Responding to the Grenfell Tower Fire

As someone who works in the fields of construction, risk management and loss prevention, it saddens me that it takes such a tragic incident to finally make this government sit up and listen to fire safety experts, who have been campaigning for years to improve fire safety of high-rise and multi-occupancy buildings.

Sadly, the Grenfell Tower fire is not a new phenomenon. There have been several similar fires in the Middle Mast, the Far East and Australia, where combustible façade cladding was found to significantly contribute to fire spread up and around buildings.

Advice given by the London Fire Brigade, for residents to stay in their apartments, was correct, in theory. The assumption being that properly-compartmented units, plus a secure and fire-protected stairwell, would allow time for the firefighters to contain the incident at source, giving them time to safely evacuate residents from the building.

I am pleased that Sal Brinton, Liberal Democrat Party President and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group is now calling for he government to urgently publish a long-awaited review of building regulations on fire safety and implement its recommendations.

As someone whose day job is to advise on such issues, I am happy to help in any way that I can. The loss of a single life is one too many.

Until we start to design and construct high-rise structures to minimise fire risks to “as low as reasonably practicable”, our Fire and Rescue Services will have to re-assess advice given to residents as well as their approach to tackling such fires.

* Ade Adeyemo is a councillor and parliamentary spokesperson in Solihull.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

29 Comments

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Jun '17 - 1:19pm

    I understand that Stephen Williams when he was in Coalition started a review of regulations which he expected to be published in 2016, but the Tories have sat on it. If this is the case then I think we should be shouting about it. I also understand that Labour deregulated the requirements in Building Regs. I am glad that Sal has spoken up about the report, but there is an issue that many more buildings may be clad in this stuff so I’m hoping our MPs, local councillors and candidates will be vociferous about the need to act now to improve fire safety and ask questions of their local authority. It isn’t just people in tower blocks who are at risk but other public buildings like schools and hospitals may be unsafe because they have used this cladding.
    This is a vital safety issue which I believe has directly resulted from the cult of deregulation, competition, privatisation and cutting back the powers of local government.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Jun '17 - 1:27pm

    Ian, why don’t we ask for reports of the enquiries other countries have made into similar fires? Why is this type of cladding banned in some other countries? I really don’t think we can wait years for an investigation to be carried out. I’m sorry I’m not being measured, but people’s lives are in danger. My daughter and her family lived in Melbourne when the fire occurred there and she had her babies in the hospital which is also clad with this material.
    Sometimes we have to be measured but sometimes we have to act swiftly to save lives.

  • I suspect that the contract would have been awarded through a competitive tender and that it was the lowest costed bid. The whole system encourages a drive to the bottom in terms of cost which, almost inevitably, leads to reduced quality. It’s time the design and spec for such works is separate to the build. This way the bidders would have a defined spec and corners couldn’t be cut….

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Jun '17 - 1:55pm

    Ade

    Could I suggest to you and the wider party , you should, with Sal , be more known as a result of this excellent article and important, work you do, and knowledge you have.

    Party , for goodness sake put this man on committees that do something !

    This horrifying incident shows the need for social Liberalism desperately.

    It is the need for the individual to have power and the government to protect and defend.

    The fact is going from laissez -faire to statist infantilising is lousy.

    I want knowledgeable and powerful citizens , and tenants !

  • Angry Steve 20th Jun '17 - 1:56pm

    I went to a football match at St James’ Park on 2nd September 1989 – the second match of the season. The perimeter fencing had been completely removed from the ground as it had been from all other football grounds in the country despite the interim Taylor Report into the Hillsborough Disaster of April that year, published in August, recommending that fencing could remain. Sometimes there are obvious actions that need to take place to improve safety and people’s perception that there safety concerns are being addressed. This is even more self-evident with the Grenfell Tower disaster. Experts on fire safety and materials science can very quickly decide which types of cladding need to be removed promptly and that action needs to begin as soon as possible. There’s nothing measured about waiting several years for a report to produce numerous recommendations on fire safety when action is required immediately on the most significant cause of the tragedy.

  • @Ian MacFadyen
    I seem to spend half my life in competitive tenders and I rarely see a spec that doesn’t encourage cost cutting. I suspect it was loose enough to allow such moves, I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

  • Ian MacFadyen 20th Jun ’17 – 2:04pm…………Steve Way: If a contract was awarded to “the lowest costed bid”, it would have been to the lowest bid that fully met the specification. There is a tendency to speak of these things as if only cost matters. The specification is what matters………….

