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FIRE SAFETY & DISASTER RECOVERY


In the aftermath of the tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt carried out a full-scale independent review, uncovering innumerable mistakes, ambiguities and fundamental failures. Over two years later, what steps have been taken to prevent another similar disaster from happening?


Miscommunications and ambiguities Immediately after the fire, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) was instructed by the government to test the combustibility of different combinations of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) and insulation, the materials which were responsible for the rapid spread of the blaze on the tower.


“Almost two years after the


disaster, it was reported that nearly 40,000 people were still living in privately-owned tower blocks with (combustible) ACM cladding.


Although the cladding fitted to Grenfell had in fact passed BS 8414 testing along with certain types of insulation, the specific combination that was installed on the tower had not been verified as safe. This error was blamed on a lack of clarity in governmental technical guidance, which has subsequently been changed to avoid further miscommunication.


Following this acknowledgement of a confused industry caused by legislative ambiguities, as well as mass public outcry, in December 2018 the government issued a ban on the use of combustible materials on the external walls and balcony attachments on new high-rise buildings over 18 metres tall. All elements must now be individually tested to pass a fire rating of Class A1 (non-combustible) or A2 s1 d0 (very limited combustibility), under the harmonised European Standard EN13501.


This legislation demanded a radical reorganisation of materials used in construction, with metal, stone, rockwool, plasterboard and similarly non-combustible materials now becoming the norm.


Passing the buck Despite these legislative changes, in April 2019, almost two years after the disaster, it was reported that nearly 40,000 people were still living in privately-owned tower blocks with (combustible) ACM cladding.


In July 2019, the government agreed to fully fund the re- cladding of public residential buildings of 18 metres and over fitted with ACM, however the responsibility for the refurbishment of this cladding on privately-owned tower blocks is continuing to be contested.


The government argued that landlords, freeholders and developers should be held accountable, however under the terms of most leases it has come down to leaseholders. This continual passing of the buck has led to prolonged delays with many still living in potentially life-


38 | TOMORROW’S FM


threatening homes, forcing some homeowners to employ round-the-clock fire safety wardens to ensure their safety in the time being.


James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government at that time, pledged in May of this year to allocate £200m towards the re- cladding of the dangerous private sector residential buildings, however the total cost of refurbishment is estimated to be even higher.


Righting the wrongs A huge part of the tragedy at Grenfell was the inability to learn from previous mistakes. Take for example the 2009 Lakanal House Fire in Southwark or the 2015 Marina Torch fire in Dubai, both of which whose cladding panels exacerbated the spread of the fire. These fires were largely ignored by the industry, rather than heeded as a warning, resulting in the refurbishment of Grenfell in 2016 with cladding that rendered it a ‘death trap’.


Another catastrophe was the complete disregard of the residents of Grenfell Tower; some had expressed their concerns regarding the safety of the building ‘for years’ before the fire took place, but their voices went unheard.


“What is required is a systematic


shift where residents’ concerns are acknowledged and acted upon.”


To prevent a further incident, it is not simply a case of legislative change. What is required is a systematic shift where residents’ concerns are acknowledged and acted upon. It was this fundamental unwillingness to listen and act which cost lives - and will claim more unless occupant safety becomes the number one priority in residential construction projects going forward.


While the combustibles ban of December 2018 starts to take effect in the construction of new high-rise blocks and balconies, it can only be hoped that further recommendations are swiftly implemented to ensure ongoing safety for both construction workers and residents.


www.envirobuild.com/ twitter.com/TomorrowsFM


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