Bus Fires - Exeter

Our ref: HSR/2/7
Head Office Circular: NP/157/22
21st July 2022
To: The Secretary

Dear Colleague,


Further to Head office Circular NP/101/22, dated 22nd April 2022, I can report that the Chair of RMT’s Parliamentary Group, Ian Mearns MP, wrote to the Bus Minister raising concerns about the recent occurrences of bus fires.

Among the observations made in her reply were as follows:

· Operators of Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) are under a duty to report vehicle fires to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and this data is used to inform intelligence led enforcement. The DVSA is currently undertaking a study, including a review of this data, to better understand the root causes of bus fires. The study is scheduled to conclude around October and the findings and conclusions will be shared with industry to ensure that any learning is used to further reduce the occurrence of bus fires.

· It is the Department’s aim to ensure the safe operation of all PSVs and there is already a robust and rigorous regulatory regime and guidance to ensure this is delivered. PSVs must conform to set roadworthiness standards and the DVSA has produced a guidance document for operators to explain the responsibilities and systems involved

· Vehicles are assessed during an annual test and through inspections at the roadside and at operator’s premises by the DVSA and police officers. The DVSA also launched its Earned Recognition Scheme in 2018 which aims to reward operators that can demonstrate a strong track record of compliance and adherence to standards. Operators must be able to show that they have robust systems and processes that promote effective and proactive transport management

· The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the general duties which employers have towards their employees and members of the public and should cover the event of fire. The Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990 also places a duty on a driver or conductor to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of passengers who are on, or who are entering or leaving, the vehicle. Drivers must have received proper training and maintain their Certificate of Professional Competence and the syllabus includes an element on assessment of emergency situations including summoning assistance, reaction in the event of fire and evacuation of passengers

· Regarding vehicle construction, since October 2011, new buses and coaches have been subject to harmonised international standards developed through the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. These standards continuously evolve in recognition of technical development to improve safety and the latest versions include provisions for fire protection with regards to the engine compartment (including an automated fire suppression system), electrical equipment and wiring, batteries, fire extinguishers, fire detection systems and material flammability

· However, some of these systems may only be active whilst the vehicle is in operation and materials which are inherently resistant to burning or which have been treated to enhance their fire-resistant properties can become susceptible to burning where temperatures are high or sustained (my emphasis). It is for this reason that passenger safety requirements regarding fire also address the ease and speed of vehicle evacuation, and the regulations contain detailed requirements for the number, position, size, and functionality of emergency doors and exits.

At its meeting on 19th July 2022, your National Executive Committee noted and adopted the following report from its Health and Safety sub-committee:

We note the response from the Bus Minister to the Chair of the RMT Parliamentary Group on file.

Unfortunately, this response does not address a significant number of our concerns or the very significant risk that the current fleet poses to the travelling public, our members or other road users.

The General Secretary is instructed to conduct further research in this matter and to request a report from the Lead Officer prior to a meeting taking place between the Lead Officer and Minister in this matter.

Relevant Branches and Regional Councils to be advised.

I am acting in line with these instructions. Please bring the contents of this circular and the attached document to the attention of relevant members.

Yours sincerely

Michael Lynch
General Secretary