    I was involved at a senior level with negotiating contracts with governments as diverse as the USA and China….When it comes to cost, specifications are flexible…

    There is a more than a grain of truth in John Glen’s, “I guess the question I’m asked the most often is: “When you were sitting in that capsule listening to the count-down, how did you feel?” Well, the answer to that one is easy. I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” ….

  • David Evershed 20th Jun '17 - 2:33pm

    Ade

    Did the cladding on Grenfell meet existing regulations?

    If not, the problem is that the constructors were not complying with the regulations. How could we improve compliance?

    I am assuming that it was the cladding and the way it was installed without firebreaks that was the cause of the devastation, but of course we don’t know that yet.

  • That would be the Stephen Williams who apparently wrote (in mid/late 2014):
    “”I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward.””

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40330789

  • Jonathan Pile 20th Jun '17 - 3:04pm

    Ade it is brilliant that we have professionals who can give input to the party at this time. I work in the Safety industry & I am concerned that Lib Dem ministers are named in the Panorama investigation for blocking vital Fire Safety measures. Secondly like education, safety should be a key campaign issue for Liberal Democrats as it was in times past, how many vital safety regulations have been watered down by the Tory part of the Coalition Government, and how complicit have Liberal Democrats been in allowing this. Why did we not block the Cameron attack on the “Health and Safety Monster” in 2012 rather than join in. We need to be honest with ourselves as to why we let worker rights and safety rules be watered down from 2010-2015.

  • Angry Steve 20th Jun '17 - 3:20pm

    @David Evershed
    “How could we improve compliance?”

    That is very obviously a question for a later date. What is needed now is for councils and other landlords to provide an inventory of all cladding materials that have been used on buildings over a certain height and for a panel of independent experts on materials science and fire safety to make an assessment, based on that inventory, of which buildings are at the highest risk of spreading fires in the same manner. That work needs to completed within weeks and action then needs to be taken to remove or replace the cladding as soon as possible thereafter. Maybe there aren’t other buildings with the same problem, maybe there are hundreds or thousands, but we need to know as soon as possible and for action to take place well ahead of the results of the enquiry in several years time.

  • Angry Steve 20th Jun '17 - 3:36pm

    Looking into it, councils are taking urgent action and have been ordered to do so by the DCLG:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/19/councils-ordered-send-high-rise-cladding-urgent-fire-tests-glenfell/

  • Dave Orbison 20th Jun '17 - 3:46pm

    I managed a chemical manufacturing site for many years and dealt with the ‘World of regulations and enforcement’ and ‘lessons to be learnt’. We could learn a lot from the approach adopted in industry.

    No doubt there will be many lessons to be learnt here too. But what stuck me is that there have already been incidents where lessons could and should have been learnt re use of cladding.

    I do think we could learn from industry. Perhaps there should be a new branch of the HSE established that looks at serious incidents, not just in the workplace, but elsewhere. A branch that has teeth to require standards to be altered in the light of experience.

    Ideally we would hope regulations get it right first time. Sadly this is not always the case. However, what is unforgivable, as with events such as Hillsborough, is when warning signs were simply ignored. In such cases this compounds the tragedy and makes the potentially avoidable loss of life all the more lamentable.

  • There ought to be stricter rules on power appliances too – washing machines, driers, kettles and fridges. Retailers should be forced to recall more often.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Jun '17 - 5:00pm

    For those who are worried about what the Lib Dems did in Coalition: we have to get urgent action on this so we may have to accept that we didn’t always do the right thing. John Snow was asking why Labour relaxed the rules when they were in power and the Tories have obviously taken the wrong route. This isn’t about politics it’s about genuine safety concerns.

  • Yes, Sal put a statement out, but on the day of the fire the Lib Dem leadership and their Lib Dem Lordships appear to have been somewhat preoccupied elsewhere.

    @ Lorenzo Cherin “The fact is going from laissez -faire to statist infantilising is lousy”

    I’ve only got a faint glimmer of what you mean, Lorenzo, but what we have at present is inertia based statist infantilising based on a laissez-faire markety political doctrine. Consider The Independent of 18 June, 2017 :

    “Last week, it emerged Brandon Lewis, the former Tory housing minister between 2014 and 2016, warned against increasing fire safety regulations to include sprinklers in 2014 because it could discourage house building. He told MPs: “We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.”

