembled and are appropriately sealed; and
  • the flue is adequately supported throughout its length.

Unless the gas engineer can make these checks they cannot ensure that the flue from the boiler is safe in order to comply with their legal duties. This necessitates the provision of appropriate inspection hatches in the ceiling (and, where relevant, stud wall).

The original industry technical guidance (aimed at registered gas engineers) advised that where the flue to the boiler was concealed within a void and could not be visually inspected it should be assessed as “not to current standards” (NCS) in accordance with the Gas Industry Unsafe Situations Procedure (GIUSP – see Reference section for explanation). This was dependent on there being no other risks being present which may have made the boiler unsafe.

Revised guidance takes effect on 1st January 2011. This is the result of the industry working group who undertook a review of the original guidance and concluded that the potential risk from such systems, should it not be possible to inspect the flue, requires an alternative approach to ensure that the necessary remedial action is taken.

Action required

The revised technical guidance requires inspection hatches to be fitted in properties where the flue is concealed within voids and cannot be inspected. The homeowner (or landlord etc.) has until 31st December 2012 to arrange for inspection hatches to be installed. Any gas engineer working on affected systems after 1st January 2013 will advise the homeowner that the system is “at risk” (AR) in accordance with the GIUSP and, with the owner’s permission will turn off the gas supply to the boiler so it cannot be used.

In the interim period, where no inspection hatches are fitted, the registered gas engineers will carry out a simple risk assessment which should ensure that the risk from exposure to CO is managed in the short-term. This risk assessment includes:

  • looking for signs of leakage along the flue route; and
  • carrying out a flue combustion analysis check (and obtaining a satisfactory result); and
  • checking for the presence of suitable audible carbon monoxide (CO) alarms (and installing such alarms where they are not already fitted).

As long as this boiler passes the series of safety checks and the risk assessment does not identify any concerns about its safety, it can be left on. Suitable inspection hatches will however need to be fitted to the ceiling (or wall, as appropriate) by end 31st December 2012. Wherever possible it is recommended that inspection hatches are fitted before this date.

Once inspection hatches have been fitted, the gas engineer will be able to make sure that the flue is safe and was installed in line with the relevant standards and manufacturers instructions.

A simple explanation of the issue, the risks and how the matter can be resolved, as well as a number of frequently asked questions, have been developed for householders. The industry working group are looking at how best to target individual households that are most likely to be affected. In the meantime, further information is available on the Gas Safe Register website: http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/fluesinvoids

If you are unsure whether a property has concealed gas flues and think you might be at risk:

  • If you have your gas appliances checked annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer he/she will be able to advise whether this Notice applies to your property.
  • If you do NOT have your boiler regularly serviced arrange for a Gas Safe registered engineer to visit to check the appliances and flues. Show them this Notice.

If a property has concealed flues in voids and no inspection hatches:

  • If the property is less than 2 years old contact the original builder for assistance with the retrofitting of inspection hatches and repair of any flue defects.
  • If the property is between 2 and 10 years old contact the home warranty provider as you may be covered by them if there are defects in the flue. The main warranty providers (NHBC, Premier Guarantee and Zurich Building Guarantee) have however advised that cover is not provided for installing inspection hatches in homes over two years old.
  • If the property is 10 years or older you should contact a Gas Safe registered engineer. You or your landlord will have to meet the cost of the inspection hatches and any defects to the boiler or its flue. It may still be worth contacting the home builder who may be able to assist in some way, or be able to recommend reputable building services companies to carry out the work.

Having taken advice as above, arrange for a competent builder or building services company to fit inspection hatches as soon as you can and, in any case, by 31st December 2012. (If you don’t, from 1st January 2013 a Gas Safe registered engineer will advise you that the appliance is “at risk” and, with your permission, will turn off the appliance; they will tell you it should not be used until inspection hatches are fitted so that the flue can be checked for safety.)

Do not:

  • Attempt to check the flue system yourself (unless you are a Gas Safe registered engineer). You are likely to do more harm to the installation and place you and your family at greater risk.
  • Try to install inspection hatches yourself. You may damage other key functions of the ceiling, such as fire and noise proofing.

If you live in rented accommodation and think your property might be affected:

  • Bring this Notice to the attention of your landlord or managing agent. It is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure that inspection hatches are installed and that the boiler and flue are checked every year.

If you think you are suffering the symptoms of CO poisoning:

  • Turn the appliance off immediately and contact the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999.
  • If you think you or your family experience any of the symptoms of CO poisoning you should seek urgent medical advice from either your GP or an accident and emergency department.

For more information visit the HSE web page: http://www.hse.gov.uk/safetybulletins/fluesinvoids.htm or contact us on 07896 016380 or at fiona@eljay.co.uk and we’ll be happy to help.

