Bruce Kirton, B&ES Publications chief executive, explains how having a standard for building maintenance has never been more important.
Maintaining buildings to an appropriate standard is universally accepted as essential, but what does ‘appropriate’ actually mean?
With ever-changing regulations, keeping up with the evolving industry requirements can prove onerous, leading to the delivery of maintenance to a variety of standards across the industry.
There are also instances, (particularly in smaller organisations) where an individual may have health and safety responsibilities relating to building maintenance, without having any specific track record of technical expertise. This not only places a burden on them as the individual ultimately responsible, but it can also pose a risk to customers and members of the public if the premises and assets are not maintained correctly. In this instance, having a defined recognised standard to adhere to is invaluable.
In recent years insurers are also starting to put clauses in commercial policies relating to maintenance, specifying they should be maintained according to TR19 guidelines. An example of this is the maintenance requirements for extract ductwork systems and canopy filters. Increasingly policies contain conditions relating to the minimum cleaning frequency, with some requiring a higher frequency than others to avoid invalidating the policy. By adhering to the industry-recognised standard TR19 which is referenced within in the SFG20 system, you can be sure that you are complying with insurance and legal requirements.
The costs of poor maintenance
Unfortunately there are all too many cases where organisations have failed to maintain assets to the required standard, and in some instances this has had more than just a financial impact, it has affected the health of individuals and in some cases tragically resulted in the deaths of members of the public.
One of the landmark cases relating to poor maintenance resulted in the most severe outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the UK to date. Caused by a poorly maintained air-conditioning system at a leisure centre in Cumbria, seven people were killed and a further 180 were seriously affected in 2002. The council was fined £125,000 and the individual responsible for health and safety was fined a further £15,000. An inquiry found that the outbreak was a result of poor maintenance, and could have been avoided if proper procedures had been followed.
Speaking to the BBC in 2007 Colin Pickthall, former Labour MP for West Lancashire, who chaired the inquiry, said that “several flaws were apparent from the start. The guidelines on how to avoid legionella were readily available then, as now. They weren’t used, they weren’t disseminated around the council. They were put in bins or they were put in files.”
Disappointingly although awareness of legionella and the importance of good maintenance standards has increased, there are still serious incidents occurring, suggesting there is still a requirement for improved clarity and oversight relating to maintenance standards.
In 2012 a hospital where two patients died from Legionnaires’ disease was ordered to pay £350,000 in fines and costs. Findings of the inquiry showed there was a lack of proper cleaning and maintenance relating to shower heads and thermostatic valves which had allowed the bacteria to flourish. Admitting failings under the Health and Safety at Work Act, the hospital apologised unreservedly and said it had been battling the disease for 15 years.
There are also far too many examples of poor fire-related maintenance causing serious damage to properties and endangerment of lives. In early 2014 the owner of The Abbey College private school in Worcestershire was fined £24,000 for failing to maintain a working fire alarm and detection system (among other shortfalls in fire precautions.) Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, deputy chief officer Richard Lawrence, said lives had been put at risk adding ‘this was an extremely serious case where those living and sleeping inside the premises were being put at risk.”