(Director of Neighbourhoods) To consider the attached report (AGC-014-2017/18).
The Assistant Director of Neighbourhoods (Technical Services) presented a progress report on Health & Safety issues at Town Mead Depot in Waltham Abbey.
The Assistant Director acknowledged that, at the last meeting of the Committee, Members had expressed concern at the lack of progress in the implementation of recommendations from an external Fire Risk Assessment at the Town Mead Depot in Waltham Abbey and had asked for an update by a Senior Officer of the Council.
The Assistant Director informed the Committee that Town Mead Depot in Waltham Abbey was a small operational depot which had been in the ownership of the Council since 1974, and was jointly occupied with Waltham Abbey Town Council. Approximately 60% of the Depot was occupied by the Town Council. For a number of years, the site had been earmarked for redevelopment as affordable housing, but it was located in a flood plain and this was not possible. However, one consequence of this was that only essential maintenance had been carried out at the site in recent years. The Internal Audit Team had carried out an audit in September 2016 and identified a number of weaknesses at the site. The Audit Report had made two recommendations to: enter into a formal agreement with the Town Council; and draw up an Action Plan to address the health & safety issues identified.
The Assistant Director stated that, following the Audit, an Officer Working Group was formed to address the issues identified. Meetings were held with the Town Council, who extended their full support and co-operation, whilst the Council had made additional budget available to facilitate essential health and safety works. The Council did not have a dedicated Depot Manager so the Fleet Operations Manager had been helping to address the safety issues, and a number of actions had been carried out since early 2016.
The Assistant Director reported that a Fire Risk Assessment was carried out and recommendations were made in March 2017. The initial delay in implementing the recommendations had arisen from the Council not having a dedicated Manager for its depots, but significant work had now been carried out. Warning Signs had either been installed or were in the process of being done, a Fire Log Book and associated information was being collated, and key personnel were being identified to take the lead in implementing the Fire Evacuation Procedures at the Depot.
The Committee was keen to identify learning points for the future and, when questioned by the Committee, the Assistant Director reiterated that a new Health & Safety Manager with experience of Fire Risk Assessments had been appointed, and Action Plans were being drawn up with reviews after every three months to prevent actions being overlooked in the future. The last inspection of the Depot was on 30 January 2018, and the next inspection was scheduled for the following month. There was liaison with the Clerk at Waltham Abbey Town Council to ensure their staff knew to go to the front of the site when the fire alarm sounded; the staff had been told but it had not yet been formally signed off.
The Assistant Director confirmed that Voluntary Action Epping Forest (VAEF) had vacated their unit at the site but it had not yet been cleared out; Officers were awaiting confirmation from the Council’s Estates Team. The building marked ‘Fire Store’ on the map contained fire extinguishers for use at the site, and the Assistant Director would clarify if the smoke alarms had been fitted in the main office. Monthly site inspections had been instigated and the Action Plan was being monitored. Officers were trying to initiate a monthly meeting of the Managers on site with the Town Council staff to review the management of the site. Monthly fire inspections would be performed in the future, and the Council was looking to employ additional resource for the Depot. It was confirmed that two actions were still outstanding from the Audit Report.
The Chairman commented that it appeared that the Council did nothing after receiving the Fire Risk Assessment report, which meant that the site was not safe and it was allowed to remain this way for at least six months if not nine months. This gave the impression that the Council did not consider the health & safety of staff to be important, which could lead to potential reputational issues.
The Assistant Director agreed that the situation had not been acceptable and offered a full apology to the Committee. There was no excuse, it was an oversight and the Assistant Director took full responsibility for what had happened. However, work had been taking place on site and the Assistant Director believed that the site was now safe as emergency procedures had been put in place. In addition, there were no office staff on site but Officers from CountryCare and the Waltham Abbey Town Council Grounds Maintenance Team who were better informed about Health & Safety matters at a depot. The only outstanding issues were the installation of signage and training for staff, both of which the Assistant Director was confident would be completed within the next month. The Assistant Director intended to work closely with the new Health & Safety Officer to improve the situation at the Depot.
The Assistant Director acknowledged that the site had been neglected for a considerable period of time and was earmarked for re-development in the past, hence the lack of routine maintenance work performed on site. There was a possibility that a dedicated Depot Manager might have to be employed at the site to address these issues, but the long term solution would be routine inspections and the timely implementation of any actions required.
The Committee felt that the Neighbourhoods Select Committee should be requested to review the ongoing progress with the implementation of the Action Plan following the Fire Risk Assessment approximately every six months, as the Council needed to make sure that this did not happen again in the future. It was suggested that the Select Committee should investigate all of the Council’s Depot sites, but the Chairman felt that the Select Committee should concentrate on this particular site and broaden the scope to health and safety measures at other depot sites if it was felt applicable. The Committee also requested to be informed of the confirmation of further dates for staff training at the Site by Officers. It was noted that this indicated the importance of Internal Audit examining issues other than financial.
The Committee felt strongly that it was unacceptable for the Council to have neglected its duty of care to its employees, and it was not an excuse to neglect health & safety issues on the site whilst deciding its long term future. And although it was acknowledged that an Action Plan for the site had been drawn up and was being implemented following the Audit Report and Fire Risk Assessment, the Committee was acutely concerned that insufficient resources had been allocated to address health & safety issues at this site in the past.
(1) That the update on the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the Fire Risk Assessment for the Council’s shared operational depot at Town Mead in Waltham Abbey be noted;
(2) That the Neighbourhoods Select Committee be requested to undertake regular reviews, at least every six months, of the ongoing progress with the implementation of the Action Plan at the Town Mead Depot following the Fire Risk Assessment in 2017;
(3) That the confirmation of the dates agreed for further Health & Safety training at the Depot be relayed to the Committee by Officers; and
(4) That the Committee’s grave disappointment regarding insufficient resources being allocated to address health & safety issues at this site in the past be noted.