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Helping business back to its feet

7 March 2014

Fire can have devastating effects on homes or businesses. Even if there are no injuries or loss of life, the aftermath can be distressing to either home or business owners as the long process of rebuilding or clearing up begins.

Helping business back to its feet

In the case of Powell Packaging, a family run business in Bottesford on the outskirts of Scunthorpe, a fire at their manufacturing unit proved a turning point in their 30 year history.

The late morning fire which broke out in October 2013 inside a packing machine was quickly extinguished by two crews from Scunthorpe Fire Station. Thankfully, none of the Powell workforce were injured, but what Humberside Fire and Rescue (HFRS) crews found during the clear up gave officers more concern.

Pictured are (left to right) Resources Manager Neil Powell, HFRS Technical Fire Safety Manager Bill Failey and Managing Director Robert Powell

There was no working fire alarm system, the majority of emergency exits were obstructed, one of the fire doors was wedged open and there was no Fire Risk Assessment in place. Due to the nature of the business, there was much waste cardboard left around the factory close to potential ignition sources.

These serious breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order were discussed by HFRS officers and Directors of Powell Packaging at a meeting later that month. The potential impact of a more serious fire was put forward to Managing Director Robert Powell who employs 30 local people at the Birkdale Road plant.

A potential outcome of these discussions could have been a prosecution, but North Lincs CPU Manager Paul McCourt took into account the potential impact on the local community, including job losses, should the company be forced to close.

The preferred course of action was to issue an Enforcement Notice and assist the staff of Powell Packaging with fire safety and improve their knowledge of fire safety legislation, practice and procedures.

Regular contact between the HFRS Technical Fire Safety team and the company has seen the situation at the plant improve beyond recognition. A fire alarm is now fully installed and working, emergency lighting and signage is now fitted, extinguishers are in place and walkways are clearly marked. All staff are more risk aware and competent persons have been appointed to oversee the preventative and protective measures which have been put in place.

This collaborative approach has been welcomed by both Powell Packaging and Humberside Fire and Rescue Service. It is hoped that other companies can learn from this. Legal action is always a last resort and it is clearly in the best interests of the company, its employees, the community and ultimately the fire service to work together to reduce fire risks and keep communities safe.

CPU Manager Paul McCourt explained the Fire and Rescue Service decision to work closely with Powell Packaging rather than pursue legal sanctions against the Bottesford company:

“As a fire and rescue service we are here to protect our local communities, so to pursue and prosecute a company that was willing to learn and put right their mistakes is counterproductive in the protection of the local economy. The directors at Powell Packaging took the fire service’s free advice and acted promptly and have turned their business around into a model of commercial fire safety. I urge all businesses in the area to act in a similar manner, review your fire protection arrangements and approach the Fire Service for free advice and guidance before the accident occurs. In terms of commercial fire protection, we are here to help and guide your business into obtaining compliance with the law and in doing so protect your contribution to the wider economy of our communities”

Health and safety legislation can often seem over-bearing and difficult to comprehend for many companies. Lack of understanding of the guidelines can often be just as dangerous as blatant disregard for even the most basic requirements, such as keeping fire exits clear or having a working smoke alarm system.

Robert Powell was grateful to HFRS for their expert collaborative approach and have made a promise of commitment to achieve all of the compliance standards expected under the terms of the Enforcement Notice. They want other companies to come forward if in any doubt:

“Since our fire mishap, the advice and ‘best practice methods’ we have received from Humberside Fire and Rescue Service have been invaluable in taking the company forward. I urge other businesses in a similar position to come forward and ask for help with their fire protection arrangements before the unthinkable happens.”