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TEAM Talks: Securing Lives – The Critical Role of Qualified Fire Risk Assessors in Building Safety

Securing Lives: The Critical Role of Qualified Fire Risk Assessors in Building Safety 

Tuesday  2nd January, 2024

Illustration by TEAM Safety Services Ltd.

In a recent incident at Tower Chambers in Hartlepool, a block of flats narrowly avoided a catastrophic fire thanks to the swift response of firefighters. However, the incident shed light on severe fire safety failures within the building, prompting fines for 2 companies and a suspended prison sentence for a fire risk assessor. This serves as a stark reminder of the indispensable importance of fire safety responsibilities, qualified assessors, and the proactive resolution of significant findings identified in Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs).


The Potentially Deadly Incident


A fire started in 1 of the 18 flats within the residential block at around 5am on the 2nd of February 2021. The smoke and flames rapidly spread throughout the building; 17 people had to be rescued, 2 people were rescued from upper windows and 3 people had to be walked through the "smoke-filled and burning building" by firefighters. 

Tower Chambers in Hartlepool. Image credit: Google Street View

Identifying Responsibility: A Crucial First Step


The heart of the matter lies in understanding who holds the responsibility for fire safety within a building. In the case of Tower Chambers, the Management Agency was deemed responsible for communal areas and fire safety requirements. This underscores the necessity for residents and property owners to be acutely aware of the designated party in charge of ensuring a safe living or working environment.

Choosing the Right Assessor: A Matter of Competence

The block’s Management Agency commissioned a Safety Company to conduct a fire risk assessment of Tower Chambers. Unfortunately, the Assessor lacked the necessary qualifications and experience for residential properties. They specialised in fire safety at industrial sites but had never worked in, and did not have accreditation for, residential properties. This incident highlights the importance of choosing a qualified and competent fire risk assessor who possesses the specific expertise required for the type of property being assessed.


As a result, the assessment was riddled with flaws and errors, failing to accurately represent the building's nature. Their misjudgements could have had severe consequences for residents. 


It is crucial to recognise that not all assessors are capable of conducting assessments for every type of property, emphasising the need for expertise tailored to the specific environment.

Actioning Significant Findings: A Call to Urgent Measures

A subsequent investigation identified critical issues, including a broken fire alarm system, defective fire doors, inadequate compartmentalisation, no evacuation plans, and lack of information to residents. These failures put the lives of residents at risk.


The judge emphasised the importance of acting on significant findings promptly. In Tower Chambers, the lack of corrective measures and deficient post-fire actions by the managing agency were heavily criticised. 

Damage caused by the fire at Tower Chambers, in Hartlepool. Image credit: Cleveland Fire Brigade

The Ruling 

Although the building was owned by another company, the block's Management Agency was ultimately responsible for communal areas and fire safety requirements. 


At Teeside Crown Court, the judge recently ruled the Assessor, who admitted 2 charges, had carried out an "incompetent piece of work". They were sentenced to 6 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, with 120 hours unpaid work and costs of almost £5,400.


The Managing Agency was fined £25,000 after admitting 4 offences, with the judge saying he was "very surprised" the company’s founder had not been prosecuted personally, adding if convicted he would have been at "serious risk" of imprisonment.


The Safety Company admitted 1 charge, was fined £10,000, and both companies were ordered to pay approximately £12,200 in costs.

A Wake-Up Call for All: Lessons Learned

This incident serves as a sobering reminder of the potential consequences of neglecting fire safety responsibilities. Individuals and organisations must prioritise understanding who holds the responsibility for fire safety, engaging qualified assessors, and promptly addressing issues identified in FRAs. The near tragedy at Tower Chambers underscores that, without proactive measures, lives can be at significant risk, and legal consequences may follow.


It is crucial for property owners and Managers to take collective responsibility for fire safety, ensuring that qualified professionals are engaged and that identified issues are promptly rectified. By prioritising these critical aspects, we can collectively contribute to safer living and working environments and prevent future incidents that could result in dire consequences.


If you need clarity on who holds the fire safety responsibility of your property or need qualified and competent fire risk assessors to match your specific requirements, our TEAM of experts can assist you with prompt and effective solutions.


Or email us at info(at)

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