The Co-op receives near-record fine for fire safety failings

May 2010

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One of the largest fines to date has been issued to the Co-operative Group for having caused ‘a potential death trap’ at one of its premises.

Described as having demonstrated ‘a lamentable approach to fire safety’ His Honour Judge Barnett ordered the Co-operative Group to pay £210,000, including costs in excess of £28,000 – one of the largest fines ever under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 for its failings in fire safety.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority (prosecuting) took into account six breaches of fire safety, which came to light following inspections at the company’s Shirley Road premises in Southampton in September 2007.

Pleading guilty at Southampton Crown Court last month, the Co-operative Group was found to have committed six serious breaches of fire safety law, namely:

· failing to keep the rear emergency exit doors unlocked for use in an emergency

· fitting a lock requiring a security code on an emergency door between the retail and storage areas, which could not be easily opened in an emergency

· obstructing a fire alarm and call-point in the storage area – thus potentially delaying fire alarm activation and early warning to building occupants

· a lack of suitable and sufficient fire safety instruction and training for the store manager

· a fire alarm system that was not regularly tested

· having no means of early detection of fire in the retail area and thus not providing early warning to the occupants of the manager’s office for safe evacuation

In addition, the court heard of three other fire safety offenses which occurred at the company’s premises in Montague Avenue and Bassett Green Road in Southampton, and its Kingston Road store in Portsmouth.
A spokesperson for the Manchester-based Co-operative Group, said that it ‘deeply regrets the breaches’ explaining that as a responsible retailer, the company ‘takes health and safety issues very seriously’.
According to the Co-op, at the time of these incidents, the Group was introducing substantially more stringent health and safety procedures, investing heavily, both in time and money, in all aspects of fire safety.

Commenting on the prosecution, Hampshire’s chief fire officer, John Bonney, said that the fire service strives to work closely with businesses to help them with their duty to comply with the Fire Safety Order but when companies fail to take their responsibilities seriously, the service will consider prosecution.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue has discovered a number of common fire safety failings in premises throughout the county, to include:

· blocked or locked exits

· poorly maintained fire escape staircases

· a lack of staff fire training

· storing combustible materials in boiler rooms

· a lack of fire alarms, emergency lighting and fire doors

· a lack of suitable fire risk assessments

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