Care home owners told of safety failures before fatal fire


The owners of a care home where 14 residents died in a fire were told almost a year before the tragedy that they did not have a "suitable and sufficient" health and safety policy in place, an inquiry heard yesterday.

James Reid, who was giving evidence, was employed on a retainer fee by Thomas Balmer, his wife Anne, and their son Alan, the owners of Rosepark Nursing Home, in Lanarkshire. He checked their procedures with regard to the safety of employees and residents at the home - including their fire procedures, the safety of their equipment, training of staff and availability of fire exits and fire extinguishers.

He carried out an audit of the home in January 2003, almost a year before the fatal fire, and recommended key changes to be carried out.

In excerpts of his report read to the inquiry, he said: "You do not have in place a suitable and sufficient health and safety policy with supporting documents.

"A bespoke health and safety policy and procedural manual have now been provided and you are advised to address the issues raised."

The inquiry is being held to examine the cause of the blaze at the home in Uddingston, near Glasgow, in January 2004, and will attempt to establish whether it could have reasonably been prevented. In the six years since the fire, prosecutors have repeatedly tried, and failed, to bring criminal proceedings against the owners of the home.

Mr Reid's inspection found that, while Rosepark carried out practice drills every six months, the most recent one was overdue. Further records presented to the inquiry also showed that no full drill had been carried out in 1999 or 2000.
Mr Reid said: "A fire drill and full evacuation is needed every six months, with the names of the staff involved and any action needed recorded.

"If something goes wrong in a drill, you have the chance to put it right, and you can also see how staff would react in the real thing."

He also found that some fire exits had been partially blocked by "day-to-day items" and a wheelchair and Zimmer frame were in the way of the fire extinguishers. The lift room contained flammable tins of paint.

Mr Reid told the inquiry that all of the issues - bar that of the fire drills - were addressed during his inspection of the care home.
He added that it would have been even more important for night staff to be fully versed in fire evacuation procedures because there would be fewer of them working.

The hearing has previously been told that not all the night staff knew what to do in the event of a fire.

In other evidence, the inquiry heard that safety catches designed to keep doors shut and limit the spread of fire had been removed from "several" bedroom doors. Matron Bridget Boyle, who was in charge of implementing the home's fire safety policy, said the devices had been disabled following complaints from residents that they made the doors too heavy to open.

The inquiry, before Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart, is expected to last between four and six months.