    There’s also buck passing going on. Our very own Stephen Williams is blaming his Tory successors after a statement he made in March, 1915. The same Stephen Williams had also said about six months earlier,

    “”I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward.”” BBC.

    With apologies to T.S. Eliot,

    “He always has an alibi and one or two to spare
    Whatever time the deed took place, Macavity wasn’t there!”

  • My knowledge of fire safety regulations are minimal, however, I do have some experience in safety engineering a long time ago, and more recently have experience loosely associated with housing and construction, albeit from more of an environmental perspective.

    Going back to my safety engineering days, we were always reminded that it took more than one thing to go wrong for there to be a fatality. Near misses were usually the result of several things going wrong, and it would normally take at least six things for there to be a fatality. In that light, I urge everyone to be wary of thinking that discovering the cladding was not suitable is an end to the enquiry. It may well be that the cladding might have been suitable on other buildings, or if installed correctly and so on.

    One of the factors contributing to the Piper Alpha disaster was that the original design of that part of the rig allowed any gas leaks to escape. A modification many years after original construction and years before the disaster removed that factor of safety. Then there was an issue with a Permit to Work, and a few other things that I forget, except that they’d seen inconsequential in isolation.

    Safety in depth was the phrase we used, and should be applied beyond the world of oil rigs and into every day life. Extra consideration and layers of safety should be applied to high rise flats, just as it is applied to chemical works that store large volumes of flammable material.

    My more recent experience has led me to believe that the construction industry has too much power. At a national level, it lobbies governments to reduce regulation, and block moves such as the HPA proposal that all new builds should have, as a minimum, basic radon protection. At a local level, councils rely on developers to help them to meet housing targets, and they expect sweeteners and praise just for building on that plot of land they land-banked many years ago.

    There is an expectation for light touch regulation, and an increasing drive towards self-certification, with an consequential hollowing out of the skills needed to give proper scrutiny when required. Proper scrutiny of course taking much longer than reading the executive summary and accepting the findings without further question.

  • nick cotter 20th Jun '17 - 8:26pm

    Ade – excellent article.

    It is so good to hear from experts in our party – Good Luck if you stand again in Solihull !!

    Nick Cotter.

  • Dave Orbison 20th Jun '17 - 10:21pm

    Sue Sutherland- in view of Stephen Williams failures, as pointed out by David Raw, I think it is disingenuous to portray him in a positive light and place all the blame with the Tories.

    Everyone who had any role in this tragedy should take time to reflect on their role.m, irrespective of which party they represent. Every politician should be asking what went wrong and if I had any knowledge, did I do enough?

    We need honest reflection, with the emphasis on honesty and with an absence of spin.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Jun '17 - 11:04pm

    David Raw

    You put it well, I mean infantilising by keeping us at the behest of ministers and treating tenants like kids, relying on powerful and possibly criminal authority often making decisions, though here it seems the flats are significantly run by the tenants in that organisation.

    I was not very impressed by Sir Vince on channel four news, he mentioned “we” stopped the Tories deregulating fire safety, but over much talking and not with great emphasis.

    The party is coasting to oblivion if it keeps being complacent, and the corronation of leaders in parties makes me realise why I have become a constitutional monarchist, it works there well !

  • There has been too much navel gazing on things internal lately and as a party, it is crucial we don’t ignore major tragic events like Grenfell. Errors may have been made in coalition, if so they should be recognised and as a party we need to do our utmost to ensure there is no risk of repetition.

    Much appreciate this excellent, informative article from Ade

  • It has ben reported today that after consultation with residents a fire resistant cladding product was agreed and selected. Subsequently, a lower cost product was substituted, that had a flammable plastic core, based on a risk assessment and amended planning consultation. If this turns out to be the case there are two major issues to be resolved:

    1. How did a risk assessment conclude that a product apparently regarded as unsuitable for high rise buildings find its way onto this tower.

    2. Why was the specification changed and an amended planning consent submitted. It can’t be simply the difference in the cost of the cladding as resubmitting the application would surely cost more than any cost savings made on less fire resistant materials.

    Lots of questions to be answered.

  • I expect it was a change to the building warrant, rather than planning permission, as planning permission normally focuses on the aesthetic, and the suitability of that sort of development in that area, while deferring most of the technical safety decisions to building control.

