Alarming news on Underground fire safety

Submitted by Tubeworker on Fri, 03/24/2006 - 12:42

RMT press release ...

LONDON UNDERGROUND has downgraded its own fire-safety regime, despite fierce opposition from its own principal fire engineer and union safety reps, the Tube's biggest union reveals today.

Changes imposed by LUL have relegated fire-safety to become an adjunct of general health and safety policy, done away with the existing fire inspection programme and even abolished the post of specialist fire-safety advisor, RMT says.

The union has urged the Railways Inspectorate to intervene to get LUL to suspend the changes, and has renewed its call to ministers not to scrap regulations that impose minimum fire-safety standards on sub-surface railway stations throughout Britain.

In an internal email outlining his opposition to changes to LUL's fire-safety management regime, which were imposed at the end of February despite union protests, LUL fire engineer Martin Weller said:

"Overall, I have reluctantly concluded that I cannot support the proposals as presented. At a time when LU is facing the biggest change in fire legislation to hit the UK in 30 years, and when we have evidence that the extensive engineering works that we are currently undertaking are increasing fire risk, it would (in my opinion) be inadvisable in the extreme to reduce the breadth and depth of specialist Fire Safety Management expertise within COO. I know of no organisation in the UK of a similar size to us and even approaching our fire risk profile which does not retain this type of management expertise. A few days (or even weeks) training for existing staff cannot replicate the experience and expertise currently resident in that Directorate. I would intuitively anticipate that the proposed alterations will increase costs, rather than decrease them, since overall efficiency is likely to decline."

"It is astonishing that in one breath LUL can tell the London Assembly about the massive problems it experienced in the wake of the July 7 bombings yet with the next insist on changes that even their own fire engineer opposed," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Our safety reps also raised serious concerns about the proposals, yet LUL management have waved them to one side and once more imposed change, despite a promise to postpone implementation to allow for more talks.

"The review that resulted in these changes was seriously flawed. We have discovered that at least one pilot scheme for the new regime never actually took place - a fact that LUL calls a 'minor inaccuracy'.

"We have already asked HMRI to intervene, but it is all the more important now to ensure that the minimum fire-safety standards brought in after the King's Cross fire remain in place.

"For all sorts of reasons - not least the security situation - the fire risk on the London Underground has increased significantly, and now is not the time for LUL to weaken fire-safety management or for ministers to abolish minimum fire-safety standards," Bob Crow said.

"These revelations underline the urgent need to retain the existing sub-surface station fire-safety regulations, and we will be seeking an urgent meeting with the minister," said RMT parliamentary group convenor John McDonnell MP.

"If necessary we will use parliamentary procedure to block the start of the inferior arrangements the government intends to introduce so that this matter can be fully debated in parliament."

ends

Notes to editors: Notes on the 1989 sub-surface fire regulations and parliamentary early-day motion on Tube fire safety follow below.

RMT members, including LUL staff who took part in the July 7 rescue operations, will lobby the Deputy Prime Minister's office at Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E, 5DU on Monday March 27 at 11:00, to urge that the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989 remain in place - see separate calling notice to be issued today.

Notes on the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989

The 1989 Regulations make up Section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971, and were added on the recommendation of the Fennell Report into the 1987 King's Cross fire. They cover 'sub-surface stations' throughout Britain, including those on underground systems in Glasgow, Tyne and Wear and London, but also national rail stations which are 'sub-surface', including Birmingham New Street, London's Charing Cross and several in Liverpool. The government's Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2004, as originally drafted, would have repealed the 1971 Act, and with it the Section 12 regulations.

The regulations stipulate minimum safe staffing levels, means of detecting and warning of fires and means of escape and firefighting, as well as standards of fire-resistant construction, training and various other precautions, which are not specified in the Fire Safety Order the government wants to replace them with.

The government's first move to scrap the 1989 regulations - which lay down minimum staffing levels and other safety standards for sub-surface stations - was opposed by the House of Commons' Regulatory Reform Committee in October 2004, following an intervention by RMT parliamentary group convenor John McDonnell. The relevant part of the committee's report is attached.

The government has subsequently said it would repeal the regulations in April 2006, but most recently indicated that it would do so six to 12 months after the Fire Safety Order comes into force. However, the Fire Safety Order and guidance do not give the same statutory protections as in the 1989 Regulations, specifically on:

  • Means of escape
  • Means of fighting fire
  • Means of detection and giving warning
  • Fire-resistant construction
  • Instruction and training
  • Keeping of records
  • Additional precautions including practicable steps to prevent smoking, and staffing levels.

Parliamentary Early Day Motion 549, tabled by John McDonnell after the London bombings and signed to date by 64 MPs

EDM 549 - Fire Precautions Regulations

In the name of John McDonnell and 63 others:

That this House condemns the terrorist attacks on London's public transport network and commends the bravery and professionalism of the emergency services, London Underground, national rail network and London bus service workers who were on hand to provide assistance and support in the immediate aftermath of the attacks; notes that the Government is set to review the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989, introduced following the Fennell Report into the 1987 King's Cross Fire disaster; further notes that the Regulations set out minimum standards for fire precautions in sub-surface railway stations including means of escape, means of fighting fire, minimum staffing levels and staff instruction and training; believes that these minimum standards are even more essential in light of the recent terrorist attacks; and calls on the Government to retain in full the 1989 Regulations

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