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Grenfell | Calls for urgent reform two years after fire

Close up of grenfell tower with banners in june 2018

Today marks two years since the Grenfell tragedy, and despite moves to create a new building safety regulator the government is still under pressure to make further reforms.

The national fire safety organisation, the Fire Protection Association (FPA) has issued a new call for the limits on the use of combustible cladding to be changed, to apply to all buildings, not just new high-rise structures.

The government annouced a ban on flammable cladding in October last year however the rules currently only apply to all new buildings over 18m tall.  

FPA managing director Jonathan O’Neill called for the ban to be extended, and changes to stairway design standards to improve emergency services access. “The Fire Protection Association supports a total ban on combustible building materials, to all high-risk buildings, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, blocks of flats – not just those buildings over 18m,” he said.  

The group is also calling for changes in laws relating to emergency service access to tall structures. 

“We also want a ban on single staircases in all tall buildings, because in the event of a fire you need at least one staircase for people to be able to evacuate the building, and a second staircase for the fire and rescue services for entry.”  

Following the Grenfell blaze, fire-fighters reported difficulty in moving around the narrow staircases while wearing breathing equipment. 

“There is clearly much that still needs to be done, so we are keen to see change now – and will help in any way we can to ensure that we never again experience a tragedy on the scale we witnessed at Grenfell,” O’Niell added.  

Adding to calls for better building standards, the British Standards Institute (BSI) has issued a new set of standards for engineers and architects aimed at increasing fire protection and reinforcing fire alarm systems in domestic buildings. 

Amoung the updates are new provisions for fire alarms in both sheltered and supported housing, as well as new guidance on communal fire alarm systems. 

The BSI standard has also been updated to include recommendations for “simple systems that may be installed by non-specialist installers”.

BSI head of built environment Ant Burd said: “Fires in the home are one of the biggest threats occupants can face and therefore fire detection and alarm systems are a crucial fire safety component in helping make sure people can get out of their home safely”.  

“[The new standard] provides detailed guidance on the design and specification of fire detection and alarm systems in domestic and residential properties.” 

Earlier this year, confidential safety reporting body the Structural-Safety Group called for its scope to be widened so that it can extend its fire safety reporting. The calls for new reform follow the launch of a government consultation about the creation of a new building safety regulator, in line with one of the core recommendations made by Dame Hackitt in her report on fire safety following the Grenfell fire. 

Responsibilities of the proposed new building safety regulator would include: ensuring an effective system is in place for inspecting buildings and building safety information; ensuring that whistle-blowing, residents’ concerns and mandatory occurrence reports are effectively collected and acted on; and advising on and preparing proposals for changes to building regulations as needed. 

Law firm Pinsent Masons health and safety legal director Katherine Metcalfe said she supported the idea of a new buildings regulator. 

“The government’s proposals go significantly beyond Dame Hackitt’s recommendations in a number of respects,” she said.   

“The role of the new building safety regulator will have teeth and significant enforcement powers. The question remains as to how new duties will be rolled out and policed which will be crucial to its success”. 

The government consultation about the proposed role of its new building regulator is set to run until 31 July.   

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I would urge everyone to try to spare some time to look at the consultation document. Don't be put off by the fact that you could try answering all 121 questions! Instead, I suggest concentrating on the questions that concern the role of the Principal Designer. The assumption seems to be that the PD is also the lead designer. This is often not the case on building projects. There is also a suggested requirement for the PD to sign off work as having being completed on site, which would be a significant change and which would require regular site inspections by the PD. I am not saying this is a good or bad thing since I am all for independent checking and verification. It is a big change though. Some might say a clerk of works used to do it, which they did!

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