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North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service reminds business owners to provide correct level of fire safety provisions

Published on 1 April 2015
An enforcement notice was also served to ensure that standards of fire safety and management could be brought up to an acceptable level

NYFRS Authority urge business owners to conduct fire risk assessment or review any existing fire risk assessment when required

Following the prosecution of a business operating in York, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is reminding all business owners to make sure that they are providing the correct level of fire safety provisions and are not breaching Fire Safety Legislation.

Following inspection of the American Nails premises at 8 Stonegate York, by North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service fire safety officers, in July 2012, a prohibition notice was issued to prevent sleeping on the premises.

Lack of general fire precautions

The building layout and lack of general fire precautions meant it was totally unsafe for sleeping to take place on the premises. An enforcement notice was also served to ensure that standards of fire safety and management could be brought up to an acceptable level. The notifications were to safeguard the safety of staff and members of the public within the shop.

A further visit to the shop to check that the necessary work had been carried out in August 2012 showed that nothing had been done to ensure that the fire safety measures and management standards were brought up to the required level.

Measures to improve standard of general fire precautions

Eventually the responsible person did employ a professional Fire Risk Assessor to conduct a fire risk assessment. They then also improved the standard of general fire precautions by:

  • installing a fire alarm and detection system and emergency lighting
  • providing a safe place to store the highly flammable products which are used in the nail industry
  • reducing the amount of highly flammable substances being stored on the premises
  • replacing damaged electrical wiring.

These measures and better management procedures improved the safety standards within the shop for visiting public and staff members. However, the layout and age of the premises mean that it still did not lend itself to providing safe sleeping accommodation. Despite there been prohibition notices in place for the premises, the responsible person and the person with day to day control of the premises ignored these notices and allowed people to sleep on the premises.

In March 2013 and again in December 2013 Home Office Immigration Enforcement carried out visits to the shop and found illegal workers who were living in the accommodation, above the shop.

In December 2013 Fire officers again found unacceptable quantities of flammable liquids being stored incorrectly and a defective fire alarm system. Workers admitted to sleeping above the shop despite there being a prohibition notice in force.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority's response to fire safety deficiencies

Due to the seriousness of these fire safety deficiencies, which had been present for a number of years, the initial failure to comply with the enforcement notice and failure to adhere to the requirements of the prohibition notice North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority took the decision to prosecute Mr Vi Long Nhan and Mrs Thu Ho.

On June 26th 2014 at York Magistrates Court Mr Vi Long Nhan pleaded guilty in total to 3 contraventions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

On November 13th 2014 at York Crown Court Mrs Thu Ho pleaded guilty in total to 2 contraventions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. With further contravention to be taken into account.

Due to the seriousness of the offences the Magistrates declined to deal with the matter and sent the case to York Crown Court for sentencing.

Mr Vi Long Nhan was given a 6 month suspended prison sentence and was also ordered to pay £3,000 in prosecution costs within 12 months. Mrs Thu Ho was given a 7 month suspended prison sentence and was also ordered to pay £10,000 prosecution costs within 36 months.

Thames Valley Police executed a number of warrants

During the course of the investigation North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service were asked by Thames Valley Police to provide details of the information they had gathered during the fire safety investigation. It is believed that the intelligence information was helpful to Thames Valley Police and assisted them in being able to execute a number of warrants on 17th March 2015 at addresses in London, Reading and at the York Stonegate address.

Station Manager, David Watson of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service says; “North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service do work with other agencies and are sometimes asked to share information. Where we are requested to share information we only do so following robust data sharing procedures which ensure we adhere to the laws around personal information and data.”

Ms Karen Galloway prosecuting solicitor for the Fire Authority stated that: “This was an extremely serious case for which the Fire and Rescue Service had to prosecute those responsible. Both employees and the general public were placed at risk of death or serious injury owing to the inadequate fire safety measures in place. A fire at the premises could have had resulted in catastrophic consequences, both in terms of human life and destruction of historic premises. The serving of the Prohibition Notice on the business preventing persons from sleeping at the premises was absolutely necessary and paramount to this case. There is no doubt that had the Fire Authority not taken such action the serious contraventions in this case would have continued”.

Counsel for the Fire Authority, Sailesh Mehta of Red Lion Chambers said in Court: "The Court is entitled to recognise that the nature of the risk against which employees and visitors to the business were to be protected was a risk of death or serious injury in a fire. Fire could be indiscriminate in its effect and in the case of a business operating in the heart of York, that risk is significantly heightened."

Station Manager, David Watson of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service goes on to say; “The majority of business premises that we visit under our audit schedule are well-managed and are conscientious about fire safety matters.

Adequate fire risk assessments and fire safety provisions

He continues; “We do, however, continue to find a number of businesses and premises, where the fire safety order applies, which do not have adequate fire risk assessments and fire safety provisions. In buildings where sleeping takes place it is vitally important that the correct measures are provided and maintained. When fire alarm and detection systems are not provided or not maintained in full working order those people who are sleeping in a building may well have their lives put at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire. Fire safety officers will always try to work with businesses and business owners to ensure they are compliant or can achieve compliance with the requirements of the legislation and within an acceptable time scale. Unfortunately in this case those with control chose to disregard a prohibition notice and allow people, who were vulnerable, to continue to sleep in rooms above the shop. The conviction shows how seriously the Fire Authority and the Courts view those who put the safety of others at risk in the event of a fire.”

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority urge business owners and those with responsibility for any premises, where the fire safety order applies, to ensure that they have conducted their fire risk assessment or reviewed any existing fire risk assessment when this is required. It is important that they are aware of the legislative obligations they need to comply with including having an up to date fire risk assessment. 

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