The south-west dealer group, ranked 44 in the AM100 with a turnover of £190m, pleaded guilty to two offences relating to the incorrect retrieval of petrol. It has since revised its processes and training for staff undertaking high-risk repairs.
“We take the welfare of our staff and customers very seriously,” says managing director Chris Elvidge.
Chichester Crown Court heard last Friday that the fire, on March 26, 2004, destroyed a showroom and 14 cars, an eight-bay workshop and a parts department. The building also housed City Motor Holdings’ head office. No-one was hurt, but about 50 people were evacuated.
The head office was subsequently relocated to another dealership in Basingstoke. The Peugeot franchise had to operate from temporary accommodation and leased units while the showroom was rebuilt, at a cost of around £1m.
Operations director Kevin Watson told AM the fire started when a skilled technician was attempting to retrieve fuel from a Peugeot fitted with an anti-syphon device. The technician did not use the appropriate fuel retrieval bowser on site.
Watson says the technician is still employed by the business, as the company “ultimately takes responsibility for his actions”.
Prior to the fire, City Motor Holdings already had held fire awareness training and had appointed fire marshals among the staff. It has since made several improvements to its safety processes, including having health and safety leaflets and posters on display, regular fire drills, and training key department personnel in the use of fire-fighting equipment.
It has also introduced a “permit to work” system. This requires technicians about to start particularly hazardous jobs to get a signature from their manager before commencing the work.
“It’s a reminder to all concerned that they are about to undertake a high-risk task, and of the procedures they should follow. If we had had this in place last March I’m sure the technician would have used the proper bowser,” says Watson.
#AM_ART_SPLIT# Ensure your staff are following the rules, says HSE
Dealers must ensure their staff are aware of, and complying with, the correct procedures for hazardous jobs, says the Health and Safety Executive.
Inspector Andrew Christian, who led the investigation into City Motor Holding’s incident, hopes this case, and the large fine received, will serve as a warning to other motor retailers.
“We’d like to draw your readers’ attention to our leaflet, Safe Use of Petrol in Garages, which lists a number of recommendations and good practices for employees handling fuel,” says Christian.
“In particular, anybody draining fuel should use a fuel retriever with the appropriate adaptor to ensure it can be used on a particular vehicle’s anti-syphon device.”
Christian says the investigation uncovered several instances of technicians using incorrect apparatus to retrieve fuel, although on many occasions staff used the correct retriever. He has since worked closely with the dealer to improve its safety practices.