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Construction industry 'ignorant' on fire safety needs

Grenfell Tower

There is “considerable ignorance” across the construction industry about technically complex fire protection in buildings, according to a leading structural safety organisation.

The Structural-Safety group has published a report through its reporting body CROSS (confidential reporting on structural safety) which claimed fire engineers can lack onsite experience and “struggle to suggest technically robust and practical solutions”. It adds some contractors have carried out works on residential buildings without seeking specialist fire safety advice.

In response to the claims CROSS said there is “considerable ignorance across industry of the complexity of fire protection demands in buildings”.

Structural-Safety is a group of experienced civil engineering professionals who work with industry and government figures on structural safety concerns. It consists of two groups: SCOSS (standing committee on structural safety) which reviews civil engineering safety issues; and CROSS, which encourages anonymous reporting on structural safety risks.

Its latest report comes after the group revealed it told the post-Grenfell Hackitt review into building regulations that fire safety design quality has declined over time.

The Hackitt review is led by manufacturing group EFF chair Dame Judith Hackitt. An interim report was published in December, which found that current regulatory systems are “not fit for purpose”. A final report is expected to be published in the spring.

Poor awareness of how to ensure fire compartmentalisation systems are robust, a drive to keep project costs down and poor construction quality all contribute to putting many residential blocks at risk of fire, according to CROSS’s report.

It added: “On numerous occasions during remedial works, the reporter has had to stand on site with the fire engineer, building inspector and contractor to resolve fire compartmentation details which were not previously considered.”

Another anonymous reporter raised concerns that smoke and flames could spread through service ducts in many residential blocks due to design deficiencies.

“These factors must be emphasised continuously. Fire safety must be consistently stressed throughout design, construction, maintenance, use and, very importantly, when there are alterations. At all stages, the level of fire safety can be reduced by those not understanding the implications of what they are doing,” said CROSS in the report.

Anyone who wishes to report a safety concern can contact CROSS here.

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