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June 8, 2012

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Serious fire-safety breaches cost Asda

National food retailer Asda Stores Limited has been ordered to pay more than £55,000 in fines and costs for committing serious fire-safety breaches at a store in Berkshire.

Appearing at Reading Crown Court on 6 June, the firm pleaded guilty to two charges brought under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The case had received an earlier hearing in February at Reading Magistrates’ Court, but was referred to the Crown Court, where a number of further charges were brought into account.

Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (RBFA) brought the charges following an inspection of Asda’s store in Cippenham, near Slough, by fire-safety officers on 24 June 2010. The court heard that the breaches presented a serious and life-threatening risk, not only to the staff who worked in the store but also to customers and other members of the public.

Counsel for the prosecution, William Clegg QC, told the court that the inspection, which was carried out following a complaint, identified serious breaches to fire-safety regulations, including:

  • two fire-exit doors chained and locked shut;
  • obstruction of fire-escape routes;
  • combustible items obstructing fire-exit doors and escape routes; and
  • fire-exit doors wedged open.

The court also heard that the company had previously been served with a caution in July 2000 for two contraventions relating to other fire-safety regulations.

Offering mitigation, Matthew Turner QC, stated that the company treated fire-safety regulations very seriously and set out the company’s policies and procedures that it had in place to support this. He also highlighted that the company cooperated fully with the Fire Authority, and pleaded guilty to the offences at an earlier hearing.

Summing up, Judge Grainger recognised Asda Stores’ guilty plea and mitigation, but underlined that the breaches were very serious. He fined the company £20,000 for each offence, with full costs totalling £15,647 awarded to the Fire Authority.

David Walden, the Authority’s fire-safety legal support manager, said: “This was a clear case of a major retailing company failing to comply with fire-safety regulations and, by doing so, placing people at serious risk. It also provides further evidence that some businesses continue to treat compliance with fire-safety legislation as an option – it is not.

“Staff and customers are entitled to feel safe when working at, or visiting, a supermarket, or any other business. We will continue with our efforts to ensure that any business owner, or manager who refuses to take these obligations seriously will be brought before the courts.”

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Bigtam
Bigtam
12 years ago

i think they got carried away with the fine to be fair whats the worst that could happen?

Bob
Bob
12 years ago

Given that they are a national store, are we likely to observe similar failure elswhere?

Presumably the earlier fire procedures (pre mitigation) prevailed in other stores?

Bet they are not tapping the back pocket now?

David
David
12 years ago

All of these retailers who think locking or chaining fire doors is a good move should be made to watch the footage of the Woolworth’s fire in Manchester in 1979, in order for them to realise the potential consequences of these actions. Locked exits killed ten people in that fire and the previous Fire Act 1971 wasn’t strong enough to prevent the tragic incident.

David
David
12 years ago

The Woolworth’s fire showed that people did unpredictable things during the fire, such as queueing at unattended checkouts and staying in the restaurant when smoke was cllearly coming into the area and the alarms were sounding. Most of the people that died were less than ten feet from a fire exit, so the consequences can be worse than you think. The Actions of people in the Woolworth’s fire is still studied by academics, interested in the actions of people in cases of emergency.

Ianmiles2000
Ianmiles2000
12 years ago

Such basic failures in this day and age are unforgivable. Given the size of the organisation and the number of lives they were putting, Asda must have been pretty relieved at the petty-cash sized fines.

It’s unlikely that the fire service just happened to catch them on a bad day. Local and regional management must have been aware of the appalling risk to their staff and customers or they weren’t doing their jobs. What does that say about their culture…?

Mattwr
Mattwr
12 years ago

I worked in this store in the late eighties to mid nineties and this problem had exsisted then i can recall one period about 1992 the personel manager informed us that the fire alarm system was disconnected as faulty and as the firm at the time was in financial difficulties it was not to be repaired. prior to this fire alarm testing and drills were very rare that staff did not not know the procedure or where to go.

Mschilling
Mschilling
12 years ago

Are you having a laugh?
Faults =
•two fire-exit doors chained and locked shut;
•obstruction of fire-escape routes;
•combustible items obstructing fire-exit doors and escape routes; and
•fire-exit doors wedged open.

And you ask – ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’
(and folk wonder why H&S can be pedantic and burdensome – it needs to be with folk like you about)

Roger
Roger
12 years ago

Daily, Weekly, and monthly recorded checks being carried out, are they? H&S Manager picking this up on H&S Audits? Has store manager still got his job as he is retail awair and money into the tills is more important to him/her, along with the ASDA bosses. Not the only retail store that treats H&S as a bolt on, with a fix it if we get caught attitude! Shame they should be leading the industry.

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