Pre-Grenfell there was a “genuine belief that fire was under control and there were bigger fish to fry”
The Chair of the Fire Sector Federation has said he was disappointed there had still been no review of Approved Document B – the framework setting out building regulations – a year after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Speaking at FIREX 2018, which ran alongside Safety & Health Expo, Paul Fuller said that while the Federation supports almost all recommendations made in Dame Judith Hackitt’s recent report and “welcomes the much-needed cultural change in the regulatory environment”, it is still “disappointed that even despite that there is still no immediate review of Approved Document B”.
“We have seen similar tragedies in the past and all of them have resulted in stronger and more prescriptive regulations to ensure they cannot happen again,” said Fuller.
“Something that almost every single person who has appeared in the media over the last 12 months has said is ‘this is something we must never allow this to happen again’. How are we to never allow this to happen again if we do not do something?”
Mr Fuller said the Federation has been campaigning for many years about the UK’s approach to fire safety and in the weeks before the Grenfell Tower last year had been preparing to launch a publicity campaign about the need to reform Approved Document B, which was shelved in the aftermath of the fire.
He also talked about how fire safety had been “naturally eroded” in the years before the tragedy.
“The political and sector mood music of the day was best reflected by the-then home secretary in 2016 and I will repeat exactly what she said – ‘the number of fires in England has been reduced by nearly two thirds, fire deaths have fallen by half and we have seen a similar reductions in the number of non-fatal casualties.
There are approaching 200,000 fewer false alarms each year and malicious incidents have fallen by 90%. Buildings are safer, families and communities are more secure’.”
Mr Fuller said pre-Grenfell there was a “genuine belief that fire was under control and there were bigger fish to fry and more important things to deal with”.
“As a result of that, some complacency crept in and there was a lack of thought about the impact of issues around fire safety and a weakening of regulation and enforcement by fire issues, driven by the need for deregulation by successive governments over a long number of years,” added Mr Fuller.
“That resulted in a light touch and the impact of fire safety was seldom given enough thought.”
But Mr Fuller talked about previous warnings, particularly in the aftermath of the Lakanal House fire in 2009, when six people were killed and 20 were injured.
“It too had some basis on external spread of fire. The coroner wrote a whole series of letters, but I will pick out four of the key things she said,” he told delegates at the event.
“Firstly, she suggested the Government carry out a review of Approved Document B in order to ensure that it provides clear guidance to Regulation B4 of the building regulations, with particular regard to the spread of fire over the external envelope of the building.
“The other thing she said was that the department should encourage providers of housing in high-rise residential buildings to consider the retro-fitting of sprinkler systems.”
Mr Fuller added building regulations had not been reviewed in this country for 12 years when the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurred.