Fire safety failures in over half of care homes audited in new Brigade report

Serious fire safety failures have been found in care homes across London by our Brigade inspectors.

There were 177 care homes visited to gauge the level of fire risk across the capital in a one-off series of in-depth inspections.

The Brigade’s findings included the following serious fire safety breaches:

One in three premises with inadequate or poorly maintained fire doors

Widespread confusion about fire evacuation strategies

Fire risk assessments being carried out by people without the proper skills and experience

Roofs being omitted from fire risk assessments (roof voids often increase the spread and severity of a fire)

Care home owners need to urgently review their fire risk assessments and ensure their staff knows how to safely evacuate their residents, especially those who are immobile.

“If you were placing your loved one into the care of others, you would expect them to be safe but for too many people, the very roof they are sleeping under could put them at risk.”

In 2017, two people died in a Cheshunt care home after a fire travelled through voids in the roof which allowed it to quickly engulf the entire building. Crews from Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue and London Fire Brigade found residents in many rooms, many too frail too move themselves to safety. Miraculously, 33 residents were rescued. Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) stated that “It’s the responsibility of those in charge of running care homes to ensure the right fire protection measures are in place in order to keep people safe.

Sentencing Guideline inflated fines for large organisations 15-fold.

The median fine for health and safety offences for large organisations increased almost 15-fold following the February 2016 arrival of the revised Sentencing Guideline for Health and Safety Offences, according to an impact assessment carried out by the Sentencing Council.

Its analysis of court fines levied in the 16 months prior to the Guideline, compared to the 16 month period after it took effect, saw the median fine increase from just £25,000 to £370,800.

For medium-sized organisations, there was a five-fold increase, with the median fine increasing from £20,000 to £100,000. 

Average fines for micro and small organisations also increased, although the stated aim of the revised Guideline was to increase the financial penalties for larger organisations.

In this group, the median fine rose from £20,100 to £45,200.

The analysis looked at 161 pre-Guideline cases and 129 post-Guideline cases.

The increase in fines for smaller organisations was one unexpected finding of the impact assessment, according to the Sentencing Council, which was also surprised to find that fines for individuals, sentenced under Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, had also increased by an “unanticipated” amount.

Tougher sentencing in the pipeline for health and safety offences

On 3 November 2015, the Sentencing Council (the Council) published the guidelines on Health and Safety, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene offences.

The long awaited Guidelines were published alongside the Response to Consultation and come into force on 1 February 2016.

The guidelines

The Guidelines apply to companies or individuals (aged 18 and older) who are sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence.

The Guidelines set out a number of steps that the sentencing court will need to go through to establish the appropriate fine. Firstly, the court will need to determine the category of offence. This is based on two stages, the level of culpability and the level of harm. Secondly, starting points (which apply to all offenders, whether they have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial) define the position within a category range from which to start calculating the provisional sentence. The court is required to focus on the organisation’s annual turnover or equivalent to reach a starting point for a fine. The court then consider further features of the offence or the offender that warrant adjustment of the sentence within the range, including aggravating and mitigating factors. Credit for a guilty plea is taken into consideration only after the appropriate sentence has been identified.


Responses to the consultation included whether linking fines to turnover was ‘too rigid and overly simplistic’ and would lead to firms of varying sizes receiving grossly different fines for similar incidents. The Council has, however, adopted this approach and stated: ‘We accept that using turnover to determine the size of a business is something of a blunt instrument but we believe the overall sentencing process in the proposed guideline gives sentencers the flexibility they need to ensure the interests of justice are served.’

Very large organisations

It was proposed that a proportionate multiplier be included in the Guidelines to clarify a suitable calculation when imposing fines for very large organisations (i.e. those with turnovers greater than £50 million). The Council decided not to include such a feature within the Guidelines as to do so could, due to the complexity of sentencing very large organisations, hinder sentencers and would conflict with the guidance to ‘consider the financial circumstances of the organisation in the round.’ This also maintains consistency with the approach in the environmental guidelines.

Instead, the Guidelines state: ‘Where an offending organisation’s turnover or equivalent very greatly exceeds the threshold for large organisations, it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence.’

How tough are the new proposed fines likely to be?

Under the Guidelines a large organisation that commits an offence with the greatest exposure to harm (for example, a fatal accident) and with high culpability will see a sentencing range of £4.8 million – £20 million with a starting point of £7.5 million. Large food operators that commit a food safety offence with a serious adverse effect on human health with high culpability will see a sentencing range of £500,000 – £3 million. Individuals that commit serious offences with high culpability can expect custodial sentences or serious fines where profit was a motivating factor in the commission of the offence.


Companies need to start taking this very seriously. The message in the Guidelines is that:

‘the fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation.’


Early intervention at work can improve cancer survival

By Professor Gordon Wishart is a consultant breast and endocrine surgeon

There are few workplaces that have not been in some way affected by cancer. Many of us will have participated in some form of fundraising as a direct result of a colleague’s diagnosis, and sadly such instances are becoming more common.The likelihood of getting
the disease during your lifetime stands at one in three, but according to Cancer Research UK it is already
 one in two for those born after 1960. 
A 50/50 risk of cancer is an issue that none of us can afford to ignore, and increasingly, employers – wise to the threat cancer poses – are finding ways to try to pre-empt the disease.The good news is that 
we are getting better at treating cancer, with more people than ever – over 50 per cent – surviving the disease. The key to this successful treatment is early intervention, and that often depends on individuals having a sound understanding of the disease, of its symptoms, and of their own personal risk.An example of early intervention is the work taking place at insurance group Zurich, which has turned to Check4Cancer, a clinician-led organisation specialising in the implementation of cancer awareness and screening programmes for help with a cancer awareness raising programme for Zurich’s UK employees. The objective for Zurich was to increase the awareness of specific cancers such as breast, skin and prostrate across their UK workforce and to help people understand how to detect the early signs of cancer.

