Grenfell Anniversary

On the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, governments and the construction industry have combined to contribute reports aimed at preventing such a tragedy from happening again.

The 14th June saw the world mark one year since the Grenfell tragedy, when a devastating fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, West London, taking the lives of 72 people.

In the UK, the Independent Review of Building Regulations launched following the Grenfell Tower fire has demanded radical regulatory reform of how buildings are designed, built and maintained, with the government committing to seek advice on how best to ensure “meaningful” change.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who has chaired the independent review, set out several key areas for reform that she believes are needed to tackle an overly complex system of regulations that lacked clarity around who is responsible for buildings and their vital systems such as heating and cooling.

Overhauls are also required on ensuring the safety of products and materials used as part of the construction process, the review added.

Dame Judith said she was now urging industry leaders across construction supply to step forward and work with government on realising how changes can be made – building on work undertaken during the review to identify areas of concern in the construction sector.

Key recommendations in the findings include introducing a new regulator to ensure a “less prescriptive, outcomes-based approach” for safety. Dame Judith’s findings supported improved clarity over those responsible for the safety of buildings and their systems during design and construction, as well as when they are occupied.

The introduction of a “more rigorous and transparent product testing regime” and more responsible marketing were set out in the review as other major changes that should be introduced. Dame Judith said she was calling on the construction industry to take leadership and establish an oversight body to ensure stronger competence in all aspects of building work.

Industry body British Engineering Services Association (BESA) said it also welcomed the findings of the independent review and its conclusions on tackling systematic problems within construction, as opposed to focusing on a specific technical concern. Association Chief Executive David Frise said the construction industry needed to move forward with a new approach to regulation focused on the entire lifecycle of a building. He backed a specific focus on the issues of competence and compliance.

Mr Frise added: “Dame Judith’s team spotted right at the start that it was not the building regulations themselves, but how they were applied and enforced that allowed a culture to develop, which led to the Grenfell tragedy. Banning cladding would not move that issue forward – it was the way in which the refurbishment of the tower was managed and delivered, as a whole, that should face scrutiny.”

BESA noted that the review warned of another major systematic failing in the occurrence of construction work that begins before building control signs off a design or is too far into work to introduce recommended fire safety features. A perceived lack of meaningful penalties for such infringements was viewed by BESA as further setting back building quality.

The CPA response

The Construction Products Association (CPA) welcomed the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review. The CPA was very involved in the findings of the Review and were asked to Chair Working Group 3: Regulations and Guidance, and also contribute to Working Sub-Group 1 & 2: Golden Thread, as well as Working Group 6: Quality Assurance and Products.

Dr Diana Montgomery – CPA Chief Executive – said: “The Independent Review led by Dame Judith Hackitt has outlined the clear responsibilities necessary to ensure a disaster like this can never happen again. The CPA fully supports the Review’s recommendations and looks forward to continuing our work with government, our members and the construction industry to roll out the implementation programme.”

Peter Caplehorn – CPA Deputy Chief Executive and Chair of the Review’s Regulations and Guidance Working Group – added: “This is an important chance for the entire construction industry to show we are ready for an overhaul of how high-rise, high-risk buildings are designed and built, and ultimately how we are held to account. Any reforms which can provide greater clarity on how buildings meet safety requirements and the technical attributes of the products that go into them, are much needed. Furthermore, the recommendations’ emphasis on creating a digital record of a construction project will go a long way to addressing the impact of product substitution and value engineering, quality of training and poor installations.”

Recommendations of the report include:

  • Focus: the Review focused its recommendations on buildings where there is a high level of risk to human safety in the event of the building being dangerous or catching fire. The primary focus is on high rise residential accommodation, but the Review also notes there are other types of buildings where there are risks due to people sleeping overnight, such as hospitals and residential care homes. It proposes a new regulatory regime to cover these buildings.
  • New regulatory framework: this will aim to ensure both that designs are safe and that what was designed and specified is actually built, with limited scope to change this, and any changes to the agreed brief requiring approval. This will apply to both new build and major refurbishment projects.
  • Duty Holder: this will create a requirement for a named individual to be responsible for ensuring building safety during every phase of the lifecycle of a building, from design through to management whilst it is occupied, with clear points of transition for the handing over of responsibilities between the designer, contractor and owner.
  • Construction Product Safety: this makes proposals for a tighter testing regime, the disclosure of test data and more information about products, and a requirement for the regular retesting of construction products to ensure safety. How this should be delivered remains open, including the possibility responsibility could be given to the Offi ce of Product Safety.

At Home in Ireland

Apartments block standards in Ireland have been deemed acceptable for the most part.

Following a meeting of Cabinet on 6th June, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy and Minister for Housing and Urban Development Damien English published the report “Fire Safety in Ireland – Report of Fire Safety Task Force”. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, Minister Murphy directed that initial attention focus on two areas which appeared connected with the fire – high-rise buildings and multi-storey, multi-unit social housing – and the Task Force was requested to oversee work on both. Initially, work focussed on the factors seen as likely to have contributed to the tragedy and surveys were undertaken across the country to establish if the circumstances which led to the disastrous event in London were present in Ireland.

The report contains conclusions under several headings including Fire Fatalities in Ireland; The Systems Approach to Fire Safety; Local Authority Fire Services; Legislative Responsibility for Fire Safety; Fire Safety in Dwellings, including multi-storey, multi-unit social housing; and Fire Safety in Medium and High-Rise Buildings.

Following a review of 842 identified medium-to-high-rise buildings, and more detailed fire safety assessments in 226 of these, several of which are still ongoing, the combination of contributory factors which appear to have existed in Grenfell Tower do not appear to be present in medium to high-rise buildings in Ireland.

With reporting from Dept of Housing, Planning and Local Government, www.constructionproducts.org.uk, and www.racplus.com