Article from This Week in FM - 14 January 2020 | Updated 16 January 2020
A prestigious Wakefield school and former fire risk assessor have been fined after admitting fire safety offences across educational premises.
The conviction was first reported on ThisWeekinFM in September 2019 - with the story stating that sentencing would take place on 10 January 2020.
Wakefield Grammar School Foundation was fined £10,000 at Leeds Crown Court after admitting shortfalls in fire safety precautions at Wakefield Girls’ High School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.
The school’s former fire risk assessor, Dr James Gibson, was also fined £10,000 for failing to make suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments at the two sites as well as at Mulberry House Nursery School.
The failings came to light after a routine inspection by the Fire Service in February 2017 because the foundation was planning to carry out works on an extension.
The court heard that the foundation has a total of 500 employees and the schools cater for 2,100 children in total, ranging in age from three to 18-years old.
Concerns were raised by Fire Service inspectors, initially at Wakefield Girls’ High School, that coat hooks lined escape routes and there was also a partially obstructed fire exit door.
Cloakrooms are deemed ‘high risk’ areas under national guidance issued by the government due to the potential for rapid fire spread and so should not be open to circulation spaces or a means of escape.
Essential fire doors had been removed from cloakrooms on the first and second floors affecting the means of escape from these areas and putting pupils at risk should a fire occur. Further inspections found issues with fire doors which did not close properly.
At the nursery school, again coats and bags were stored in an open area, which would have affected the means of escape in the event of a fire. In a staff/reprographics room a final exit door was also blocked.
Subsequent inspections of the boy’s school (Queen Elizabeth Grammar School) found five areas where coats and bags were stored inappropriately. A final exit door in the main hall was also completely blocked by chairs.
Dr James Gibson, aged 65 and of Leeds, started working for the foundation as a Health and Safety Risk Assessor in 2007. He carried out fire risk assessments as part of his role but has since stopped working in this field and was described as deeply remorseful
to appear before the court.
The foundation has since upgraded its fire precautions and instructed a new fire risk assessment company. The court heard that once the concerns were raised the foundation acted quickly to rectify them.
At the previous hearing (at Leeds Magistrates’ Court), guilty pleas were entered relating to the period 16 February 2017 to 11 March 2017.
Dr Gibson pleaded guilty to failing to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment at Wakefield Girls’ High School, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and Mulberry House Nursery School.
Wakefield Grammar School Foundation pleaded guilty to failing to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment at Wakefield Girls’ High School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.
The foundation also pleaded guilty to failing to take general fire precautions at Wakefield Girls’ High School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.
Fines and costs
Judge Mairs fined Wakefield Grammar School Foundation £10,000 for failing to take general fire precautions and awarded no further penalty for failing to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. The foundation was ordered to pay £14,533 in costs.
Dr Gibson was fined £10,000 for failing to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and was ordered to pay £5,000 costs.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service
Following the sentencing Chris Kemp, Senior Fire Protection Manager for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service are committed to ensuring people are safe in the buildings they use, this includes ensuring the
safety of pupils in schools. It is essential that parents and guardians are able to leave their children in a safe and secure environment.
“We continually work with those responsible for managing buildings to support them in complying with the requirements imposed upon them, however when people have been put at significant risk as is the case here, we have no alternative but to take legal action
against those responsible."
Fire Risk Assessment
Kemp continued: “This case highlights the importance of not only the duty placed on those responsible for the building but also those contracted to carry out specialist services such as the Fire Risk Assessment. It is a fundamental pillar in the principles
of Fire Safety and anyone appointing someone to carrying out such an assessment or other specialist service needs to ensure they hold the relevant competence.”