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Shell fined record sum for fire safety breaches

Shell International Ltd have been fined £300,000 for serious breaches in fire safety at the Shell Centre in London
Shell's serious breaches of fire safety regulations included blocked fire exits
Shell International Ltd. was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £45,000 in costs after pleading guilty to serious breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the "RRO"). The fine is the largest imposed under the RRO.

The London Fire Brigade prosecuted Shell following two small fires in the space of three weeks at the Shell Centre on York Road, SE1 7NA. The first fire was on 19 December 2006 at 2.25am. Four fire engines and around 20 firefighters attended the blaze at the Shell Centre. Around 40 people left the building before the London Fire Brigade arrived. The second fire was on 5 January 2007. The fire was started by cutting equipment setting fire to insulation material. Around 40 people left the building before the London Fire Brigade arrived. The watch manager in charge of the incident was unhappy about the fire precautions in place so ordered that a full audit of the Shell Tower take place.

These fires resulted in an inspection being carried out on 12 January 2007. The Inspecting Officers found extensive breaches including blocked escape routes and fire exits, defective fire doors and excessive fire loading. The fire loading in the Shell Tower had been dramatically increased because of refurbishments taking place in the upper floors.

The deficiencies were so severe the London Fire Brigade served a prohibition notice on Shell which restricted the use of the Shell Tower and basement levels. Under the prohibition notice, only people working to remedy the fire safety deficiencies were allowed to enter those parts of the building. All employees and members of the public were prevented access until the affected areas were considered to be safe enough to occupy. A further inspection was carried out on 15 January 2007 - all the fire safety failings were remedied and the prohibition notice was lifted.

It was also discovered that Shell's own fire risk assessment had not been reviewed or updated since March 2003. The 2003 fire risk assessment had identified some of the same failings that were observed during the 2007 inspection. For around 3 and a half years, the condition of the general fire precautions within the Tower deteriorated with the matters identified by the 2003 fire risk assessment getting worse. On average a new risk assessment should be updated every year.

Assistant Commissioner Steve Turek said; "Shell failed to respond properly to their risk assessment for three and a half years and had it not been for the fires which led to the inspection, it could have been considerably longer. Had Shell acted upon the findings of the 2003 risk assessment at the time, they would have avoided putting their staff at risk."

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said; "This conviction shows that major companies are not exempt from prosecution and must take their responsibilities under the RRO seriously. The London Fire Brigade continues to work with companies to make sure they comply with the order. Failure to do so can, as this case has shown, result in a substantial fine."

Sentencing of Shell International Limited took place at Inner London Crown Court on 2 June 2009 after they pleaded guilty to three breaches of the RRO. 

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