Today marks the anniversary the horrific fire of which engulfed Grenfell Tower block, in North Kensington, and took the lives of 72 residents, on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.
The fire broke out shortly before 1am and spread throughout the 24-storey building at an alarming speed. It took firefighters over 24 hours to get it under control, leading to confusion and uncertainty that lasted for days.
The tower was lit up green from 00:54 on Thursday 14 June, 2018, to mark a year since the first 999 call was made. A vigil took place at a church near the tower block and there will be a minute’s silence observed nationally, from midday.
In the days that followed the tragedy, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a public inquiry into the devastating blaze. A criminal investigation was also opened to examine whether building regulations had been breached when the block was refurbished. An £8.6-million refurbishment took place in 2015/16, during which the bottom four floors were extensively remodelled, adding an additional nine homes and taking the total number of flats in the building to 120.
Sajid Javid, who was Communities Secretary at the time, set up an Independent Expert Advisory Panel (IEAP) to report on what measures could be implemented to make buildings safer.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan commented shortly after that the fire was a “preventable accident” caused by “years of neglect” by the local council and successive governments and demanded a “national response” to the tragedy.
Initial reports in the days and weeks after the fire had suggested that the residents of Grenfell had repeatedly raised concerns about fire safety in the flats going back many years but they were ‘disregarded’.
David Collins, the former Chairman of the Residents Association, told Channel 4’s Dispatches programme that he had envisaged it would take a ‘catastrophic event’, such as a fire, for people to wake up. He warned: “My conclusion is that there will be several more catastrophe’s before those in power wake up to their responsibilities.”
David lived on the 21st floor of the tower, but moved out in 2016. He said that during his time in the building, “fire safety was everything to the residents, because they lived in a tower block.”
He told the programme that he fought for more than two years to get the council and the Tenant Management Organisation to listen to the residents’ concerns about the refurbishment.
“I did a lot of work in the construction industry and so I could see that the construction design solutions for Grenfell Tower were not for for purpose.”
He requested a rethink and the residents asked for the Tenant Management Organisation to be investigated after 90% of the resident signed a petition.
It was agreed that a working group would be set up, but that never took place.
Rydon Construction, which carried out the refurbishment work, is reported to have said that it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”
Following the refurbishment work, London Fire Brigade gave the tower block a ‘medium’ fire risk rating but the resident’s group continued to make claims about fire safety worries.
In the year since the tragedy, investigations into the cause and response to the fire have been ongoing.
The ongoing public inquiry, launched by its Chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick in August 2017, received hundreds of thousands of documents and hundreds of applications to be core participants. Oral evidence and findings from expert reports began to be heard in June 2018. Hearings are due to continue until September 2018. A second phase of the inquiry will begin later in the year.
In May, Dame Judith Hackitt, a former Chair of the HSE, delivered her final recommendations following her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
Hackitt concluded that indifference and ignorance had led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices and expressed the need for a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”. This included recommendations for recommends a “very clear model of risk ownership” and an “outcomes-based” regulatory framework, but did not recommend an explicit ban on combustible cladding.
Following the report’s publication, the government said it would consult on banning combustible cladding. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire added that ministers will also look to ban the use of desktop studies to assess the performance of external cladding systems based on the BS 8414 test.
The cladding used on housing is one of the primary focuses of scrutiny following the Grenfell fire. An estimated 800 high rise buildings across the country use similar cladding to that found in Grenfell Tower. A number of tests into cladding have resulted worrying results: Javid said in September that of 173 high-rise social housing blocks fitted with aluminium cladding, only eight passed fire safety building regulations.
It was revealed in March that only seven of the 158 social housing blocks in England with dangerous cladding have had the material completely removed. The government announced in May that it will fund a £400-million operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.
Earlier this month, Wales’ chief fire advisor Private high-rise cladding ‘could take years’ to replace.
Also under scrutiny is the standard advice to tenants of blocks of flats that they are safer if they stay in their accommodation than to leave, unless it is their flat which is on fire.
Russ Timpson, Secretary of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network, called the tragedy the fire industry’s ‘asbestos moment’. He said: “We’ve now discovered a horrendous miscalculation. We’re going to be judged on how we respond to this, going forward.
“My concern is the people that are currently residing in these buildings around the world. What practical advice are we giving them to try and keep them safe, when a fire occurs?”
Russ will be speaking about fire safety management in tall buildings at FIREX at ExCeL, London, on Wednesday 20 June, at 13:15.
Paul Fuller CBE QFSM, Chair of the Fire Sector Federation, will open FIREX with the fire sector’s response to the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, at on Tuesday 19th June at 10:45 in the Expertise & Guidance Theatre.
His address will be followed by a panel of fire safety experts, assembled by the Fire Sector Federation, which will review the activities of the last year, discuss proposals for legislative change and make recommendations for improving fire protection throughout the built environment.
The panel, representing different aspects of the fire sector, will be available to answer your questions and offer views on developing an appropriate fire safety solution that ensures a tragedy such as Grenfell can never happen again.
This article was originally published on IFSEC Global’s sister site for health and safety, SHP.
Fire safety is at the forefront of everyone’s minds and is a priority in the national agenda.
Join the industry at FIREX 2018 as we reflect on a year of hugely significant discussions and see how this is shaping the future of the fire safety industry. Taking place 19-21 June 2018, ExCeL London.
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