[Phil Reilly – Health and Safety Advisor
Natalie Barrow – Health and Safety Advisor.]
Officers confirmed that there were 42 schools under the control of the Local Authority.
The Chair stated that the Group were looking for reassurance regarding the building of new schools with cladding systems and seeking information in relation to what work was being done regarding the safety of these schools.
Officers stated that a key area was the way that safety was procured and that previously there had been a SLA with each school. This had created a 2-tiered health and safety system across schools if they bought into it. For example, if you worked in the Civic Centre you may have received a different level of health and safety than if you were a colleague working in a school. Officers now wanted to be able to be in the right place when needed rather than rely in a restricted bought in service which had now stopped.
Officers had looked at existing fire risk assessments and now applied the same standard in schools as across other areas of the organisation with a competent person carrying out fire risk assessments.
The Chair stated that at the previous meeting it had been stated that there were problems with previous fire risk assessments in schools that had been carried out prior to 2015. Information was requested as to what training the assessors now received and how it was monitored.
Officers confirmed that yes there were concerns prior to 2015 and that a full audit had highlighted areas of concern. Officers were now seeking to bring about one gold standard across the entire organisation. Health and Safety staff were working closely with Neale Shore in Corporate Landlord and Sam Bunch (Fire Safety consultant).
The Chair confirmed that he had met with Sam Bunch who was a very qualified officer. The Chair also confirmed that Neale Shore was a consultant.
The Chair requested information as to how many in house employees had the right level of qualifications to carry out fire risk assessments.
It was stated that Neale Shore had appointed area officers – 2 had now gone through fire risk assessment training so they had the expertise to carry out low risk, low complexity risk assessments. These employees would now advance their knowledge by shadowing Sam Bunch as far as possible and the use of CPD. There were no other officers that the Health and Safety Officer was aware of with the required expertise.
The Group questioned whether two officers were enough given the circumstances and the need to look across such a vast sector and any new builds that might be on the way.
It was stated that Neale Shore did have a team of 5 – 1 had moved on, 2 were trained and there was uncertainty a t the 5th. It was considered that given the size of the organisation that there could be more expertise and there was concern regarding the extent to which the Council had to rely on Sam Bunch.
Important areas included the carrying out of risk assessments and the subsequent management processes required to pick up significant finds and address them.
The Chair stated that it appeared that the Council needed to take a step back and look at the whole structure and ensure that there was someone in charge who would manage our duty of care in relation to fire.
The Group queried whether there were any requests from academies and schools outside of Council control for fire risk assessments to be carried out. It was stated that a number of academies had bought into old SLA agreements so they received an audit.
The Group considered that 42 schools was still a lot and that there were concerns over and above the issue of cladding regarding schools such as the electrical equipment, science blocks with flammable equipment, issues regarding technology rooms arson and smoking. Schools therefore presented a very complex fire concern.
One Member also noted that the nursery where he was a governor was covered in cladding.
The Group queried how Officers were going to be able to achieve what they wanted with the limited budget and personnel that were available.
The Group questioned whether schools were asking for advice on the back of Grenfell. Officers stated that no additional calls for services from schools had been received.
It was confirmed that any residential schools had been prioritised for risk assessments and that these had been addressed by Sam Bunch.
From a Health and Safety point of view it was confirmed that the Council was resourcing – Natalie Barrow had now joined the team along with Tim Munro from Wrekin. There was a growing team from a health and safety point of view and officers now felt that they could start to move forward and be proactive. The goals were achievable but fire safety management fell outside of the health and safety team and was a different dynamic.
The Group queried the SLA the Council had with Wolverhampton Homes and sought reassurance that Sam Bunch would still have capacity to do all of the required risk assessments quickly or whether there would be a delay and whether Wolverhampton Homes would be able to carry on doing the work they were doing without so much of the Health and Safety Officers time.
It was stated that over the last year or so there had been great success with Wolverhampton Homes and that this stemmed from being proactive and that there were more changes on the way in relation to fire safety.
What was important was what happened with the fire risk assessments – who would do the review. From a health and safety perspective the Council could deliver.
The Chair queried whether the Council knew after building schools for the future what materials were on our schools and what they were built of and the situation with sprinklers. The Chair stated that over 600 new schools had been built nationally and that only 70 had got sprinklers. It was though that no Wolverhampton Schools had sprinklers and the Group queried why this was the case.
Officers stated that they had looked at cladding and could not be 100% sure what was where due to the fact that information from constructors was poor.
The question was raised as to how a list of the schools with cladding could be obtained which detailed what the cladding was. It was though that Facilities Management would have access to this information and that they were currently confirming the situation. It was known that one school hit the 18m height and had cladding but that this was not on the residential side. Officers were waiting for confirmation from colleagues in Facilities Management as to what the schools had regarding cladding.
The group questioned who was the officer responsible for coordinating all of these processes and it was thought that this would be the Head of Facilities Management.
The Chair queried who managed the duty of care in relation to fire safety at the Council.
The Group considered that the Council did have experienced and qualified employees but that they did not appear to be in the right areas and that there appeared to be vacuums that were being filled by bringing in consultants.
The Group considered that there were structural issues within the Council in relation to fire safety and that it was very unclear as to who was ultimately responsible for fire safety. The Chair stated that the Responsible Person as the senior person needed to be identified along with a number competent people.
The Group considered that the fundamental problem appeared to be a policy vacuum. The Group considered that if there was an emergency there would be some coordination but that tactics would not be coordinated. This was a policy area that needed drilling into by the relevant Directors and an area that needed to be resourced financially and intellectually.
The question was raised as to who carried out the day to day jobs such as PACT testing, whether there a plan for this and were there any concerns. It was stated that there was a regime for this so there was confidence.
The Chair referred to the i10 building which he had visited and stated that he was still waiting for confirmation as to what was in the cladding. The Chair conceded that this may not be a significant life risk but that there were 3 places there serving food that was cooked on gas.