    I refer back to what I said above, that it’s about safety in depth. We should have layers of safety, and as many as possible for high rise flats, but it is possible that someone, incorrectly, thought that there were enough other fire resistant measures that higher spec fire resistant cladding wasn’t required. Seems ridiculous now, when you consider the price difference was so small.

    I was reading something yesterday about fire resistant windows, and window frames on a local tower block, but what’s the point of a fire resistant window if most of them are open?

  • Sue Sutherland 21st Jun '17 - 11:15am

    Dave and Jayne. It seems that one of you is blaming me for not being political and the other for being too much so. I’ll try to express myself more clearly. I think it’s very likely that the culture of competition, privatisation and deregulation has led to this fire and sadly all three main parties seem to have played a part in this culture. I don’t know how Stephen Williams two statements stack up and it’s up to him to clarify.
    On the other hand I think the question of the safety of other refurbished tower blocks and public buildings should be more important than worrying about what we Lib Dems as a party did or didn’t do. In my opinion the cladding used has been identified as inflammable and is banned in certain countries so it should be removed asap. I don’t think we can wait for an investigation to report on this when other countries have already investigated, because a small localised fire spread so quickly that many lives were lost. What should be happening is that all local authorities and health authorities publicly identify buildings with this cladding and take action immediately to remove it from all public buildings. I would like our party to make sure this happens and hope that other parties do likewise. Blame can be apportioned later and changes in culture made too.

  • I would echo Fiona’s concern about people jumping to conclusions about causes, normally these things have multiple points of failure and to focus on only one wil leave others unresolved. That is the reason that a decent enquiry is important. The impending enquiry shouldn’t be a block temporary responses to immediate risk factors.

    One point that is not getting much air time is whether these buildings are worth keeping standing at all. It may be better to demolish and replace them with buildings that are of a higher standard. When the demolition of the buildings around Elephant & Castle was planned what was interesting was those who opposed it for heritage reasons didn’t have an answer to the observations from those who had experienced trying to maintain the buildings. We may find it is better in the long term to rebuild than try and patch up (not that there won’t be short term measures that would be possible to take while longer term resolution is carried out).

    Another important point Fiona makes is the move to self-cert by big developers, people shouldn’t mark their own homework. Its thje same reason I would prefer Housing Associations ran social housing is because the conflicts are risky when councils should have a significant role in regulating these areas.

  • For those complaining about the statement by Stephen Williams, it is another case of needing to know the context which an enquiry could do.

    For example it looks like the letter was specific on sprinklers. If the department had a number of safety regulations underway looking at more than just the one issue (such as external risks of fire) the question then arises whether a review looking at a whole range of safety regulations should be delayed to focus on that specific issue. There is a difference between removing safety regulation for ideological reasons and a review waiting in a queue of a work programme due to there being lots of regulations needing updating. These regulations were obviously inadequate, but similar age buildings in other cities have been removed due to being sub-optimal to keep up to modern expectations.

    Short term risk mitigation of other buildings should be rapidly carried out but the longer term understanding of the full situation should be carefully conducted and rushing to judgement will not be helpful. (This is assuming that the government sets up the Enquiry properly).

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJenny Barnes 21st Jul - 2:00pm
    The economist has run the voting figures under 3 different voting schemes FPTP - Remain wins AV Hard Brexit wins Condorcet (2 out of 3...
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 21st Jul - 1:42pm
    Sir Vince and I were contemporaries at Cambridge, although I have only met him once when, as a Coalition government minister, he came up to...
  • User AvatarJohn King 21st Jul - 1:40pm
    The yougov poll showed Remain at 50% first choices, using a 3-way vote. That's only slightly down. But during the run-up campaign, the two Leave...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 21st Jul - 12:29pm
    @P.J. Whether or not it's a mistake depends on your P.O.V. It's actually quite a good socialist tax. But it isn't a good tax from...
  • User AvatarP.J. 21st Jul - 12:19pm
    @David Raw 'but in the real world……' Believe me. I work in this real world on a daily basis. I cannot say that I am...
  • User AvatarPaul Reynolds 21st Jul - 12:13pm
    Peter, William, David and Sandra. You are certainly right and your words of wisdom should be heeded. There is a tendency for misplaced self-congratulation, no...