Roofers breached regulations before catastrophic cancer hospital fire but will not face prosecution

A roofing company was found to have broken safety regulations over a fire that caused catastrophic damage to a state-of-the-art cancer hospital, but will not be prosecuted.

Christie Hospital, in Withington, Manchester, was undergoing repair work in 2017 when fire tore through the Paterson building – which was used as a research center by the University of Manchester and Cancer Research UK.

The building had to be torn down and was later rebuilt at a cost of £150 million.

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An extensive investigation led to claims about a Wallasey based roofing company – Helix Roofing Contractors Ltd on Breck Road.

The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service concluded that hot debris from the welding carried out by the Wirral firm probably fell undetected behind a wall and started a fire while contractors had a tea break.

The agency’s report was released after “extensive” forensics, interviews and reconstructions, fire chiefs said.

The fire in the Paterson Building on the grounds of Christie Hospital.  It broke out on April 26, 2017, and according to a report, it was caused by welding work on the roof.
The fire in the Paterson Building on the grounds of Christie Hospital. It broke out on April 26, 2017, and according to a report, it was caused by welding work on the roof.

However, instead of taking Helix to court, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has sent a “notice of violation” to its directors, the Manchester Evening News found.

The penalty simply means they have to cover the cost of an HSE official visiting their premises and explaining the notice, charged at a rate of £160 per hour and probably less than £500 in total.

When ECHO visited the company’s office on Friday, a representative said Helix had no further comment on the matter.

The fire broke out on April 26, 2017, and at its peak, 32 fire engines were dispatched to what was labeled a major incident.

Years of valuable research and equipment were lost and more than 300 scientists and support staff were relocated.

Insurance companies also paid out a total of £17 million for the damage.

In 2018, bosses at Helix said they disagreed with the fire service’s findings, claiming the report was just a “hypothesis”.

A statement to MEN in January of that year read: “It seems that someone should be blamed, even though there is no clear evidence.”

The company said its employees are “conscientious and well-trained” and that it does not believe they caused the fire.

However, the HSE said this week: “HSE has been investigating the 2017 fire at Christie Hospital.

The fire in the Paterson Building on the grounds of Christie Hospital.  It broke out on April 26, 2017, and according to a report, it was caused by welding work on the roof.
The fire in the Paterson Building on the grounds of Christie Hospital. It broke out on April 26, 2017, and according to a report, it was caused by welding work on the roof.

“The investigation was closed in October 2020 and as a result of the findings, a Notification of Contravention (NoC) was issued to Helix Roofing Contractors Ltd.”

A spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive said: “A full investigation has been conducted and the evidence gathered has been carefully considered.

“As a result, it was determined that a Notification of Contravention (NoC) had to be issued; we identified violations related to the Building Regulations (Design and Management) 2015 namely that there were issues with combustible materials being welded, as well as fire watch arrangements .”

“The investigation was concluded in October 2020 with all actions completed.”

The HSE said evidence was being considered against the Code for Crown Prosecutors to see if prosecution was warranted.

But based on the information gathered, they concluded that a NoC “would be the most appropriate form of enforcement action”

Helix roofing on Breck Road, Wallasey, Wirral.
Helix roofing on Breck Road, Wallasey, Wirral.

The identified NoC-specific violations relate to Regulation 29(1)(a) and Regulation 13(1) of the Building Regulations (Design and Management) 2015.

Regulation 13(1) states: “The prime contractor shall plan, manage and monitor the construction phase and coordinate health and safety matters during the construction phase to ensure that, to the extent reasonably possible, the construction work is carried out without risk to health.” or security”

Regulation 29(1)(a) says, “Appropriate and sufficient measures shall be taken to prevent, as far as reasonably possible, the risk of injury to any person during the performance of construction work due to – (a) fire.”

The HSE says, “A NoC is issued when a material breach is identified. A material breach is something that an inspector deems serious enough to formally write to the company that action must be taken to address the material breach. If the If the inspector gives you a report of violation (NoC) after his visit, you must pay a fee.

“The NoC must contain: the law that the inspector believes has been broken; the reason(s) for their opinion; notification that a fee is owed to HSE.

“If the company has already taken steps to address the material breach, the NoC would state that matters have already been addressed, but if action is still required, it would ask the controller to provide any evidence/feedback that the case was handled within an appropriate time frame.”

The fire broke out on the third floor of the building in use at the time, containing a technical room, a corridor full of electrical units, an office and sterilization rooms.

According to the GMFRS report, workers from Helix Roofing Ltd had cut the roof to attach a metal pole to a metal beam.

It said: “During welding, hot drops from the process and hot spent rods fell through the hole.

“They fell down the side of the wall where it was undetected by the fire watch and landed on cardboard and cloth objects.”

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The fire was only discovered after about half an hour and the airflow in the area allowed the fire to quickly develop into a serious incident

In their 2018 statement, the company said: “After nine months of investigation by six investigation teams, the cause of the fire is not certain, but it is a hypothesis.

“The report’s conclusion claims that the ‘most likely’ cause of the fire is embers and spatter produced by the welding process.

“The report makes several references to electrical sparks occurring at the most likely point of origin of the fire.

“This is apparently disregarded as the cause of the fire, despite our understanding that not all the ‘wiring’ of the transformers has been restored, so a malfunction or arc incident in that equipment cannot be ruled out.”

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