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October 15, 2017

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‘Living in the Sky’ – assessing the annual Capital health and safety lecture

The Capita annual health and safety lecture is always a highlight in the calendar, and this year was no exception – the topic for 2017 being “Living in the Sky”. Mike Colton (pictured) assesses.

Although the chair for the afternoon, Gerard Forlin QC was quick to point out that the topic was decided prior to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, it was impossible to listen to the lecture without paying thoughts to the tragic events that occurred recently.   

The introduction from Capita managing director, David Spencer, touched on the fact that the first Capita health & safety lecture, 26 years ago, was focused on the British and European interaction on health and safety. Given the recent referendum and Brexit looming it was a stark reminder of how things have changed recently.

The audience were then given talks from the “delicious panel” as Gerard put it. Few could argue they were in for an interesting afternoon as Nigel Dancey, senior executive partner at Fosters & Partners; James Cook, head of residential planning at GL Hearn and author of the Tall Buildings Report and Kevin Hughes, deputy assistant commissioner at London Fire Brigade took to the stage.

James Cook gave an overview of this year’s Tall Building Report with some startling statistics – including the fact that 30% of homes currently under construction in London are in tall buildings and that nearly 1 new tall building per week started construction in 2016.

It seems the only conclusion to draw is that tall buildings will increasingly become the norm in London.

Geographical distribution

Perhaps one of the most interesting trends to impact the London skyline is that of the geographical distribution. Although there is yet to be a tall building planned in Zone 6, there is a slight upward trend towards Zone 3, 4 and 5. Indeed the report predicted last year that “tall buildings are becoming an increasingly deliverable form of development outside of the historically prime areas”.

In years to come the skyline of Harrow, Croydon and Watford could look very different.  Indeed, James mentioned there is a planned development in Croydon where from the top floors you will be able to see northern France!

Next to the stage was Nigel Dancey.  There are few better people in the world to speak on this topic than Nigel with 27 years at Foster + Partners.  The company was nothing but a few (very well designed) tables when he started…..and a chap called Norman!

Nigel took the audience on a journey of the major tall building projects Fosters + Partners have been involved in recently and as you would expect their projects were ground breaking.  A recent development for a major technology company looks like a piece of art, every floor different, tailored and unique with sustainability embedded into every aspect. Perhaps the most surprising element of the talk was the emphasis Nigel placed, not on the building itself, but on the interaction between the building and the space around.

The entrance halls, access to transport, public spaces, footpaths and outside seating areas had equal importance to the interior. Given the priority sustainability quite rightly has in their designs, it would have been interesting to hear where health and safety sits in their design process and their agenda?

Grenfell fallout

Perhaps the most anticipated talk for many in the room was that of Kevin Hughes. Given ongoing enquiries and reports into the Grenfell Tower tragedy, neither Kevin nor any of the other speakers passed comment on the subject.  Kevin did however give an excellent account of the challenges faced by London Fire Fighters, with 29 years in the London Fire Brigade he was well placed to do so.

At the end of his talk he made two requests from the audience. The first that fire safety be moved as early as possible in the design schedule to make this a priority, given the difficulties of making design changes later in the process.

The second, for a robust accreditation process to be mandatory for all fire risk professionals before being legally able to conduct Fire Risk Assessments. Surely this seems sensible, however from the talk it seemed perhaps his calls have been falling on deaf ears in the past. It would be good to get an understanding of whose responsibility this would be – or is that the issue?

Thank you to Alan Herbert, Health & Safety Director at Capita Property and Infrastructure for an excellent and thought-provoking afternoon.

Mike Colton is a director at Irwin & Stone


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