Architects fined for failing to pass on fire risk information

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A Teesside architecture firm has been prosecuted for failing to pass information about the flammability of a new timber frame building on to contractors.

Mario Minchella Ltd was fined £1,500 after a routine HSE inspection in October 2012 of the building site in Hemlington found there was nothing in the company’s design specification to alert construction workers erecting the timber frame to the additional fire risk it created, and the need to take action accordingly.

The inspector found that the separation distance between the new timber frame building and an adjacent occupied care home was insufficient. As a result, had the timber frame caught fire there was a serious risk the radiant heat would cause the fire to spread to the care home, putting the lives of residents and staff at risk.

Timber frames burn faster and more completely when the panels are incomplete and not yet protected by internal fire-resistant plasterboard and external cladding, HSE inspector Andrea Robbins explained after the hearing.

Teesside Magistrates’ Court was told that it would have been reasonable for Mario Minchella Ltd to have specified in its design that fire-resistant timber be used or that it considered the sequence of construction so the timber frame of each floor was clad before the next one was constructed, reducing the amount of timber exposed at any one time.

The firm pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 11(3)(b) and 11(6)(c) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was ordered to pay £816 in costs.

Robbins added: “When burning, exposed timber frame structures generate a lot of radiant heat and there have been a number of large and serious fires which have affected neighbouring properties with devastating consequences, though thankfully without loss of life.

“There was a real danger here that had there been a fire it could have spread to the adjacent care home, putting the lives of the residents and staff inside at risk. Mario Minchella Ltd failed to consider this risk in its design and failed to provide sufficient information to the contractors to enable them to carry out the construction safely.”



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