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Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, who has also contributed to numerous national business titles including Utility Week, the Municipal Journal, Environment Journal and consumer titles such as Classic Rock.

September 18, 2018

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Grenfell

Hackitt warns it is impossible to rule out another Grenfell

Dame Judith Hackitt has warned it is impossible to rule out another ‘catastrophic event’ like the Grenfell Tower tragedy if changes are not made to the regulatory system.

Speaking at the IOSH 2018 annual conference in Birmingham, Dame Judith said she was “truly shocked” about standards in the built environment when she started her independent review into fire safety and building regulations last year.

“Unless we fix the system, we have no way of guaranteeing that there won’t be another catastrophic event,” she told delegates at the conference.

“We need to get to a point where people those who construct a building are as responsible for those who use it over the next 10 or 20 years as they are employee safety.

“What we are calling for is collaboration and joined-up thinking across the built environment sector, not self-interested groups protecting their own turf, something I have seen a lot of.”

Dame Judith was commissioned to investigate fire safety in the aftermath of Grenfell Tower.

Her final report was published in May and warned that indifference and ignorance led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices with cost prioritised over safety.

It also said there needs to a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”.

But it stopped short of recommending an explicit ban on combustible cladding.

Speaking at IOSH 2018, Dame Judith said it is vital that there is a culture change implemented as soon as possible, while the horrors of Grenfell are still fresh in people’s memories.

“When I looked from the outside into standards in the built environment, what I encountered was truly shocking,” she told delegates.

“The system for fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings was weak and ineffective.

“People actually said things like ‘we always knew something like this would happen’. They knew the system wasn’t working but didn’t know how to fix it. There was a race to the bottom. Companies were looking to do things as cheap as possible, getting around the rules. It was about cost, not quality.”

She added some industry groups and the government are already looking at how to implement some of the measures in her final report.

This, she said, includes bringing together bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive, local authority building control and fire and rescue authorities.

But Dame Judith warned there needs to be stronger powers of enforcement, to provide more deterrent to cost-cutting.

“Right now, the level of penalties when people are caught out is not strong enough,” she said. “There is no deterrent.

“We also need a system where people can raise concerns in the knowledge they will be acted on. The same goes for within industry, for example we don’t want people thinking they don’t know who to tell if there are concerns.”

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Derek

Shortly after the publication of the Hackitt final report in May its author stated in a TV interview that the authorities have the necessary powers to stop the use of combustible cladding on high rise buildings. If that is so the why do they choose not to use these powers?