Case demonstrates reality and responsibility of managing fire risk in timber frame construction

A firm of architects, Mario Minchella Ltd, were recently fined for safety failings in the construction of a new timber frame care home in Hemlington. Middlesborough

It emerged in October 2012, following an inspection by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) that, in fire safety terms, the new structure would be too close to an existing, neighbouring care home. The development was considered a fire risk and, if it caught fire, the fire may spread to the neighbouring building.

The court concluded that the separation distance between the buildings, as designed by Mario Minchella was insufficient. The failings of the architectural firm were summarised as follows:

  • There was nothing in the design specification to alert the construction workers to the fire risk and the need to take action;
  • The architects did not specify fire-resistant wood;
  • A sequence of work could have been organised to ensure that the timber frame of each floor was clad before another floor was constructed to minimise the risk of fire.

Mario Minchella entered a plea of guilty over two breaches of the CDM (Construction Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

The case demonstrates the reality and responsibility of managing fire risk in timber frame construction. The HSE is now placing greater onus on the role of the designer with the need to consider the spacing of timber framed structures in the early design stages and has consequently issued an open letter to the industry.