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Fire risk survey needed for Dundee’s Caird Hall after audit finds safety issues

Caird Hall during a recent gas leak.
Caird Hall during a recent gas leak.

A risk assessment has revealed more than 20 actions are needed to protect Dundee’s Caird Hall from fire.

The appraisal, held at the start of this year, has called for a full survey to be carried out on the building and outlined 26 steps needed to fix safety issues.

Caird Hall in City Square, typically an event venue, is currently being used as a coronavirus vaccination centre but concerns have been raised after the risk assessment revealed action is needed to make the building safe.

A Freedom of Information request showed safety bosses highlighted three issues to be immediately addressed which the council rectified within two weeks of the assessment.

The Caird Hall.

They included a fire escape corridor being left open and unsecured, which the assessment said could lead to “potential wilful fireraising”.

The other two related to extension leads being used inappropriately and unsafe storage of boxes and bags in the same area as electric distribution units.

Dundee City Council, which operates the hall, has insisted all necessary safety measures are in place.

Caird Hall has capacity for 3,580 people – 2,850 members of the public and the rest made up by staff members.

Among the concerns highlighted in the assessment include open grilles in the ceilings, which would allow the spread of heat and smoke into the roof space in the event of a fire.

Non-fire resistant expanding foam was also found within stairways and a number of doors leading to escape routes which are not fire-safe.

The assessment states: “It is recommended a full survey of the building is carried out and breaches between compartments and structural separation are addressed and fire stopping put in place.”

The assessment, carried out in January, identified three concerns that had t0 be  addressed immediately.

An action plan published by the local authority in May said urgent work has already been carried out, with all safety improvements to be complete by July 2022.

Evacuation plan

Concerns were also raised about inadequate evacuation plans for the venue.

While there are plans in place to clear the building in an emergency during its current use as a vaccination centre, and during live performances when they are permitted, there is no procedure in place for during meetings or normal working days.

Gas leak

Last month the Caird Hall had to be evacuated and a man taken to hospital following a gas leak.

The incident took place on April 26, the day beer gardens opened and as well as the Caird Hall itself being evacuated, people in the adjoining St Andrew’s Brewing Company also had to be moved.

Thousands of people were evacuated ahead of the Dundee University winter graduations in November 2018 during a false alarm.

Full survey needed

The assessment further states that although the fire detection system is compliant, it is recommended the level of automatic detection in the Caird Hall complex is upgraded.

It said: “Previous fire assessments, along with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service audits, have recommended upgrading the system to cover escape routes and all areas.

“It is advised a full survey is carried out by a qualified fire alarm engineer to review
the coverage of the automatic fire alarm system, in particular to cover stairways,
escape routes and storage areas.”

Lack of action

The last fire risk assessment carried out in the hall was in April 2015.

Kevin Keenan leader of Dundee City Council’s Labour group and convener of the scrutiny and audit committee, said he had grave concerns over the council’s handling of this and previous fire risk assessments at the Caird Hall.

Mr Keenan said: “A previous letter from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service  to the Caird Hall management highlighted their concerns that a considerable number of points raised within the report produced by an Independent Fire Risk Specialist remained unactioned a year after.

Councillor Kevin Keenan.

“Given this, I am therefore surprised that the 2021 action plan reports concerns for the need for immediate action.

“Equally concerning are the number of points where action needs to be taken within three months – electrical testing, housekeeping, evacuation, emergency evacuation plan, signage, and training.”

Mr Keenan said that when he received a copy of the initial SFRS letter he raised the matter with the council’s chief executive.

“I also asked the internal auditor to focus some attention on fire safety,” he said.

“Fire is a substantial risk to council for public safety and business continuity.”

Measures in place

A spokesman for Dundee City Council said measures to address all recommendations have been put in place or are being implemented.

“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service regularly audit the Caird Hall and are satisfied and supportive of the fire safety measures and procedures in place,” he added.

“The vaccination centre is being delivered in conjunction with the Local Resilience Partnership. Its members include the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who visited the premises at the outset to support its repurposing to become a Covid-19 vaccination centre.”

“There is a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) in place, which has recently been renewed, which addresses areas where improvements can be made.

“From an audit carried out in early May this year, it is noted that all recommendations have been considered and measures have been put in place to address all the points.

“Many of these have been completed, with the rest being implemented.

“​Dundee City Council has a robust system in place for the inspection, monitoring, reporting and responding to defects that may arise within all council buildings.

“Members of the public should be reassured that we have all necessary measures in place.

“However, we are always looking to ensure that improvements are made where identified through the FRA process for all council buildings.

“We would encourage people to come to the Caird Hall and get their vaccine when they are invited to do so.”

Caird Hall evacuated and man hospitalised due to gas leak, Dundee police confirm

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