BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Fire safety failings incur record fine

BUPA has been ordered to pay more than £1m after failure to comply with fire safety duties led to the death of a south London care home resident

Author:

  • Gary Strong FRICS

24 March 2022

Row of fire extinguishers with wall in background

UK private healthcare provider BUPA has been fined a record £1.04m after a resident died in a fire while smoking at one of its care homes.

BUPA Care Services (ANS) Ltd was fined £937,500 for fire safety failings and ordered to pay £104,000 prosecution costs at Southwark Crown Court on 5 January.

BUPA prosecuted by fire brigade

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) brought the prosecution against BUPA under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, after it had been called to the blaze at the Manley Court care home in Brockley, south London, in March 2016.

Cedric Skyers, a 69-year-old wheelchair user and resident of the home, died in a fire while smoking unsupervised in a shelter in the garden. A care assistant saw the fire from a first-floor window and called 999 before staff attempted to extinguish the blaze. However, Mr Skyers sadly died from his injuries.

A subsequent investigation found that although a smoking risk assessment had been carried out for Mr Skyers, it did not assess his use of emollient creams, which can be flammable if allowed to build up on skin, clothes or bedding.

Apparent burn marks indicating previous incidents were also found on his clothing after his death; something care home staff claimed they had been unaware of. They said that, if they had known, they would have ensured more regular checks were made when he was smoking.

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Failure to comply with fire safety duties

LFB brought the case as the home's failure to comply with fire safety duties had placed Mr Skyers and other residents at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire.

BUPA pleaded guilty to contravening article 11(1) of the 2005 Order, which relates to the management of fire safety arrangements.

Specifically, the company accepted that it had failed to:

  • ensure staff understood the risks from the use of emollient creams

  • warn residents using paraffin-based products not to smoke, or require them to take precautions such as the use of smock or apron

  • instruct staff not to leave a resident smoking unsupervised if that resident was using paraffin-based products

  • carry out an individual smoking risk assessment of the residents as normal, with the control measures in place.

LFB assistant commissioner for fire safety Paul Jennings said: 'This case is an absolutely tragic example of the devastating consequences of failure to comply with fire safety regulations.

'If anything constructive can come from this, we hope it will be that anyone who has a legal responsibility for fire safety in a building – whether it's a landlord, a property manager, provider of a care home or any other setting – takes note and makes sure they are complying with the law.'

This is another tragic yet avoidable fatality. We urge designated responsible persons and others involved in the management and running of buildings to take their duties seriously.

People in care homes should expect the very best of care, and we hope that wider public awareness of this case will help prevent further tragedies.

 

Gary Strong FRICS is RICS global building standards director and chair of the UN-backed International Fire Safety Standards Coalition
Contact Gary: Email

Related competencies include: Fire safety, Legal/regulatory compliance

Gary Strong

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