In what is the largest penalty under the legislation to date, Shell
International Ltd has been fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £45,000
costs after pleading guilty to breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire
Safety) Order at its UK headquarters in central London.
Sentencing took place at the Inner London Crown Court yesterday after the company pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Fire Safety Order.
The London Fire Brigade prosecuted the company following two small fires in the space of three weeks at the Shell Centre on London’s South Bank. A subsequent inspection on 12 January 2007 found extensive breaches including blocked escape routes and fire exits, defective fire doors and excessive fire loading. The fire loading had been dramatically increased because of refurbishments taking place in the upper floors.
The London Fire Brigade served a prohibition notice which restricted the use of the Shell Tower and basement levels. Under the notice, only people working to remedy the fire safety deficiencies were allowed to enter those parts of the building. A further inspection was carried out on 15 January 2007 — all the fire safety failings were remedied and the prohibition notice was lifted.
It was also discovered that Shell’s fire risk assessment had not been reviewed or updated since March 2003. For around three and a half years since then, according to London Fire Brigade, the condition of the general fire precautions in the building had deteriorated.
“Shell failed to respond properly to their risk assessment for three and a half years and had it not been for the fires which led to the inspection, it could have been considerably longer,” said assistant commissioner Steve Turek. “Had Shell acted upon the findings of the 2003 risk assessment at the time, they would have avoided putting their staff at risk.”
The first fire was on 19 December 2006 at 2.25am. Four fire engines and around 20 firefighters attended the blaze. The second fire, on 5 January 2007, was started by cutting equipment setting fire to insulation material. Around 40 people left the building before the London Fire Brigade arrived.
London fire commissioner, Ron Dobson, added: “This conviction shows that major companies are not exempt from prosecution and must take their responsibilities under the RRO seriously.”
In response to the conviction, a Shell spokesperson said: “We are sorry for the shortcomings but must emphasise there were no injuries to people. We put things right immediately and have also had an independent review of our fire safety plans and condition of the building. Shell Centre is safe and we are complying fully with the law.”
This article was originally published by our sister publication Fire Safety Engineering (FSE). Click here to visit the FSE website.
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