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

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

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

 

 

HEALTH & SAFETY NEWS UPDATE – 1ST SEPTEMBER 2016

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

Gas Safety Week – 19-25 September 2016

Gas Safety Week aims to raise awareness of gas safety and reminds us to have our gas appliances safety checked annually by a qualified Gas Safe registered engineer.

We know gas safety is important all year round, but the value of Gas Safety Week lies in getting many people involved – strength in numbers! By focusing all of our communications in one week, we are more likely to generate media interest and have a greater impact. Over 3,000 supporters have already signed up to this year’s Gas Safety Week.

One simple way to get involved is to join the Gas Safety Week Thunderclap (https://www.thunderclap.it/en/projects/44718-gas-safety-week-2016-is-here), and a pre-written message of support will be automatically sent from your Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account at the start of Gas Safety Week – let’s get #GSW16 trending!

Don’t forget to pledge your support online (http://info.gassaferegister.co.uk/s/619bb2975f094c6ef1d08f3cea3245d932d17ff7), and HSE will email you a free digital toolkit in the next few weeks, to help you promote gas safety – including social media updates, web banners, images, articles, a press release kit and more.

If you’re looking for inspiration on how you can go the extra mile, why not visit GasSafetyWeek.co.uk (https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/gassafetyweek) to see what others did in 2015 to support the week.

Man sentenced for pretending to be Gas Safe Registered

A 35-year-old self-employed worker from London has been given two suspended jail terms for falsely claiming to be Gas Safe Registered.

At the Old Bailey the court heard how he signed Gas Safe certificates for a number of properties. This was only discovered after a gas leak was reported by National Grid at a rented property.

He was found guilty of four charges of regulation 3(7) of the Gas Safe Installation and Use Regulations 1998 and was given an 18 month suspended sentence for two years for the property where a gas leak occurred and 12 months suspended for two years for the three other charges. He was also given two community orders.

Health and Safety Executive Inspector Monica Babb said after the hearing: “Gas Safe registered engineers are regulated and have to ensure they can prove they are competent. This safe guard is removed when people choose not to register, putting people at risk in their homes.

“It is important that anybody who has gas work carried out checks their engineer is carrying a valid gas safe registered identification card. They should also check online or call Gas Safe Register to confirm they are competent to carry out the work ”

For more information on domestic gas health and safety, visit the HSE web page http://www.hse.gov.uk/gas/domestic/ 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