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence

 

 

Passenger lifts and escalators – Bolton resident dies in lift shaft fall

We hope you find our news updates useful. If you know of anyone who may benefit from reading them, please encourage them to register at the bottom-left of our news page (http://www.eljay.co.uk/news/) and we’ll email them a link each time an update is published. If in the unlikely event any difficulties are experienced whilst registering we’ll be more than happy to help and can be contacted on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk

Bolton resident dies in lift shaft fall

A property management company has been fined after a resident of an apartment block in Bolton died after falling down a lift shaft.

Bolton Crown Court heard how the resident and a friend were trapped in a lift and unable to raise the alarm. They attempted a self-rescue by forcing the doors open and sliding out onto the floor below.

The resident slipped under the lift car and fell five stories down the lift shaft and died of multiple injuries. His friend escaped unhurt.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred in August 2014 found that the management company for the building failed to take suitable and sufficient steps to prevent the resident and his friend self-rescuing.

The management company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £45,000.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Sarah Taylor said: “Those who manage lifts have a responsibility to ensure they are properly maintained but if people are trapped they have a way to raise the alarm and are not in a position to try and rescue themselves.

“The problems with this lift were well known and if [the management company] had fulfilled their health and safety responsibilities [the resident] would probably be around to celebrate Christmas with his family this weekend.”

Passenger lifts and escalators

Lifts provided for use by workers in workplaces are subject to the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER). However, in most cases lifting equipment which is not provided for, or used by, people at work (eg stair lifts in private dwellings and platform lifts in shops used for customer access) will not be subject to either LOLER or PUWER. But businesses providing this equipment will have responsibilities for its safety (it will require routine maintenance and inspection).

LOLER does not apply to escalators or any travelators / moving walkways which transport people, even though they may ‘lift’ people from one level to another. Such equipment is covered by regulation 19 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations.

However, escalators and similar machines, platform and stair lifts, and all conventional passenger lifts must meet the requirements for safety and conformity of either the Machinery or Lift Directives in their design, construction and installation, when first brought into use. (Note: stair lifts, certain slow moving platform lifts (less that 0.15 m/s) and construction hoists come within scope of the Machinery Directive instead of the Lifts Directive).

Passenger lifts used by people at work

Passenger lifts and combined goods / passenger lifts in workplaces (eg offices and factories) which are primarily used by people at work, are subject to periodic thorough examination and inspection, as required by LOLER and PUWER. Guidance for lift owners and others responsible for the examination and testing of lifts is available in: Thorough examination and testing of lifts: Simple guidance for lift owners (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg339.htm)

Passenger lifts used by people who are not at work

LOLER (and PUWER) may not apply where a passenger lift is not used by people at work (eg in public areas of a shopping centre). However, if the lift is operated by – or to some extent under the control of – an employer or self-employed person in connection with their business, they still have some responsibility for the health and safety of people they don’t employ. This includes members of the public who use the lift and those people who may work on or inspect the lift.

Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act imposes these general responsibilities, so far as reasonably practicable. As the risks may be the same as when using lifts in connection with work, a similar regime of maintenance, inspection and examination to that required under LOLER and PUWER may be entirely ‘reasonably practicable’ in managing the risks. In any case, insurers may impose demands for similarly stringent levels of risk management to cover public liability.

Escalators and moving walkways

Guidelines for the safe operation of escalators and moving walks (walkways) have been prepared by the Safety Assessment Federation in consultation with HSE. This document provides considerable guidance on the duties and responsibilities of those who:

  • manufacture, supply and install escalators and moving walkways
  • design premises where they are to be installed
  • own or manage premises in which they are installed, and
  • inspect and examine escalators and moving walkways

Although not subject to LOLER, these detailed guidelines recommend thorough examination of escalators and moving walkways, normally at six-monthly intervals.

Stair lifts:

Where provided as work equipment for use by employees, stair lifts will be subject to the requirements of LOLER (thorough examination) and PUWER (maintenance and inspection). Where they are not, but are still provided in connection with an undertaking (eg in work environments where the public or visitors may use them), employers and the self-employed will have responsibilities for the safety of all users under Section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. These may be adequately discharged by undertaking maintenance, and inspection, and 6 monthly thorough examination, even though PUWER & LOLER may not apply to the equipment.

However, all new stair lifts (either when first placed on the market, or first brought into use), as machinery are subject to the Machinery Directive / Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. They must be constructed to be safe, supplied with Instructions, a Declaration of Conformity and CE marking. Those stair lifts which involve a hazard of falling from a vertical height of 3m or more are subject to Annex IV (item 17) of the Machinery Directive (so subject to conformity assessment as required by Article 12 (3) or 12 (4) of 2006/42/EC).

More information on LOLER can be found on the LOLER FAQ page: http://www.hse.gov.uk/work-equipment-machinery/faq-lifting.htm

For more information visit the HSE web page: http://www.hse.gov.uk/work-equipment-machinery/passenger-lifts.htm or contact us on 07896 016380 or at fiona@eljay.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to help. We carry out health and safety inspections (as well as fire/legionella risk assessments) of all types of residential and commercial properties and are happy to provide a no-obligation quotation on request.

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence