UK Fire Regulations are in Need of an Urgent Overhaul
Dame Judith Hackitt has revealed that she was “truly shocked” by standards in the construction industry when carrying out research for her report, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire. She warned that another “catastrophic event” cannot be ruled out if changes in regulations are not made. Hackitt was speaking at IOSH 2018, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s annual international conference.
According to Shadow Fire Minister, Karen Lee, the fire regulatory system here in the UK is “broken” and in need of a radical overhaul. Lee claims that the government’s approach to the safety of the public in the 15 months since Grenfell has been “characterised by inaction”. The current government’s ideology of privatisation, austerity and deregulation has driven down standards, according to Lee, resulting in private profit taking priority over public safety.
Deregulation in the 1980s led to the adoption of a performance based system which outlines the required outcomes, leaving it open to the industry to decide how these are met, instead of prescriptive rulings that put legislation first and foremost. This has led to successive governments scrapping regulations at the expense of ensuring safety and fire regulations that fail to hold the industry accountable for their products.
A clear demonstration of this is in the building regulations that relate to cladding. These require that external walls of a building should adequately resist the spread of fire. However, desktop studies and large-scale system testing allow for flammable cladding to be used despite this legislation! This is what led to the tragedy at Grenfell last year.
The Fire Brigades Union, the Local Government Association, the housing, communities and local government select committee and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) all raised concerns about the testing methods which allow the use of flammable cladding in insulation.
According to Karen Lee, the only solution is a complete overhaul of fire safety. She was critical of the Hackitt Review which has offered no real change to regulations, despite acknowledging that the current regulations have caused the industry to “race to the bottom” neglecting to ban flammable cladding or the methods that enable its use.
When it comes to the expert panel that advised the Hackitt Review, some members had signed off on the use of flammable cladding, namely the Building Research Establishment which delivers the testing that enables the installation of flammable cladding. Since the publication of the Hackitt Review, the government has launched another consultation on banning the use of flammable materials on external walls of high rise residential buildings.
However, those who are living in buildings that are clad in potentially dangerous materials are still waiting for their safety to be consulted upon, an unacceptable situation. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has identified 466 buildings that still feature Grenfell- like cladding and there are calls for the government to take urgent action in order to avoid another similar tragedy.