Earlier this year, Check4Cancer delivered presentations on the different types of cancer to Zurich’s employees based at different locations across the UK. Typically, awareness-raising campaigns focus on one specific cancer, sometimes focusing on gender bias, age or working conditions of staff.

Zurich took a different approach covering as many types of cancer as possible, opting to include bowel, breast, cervical, lung, prostate and skin cancers as part of their employee awareness programme. Initially, Zurich focused on helping employees to spot the signs of skin, breast and prostate cancer but then extended the programme to include some bowel, cervical and lung presentations too in light of positive feedback on the initial presentations.

Skin cancer, along with breast, prostate cancer, bowel, cervical and lung cancer are the six most common cancers, affecting both men and women, young and old – and, taken together, account for around 85 per cent of all cancers in the UK.

Typically, Check4Cancer implements its awareness campaigns via a range 
of media tailored to the client’s need, including presentations, info
 stands, booklets and informational websites set up specifically for the
 purpose. In addition to clear, basic information, the websites can feature illustrative videos, FAQs, and interactive activities where participants can share experiences. But also, crucially, they include online questionnaires providing measurable outcomes of the campaigns.

While work way is underway to measure the specific health outcomes the online questionnaires provided feedback from Zurich employees that the initial presentations were valued.

One hundred per cent of attendees agreed that presentations covered everything that had been expected, of which 76 per cent strongly agreed. One hundred per cent of participants agreed that presentations were a good use of time
 and 88 per cent strongly agreed;
 100 per cent of attendees agreed that the presentations helped them better understand the particular cancer and 85 per cent strongly agreed; 
89 per cent would attend more presentations on different cancers; 10 per cent would 
consider it; and only 1 per cent would not attend future sessions.
 While many of us may still be reluctant to talk about cancer, Zurich’s experience shows a strong desire on the part of employees for more information and support.

In fact, a recent survey among HR professionals revealed that 95 per cent of HR professionals surveyed were in favour of universal cancer checks provided by employers, with annual checking for all staff, while 63 per cent actively plan to introduce cancer awareness programmes and/or early detection programmes in their organisation.

Great potential exists for business to challenge the threat posed by cancer and it does not have to involve radical action. It may be as simple as providing the right information in the right way. What people do not know, they cannot react to. By providing awareness of cancer, we
 hope that people may become empowered to self-diagnose cancer and thereby save lives.

Professor Gordon Wishart is a consultant breast and endocrine surgeon, former director of the Cambridge Breast Unit, Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Visiting Professor of Cancer Surgery at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. He now works as an independent practitioner in Cambridge, and is medical director at Check4Cancer (


Corporate manslaughter firm ordered to publicise conviction

A building firm which was fined £200,000 following the death of a 28-year-old worker who was fatally crushed when a 2.9 metre retaining wall collapsed onto him, has been ordered to take out an advert on the Construction Enquirer detailing its prosecution.

This is the first time a publicity order has resulted in an advert being taken out in the trade press. Previously notices have appeared in local papers or on a company’s own website.

Linley Developments’ ad will appear throughout December on the Construction Enquirer website.

The site’s pages are viewed around 60,000 times a day, though the advert does not appear on every page.

The firm was fined £200,000 after pleading guilty to corporate manslaughter and the company’s managing director and project manager were both also given suspended prison sentences after pleading guilty to breaching CDM Regulations.

The publicity order states: “Linley Developments Ltd was convicted on 7 September 2015 of corporate manslaughter arising out of the death of Gareth Jones, a subcontracted employee, at a development in St Albans on 30 January 2013.

“Linley Developments Ltd admitted acting in a gross breach of their duty by failing to take sufficient care for his safety. Failings included failing to prepare a risk assessment for the excavation works, failing to assess and monitor the stability of the wall and failing to ensure that the wall did not become unstable as a result of the excavation work.”

SHP edition.

Battery Safety

From energy storage installations to electric vehicles and to consumer electronics such as smartphones, laptops and cameras, batteries are in use all around us every day. 

In normal working conditions batteries are considered to be stable, but if subjected to abnormal circumstances, such as increased temperatures, they may become unstable and – in the worst cases – vent violently with flame.

As a result of this, in 2015 United Airlines announced that it will no longer carry bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries. Aviation officials believe that such batteries contributed to fires that destroyed two Boeing 747 cargo planes, claiming the lives of their crews.

In July 2015 the M1 motorway in Derbyshire was closed for several hours with a 500-metre exclusion zone after a lorry carrying batteries caught fire. Witnesses reported seeing “fireballs” – presumed to be exploding batteries – and black smoke pouring out of the HGV.

In 2013 alone an estimated 4.8 billion lithium-ion batteries were manufactured, with annual production forecast to reach eight billion by 2025.

HSL’s Hazardous Substances Team has closely studied battery safety for several years, using our bespoke testing facility to help customers understand how best to manage the risks faced by industry during battery manufacture, storage, transport and use.

Find out more about battery safety by calling HSL on 01298 218408