Drop in number of fire safety checks carried out on West Sussex buildings

The number of fire safety checks carried out on buildings in West Sussex has more than halved when compared with a decade ago, new figures reveal.

Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 11:06 am
Fire service news

West Sussex firefighters completed 1,391 fire safety audits on buildings in 2019-20, according to Home Office data – 1,758 fewer than the 3,149 inspections recorded in 2010-11, when comparable records began.

Fire services conduct audits on most public buildings and the shared areas of residential properties such as flats to make sure they are in line with safety laws.

Buildings tested include care homes, hospitals and high-rises, as well as schools and shops.

A West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service spokesman said audits are carried out at the premises with the highest level of risk.

“Over the last 18 months, since our first inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, we have reviewed our approach to fire safety and published a Fire Safety Enforcement Strategy which sets clear targets for the number of audits we will deliver each year,” the spokesman said.

“This work is targeted at the highest risk premises around the county.

“Fire audits are just one type of safety work we do, and we have also focused work around recommendations following the Grenfell tragedy, building regulations, licensing applications and complaints about premises that come into us.”

Of the audits undertaken in West Sussex last year, 72 (five per cent) resulted in an ‘unsatisfactory’ rating.

Crews issued 259 informal notifications to premises that had failed an audit, explaining what action needed to be taken.

If informal notifications fail, they can take tougher action and West Sussex crews handed out 19 enforcement notices – formal warnings that a building breaches the law.

Prohibition notices, ordering access to a building to be restricted or for it to be closed altogether, were issued on eight occasions.

And there was one conviction for failure to make changes ordered in a formal notice.

The drop in fire safety audits in West Sussex mirrored the trend across England, where the number of audits completed fell to a record low of 48,400 last year – 43 per cent fewer than in 2010-11.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said more than a decade of government cuts had led to preventative work being slashed.

“The Grenfell Tower fire exposed the shameful state of building safety in the UK,” he said.

“The scale of the building safety crisis is beyond all current comprehension – and firefighters have a crucial role to play in tackling it.”

Mr Wrack said the union supports the Government’s new bills on fire safety and building safety, which aim to expand firefighters’ prevention and protection work.

“But to be effective, the fire and rescue service must be properly funded,” he added. “As things stand, the Government is trying to do public safety on the cheap.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said the Government was committed to providing fire services with the resources they need.

She said: “Funding for standalone fire and rescue services has increased by 3.2 per cent in 2020-21.

“We’ve also made more than £20 million of funding available to the sector to support fire protection work – £16 million of which is being invested directly to increase the number of audits and qualified officers.”

Talk is increasing of further lockdowns in the UK. What do you think of the situation?

Join the Big Conversation and have your say on everything from healthcare to how the pandemic has affected you personally and how we make our communities stronger: take part in the survey here