Only 11% of fire deficiencies in `high risk premises' followed up by fire service
JUST 11 per cent of deficiencies uncovered during fire checks of "high risk premises" are followed up by the Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS), according to its own figures.
While fire safety legislation places a duty on employers, owners and those `with control of premises' to carry out a risk assessment and ensure public safety, NIFRS is the `enforcing authority'.
It inspects non-domestic premises to confirm compliance with the Fire & Rescue Services (NI) Order 2006 and The Fire Safety Regulations (NI) 2010 "by following national guidelines".
Almost 64,000 premises fall under the scope of this legislation in the north, of which "NIFRS prioritises premises that are deemed the most serious risk to life".
A spokeswoman said it "operates a risk based inspection programme to identify high-risk premises".
Since 2015/16, a total of 5,201 `high risk premises' have been audited.
Despite 1,129 `deficiencies' being found, just 123 were followed up.
The NIFRS spokeswoman said it is pleased there is "a high level of compliance with the legislation with 72 per cent (3,743) of audits meeting or exceeding the legislative requirement", but acknowledged that "22 per cent (1,129) of audits required `Notification of Deficiencies' to be issued".
"On completion of the audit, these premises were deemed low-risk and broadly compliant," she added.
"In line with the legislation they did not require a follow-up inspection from NIFRS.
"However, NIFRS has exercised its option to follow up on 11 per cent (123) of those `Notifications of Deficiencies' over the last three financial years."
SDLP assembly member John Dallat said there should be "zero tolerance to fire defects".
"This is an issue which needs to be reviewed if only to minimise the risk of a serious incident such the Stardust fire almost 30 years ago in Dublin when 48 young people at a disco died and another 214 were injured.
"We know that the lack of fire prevention in the Stardust case was a key factor and it worries me somewhat that the follow-up figures by NIFRS after inspection is only a tiny percentage of the premises found to be defective.
"There should be a zero tolerance to fire defects and it cannot be left to individuals to make right shortcomings in fire deficiency.
"Yes, some will be compliant but others will not and that exposes the rest of society to unnecessary danger."
NIFRS says it "applies enforcement procedures in a proportionate manner in consideration of the public interest' and breaches of statutory responsibilities `will not necessarily result in a decision to take enforcement action or prosecute".
It also tries to "minimise the cost of compliance for businesses by ensuring that any action taken, or advice offered, is proportionate to the risk".
"NIFRS will take particular care to work with small businesses and organisations so that, where practicable, they can meet their legal obligations without unnecessary expense."
Notification of Deficiencies - NIFRS will not normally complete a follow-up audit, but reserves the option to do so.
Financial Year Number of Audits Notification of Deficiencies Exercised option to follow-up Did not exercise option to follow-up
2015/16 1,897 432 23 409
2016/17 1,830 385 41 344
2017/18 1,474 312 59 253
Total 5,201 1,129 123 1,006