At Applications Engineering we were delighted to hear the government’s recent announcement for an independent review of building regulations with regard to fire safety following the tragic loss of life in the Grenfell Tower fire. The review was announced after at least 82 residential high-rises were found to have a combination of insulation and cladding not meeting fire safety standards.
As recently reported by the Independent, the number of residential high-rise buildings found to have failed new Government fire safety tests is rising, with the total up to 111 for high-rises not meeting acceptable standards in the latest round of combustibility testing.
The Grenfell tragedy has undoubtedly exposed a systemic failure in the current system of building regulations. Previous testing of building materials for fire safety standards has been woefully inadequate. Tests were previously limited to the core panels, and not the structure as a whole. Sources reported to the Independent that such testing would not form an accurate picture of how a building would react in a fire. The latest, more rigorous tests analyse different combinations of building materials to see how they react together in a fire.
As reported in The Guardian John Healey, the shadow secretary of housing, criticised the government’s testing programme for being confusing and too slow. “It has taken more than six weeks since the Grenfell Tower fire for the government to release test results of just 82 of the 4,000 tower blocks around the country,” he said. “Landlords still can’t get other types of cladding tested and government ministers still can’t say how many high-rise blocks are unsafe.“
Earlier this year fire safety experts warned the government that a delay in reviewing building regulations could be endangering tower blocks across the UK, following the catastrophic fire at Lakanal House in South London in 2009, which claimed six lives.
The response to the Grenfell tragedy in terms of future fire safety strategy may have been slow, but the announcement of this forward-looking independent review is an encouraging light at the end of a very dark tunnel. The review is to be led by Judith Hackett, who chaired the Health and Safety Executive, and currently chairs the EEF manufacturers’ organisation (the voice of UK manufacturing and engineering).
As reported by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), the independent review will look at current building regulations and fire safety together, with a particular focus on high-rise residential properties. It will report jointly to the Communities secretary Sajid Javid and the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. The review will look at:
• The fire safety aspects of regulations around design, construction, and the on-going management of buildings
• Related compliance and enforcement issues
• International regulation and experience
Dame Judith will also consult the Buildings Regulations Advisory Committee, the construction and housing industry, the fire sector, international experts, MPs and the public. An interim report is expected before the end of the year, and a final report no later than spring 2018.
We continue to support BAFSA in their efforts to push fire safety and the effectiveness of sprinkler systems on to the government’s agenda. Action is currently being taken to ensure the safety of the residents in those blocks which have failed fire safety tests. We are increasingly hopeful that fire sprinklers will eventually become a legal requirement in the building regulations for all high-rise residential buildings.