Nursing Home Staff Left Residents in Rooms During Fire

Two nursing home owners have been fined for committing offences under the RRO after staff left elderly residents in their rooms during a late night fire despite getting out themselves.

Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard that fire officers raised concerns about St Michael’s Mount Nursing Home on Woolton Road in Liverpool after putting out a fire there in October 2012.

On arrival at the premises they saw four members of staff standing outside the property while residents were still in their rooms.

It led the Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service to prosecute the home’s owners.

Michael Hanlon, 67, of Dowhills Drive, Blundellsands, and James Mutch, 68, of Merrilocks Road, Blundellsands, were today fined £44,000 after each pleading guilty to seven breaches of fire regulations.

These included not having an adequate fire risk assessment, failing to maintain an effective fire alarm system (although the fire alarm had activated that night), failing to keep emergency exits clear, failing to have a suitable fire evacuation procedure, having defective fire doors and failing to provide staff with appropriate information.

The court heard fire broke out in the sluice room due to an unforeseeable electrical fault.

Warren Spencer, prosecuting for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said evacuation procedures should have “kicked in” but staff had made “no effort to evacuate residents”.

Officers also found some of the fire doors were “wedged open”.

At least two residents, aged 85 and 98, needed treatment for smoke inhalation following the fire and one needed to go to hospital.

Mr Spencer said that the fire service acknowledges the difficulties there would be to evacuate infirm residents, but a proper plan would have helped get them to a place of safety, if not outside.

Mr Spencer said: “The fire service accepts fires will occur. What is paramount, therefore, is the way in which the fire is dealt with and evacuation of the premises plan is in place. Staff in this case effectively walked away from the fire and residents and left the fire service to deal with it.”

Mike Atkins, defending both men, said they had been operating the home for 25 years, had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and cooperated fully with the investigation.

He said the home has no previous enforcement notices.

He said they had employed experienced people to run it for them. They had a risk assessment but Mr Atkins accepted that while it was “detailed and completed in good faith, it did not go far enough”.

Without blaming staff, he said the staff member in charge had “panicked” and had since been disciplined. But district judge Gwyn Jones took a dim view of putting onus on staff, saying the “buck stops” with the owners. He said there had been a “systemic failure” to address fire safety.

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Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

Source: Fire Safety Lawyer

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