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Lighthouse | Grenfell lessons must be shared

Grenfell PA  53

The Grenfell Tower tragedy and its terrible human cost have shocked the entire nation. Engineering and construction professionals are rightly grappling with the implications of such a tragedy and with what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

One senior ICE member has said that it is the defining event of her generation.  

And from the correspondence and offers of expert help the Institution has received, it is clear that the events in West London have catalysed deep soul searching across the global professional community.

Our first duty is to make sure that the hundreds of thousands of residents of Britain’s tower blocks are safe and feel safe in their homes.  

Inquiry

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the ICE, alongside the other professional engineering institutions, contacted the communities secretary Sajid Javid, and offered any help that we can provide to the public inquiry. Javid has created an expert advisory group to identify immediate actions to make high rise blocks safe.

ICE Fellow and chief executive of research and testing body BRE Peter Bonfield and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors president Amanda Clack are leading the input from the professional community.

We also need to step back and reflect on what the failure at Grenfell reveals about professional practices.  The public inquiry and any criminal investigations will reveal any specific failings by organisations or individuals. Neither the ICE or any other body should seek to duplicate this work. That can only muddy the water.

Systemic issues

However, we do need to understand if there are any systemic issues, brought into focus by Grenfell, that increase the risk of a similar catastrophic failure to other buildings or infrastructure.

There are, of course, questions for government and authorities.  But there are also questions for the profession about our practice. We need to be able to look the public in the eye and say that civil engineers have reflected on the Grenfell fire and the implications for professional practice when we procure, design, construct and maintain infrastructure and buildings.  

ICE President Tim Broyd has set up a review to ensure that this happens.  

Supported by all the relevant expert groups within the Institution, his review will report back by October.

We intend to identify any changes required to professional practice to mitigate the risk of future failures.  If necessary, we will also make recommendations to government, clients and other stakeholders where their policy and practice is a barrier to professionals discharging their duties to mitigate risk.

  • Please address any comments about the Lighthouse column to policy@ice.org.uk

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