On 14 June 2017, a fire at Grenfell Tower in London took the lives of 71 people and robbed hundreds of others of their homes and possessions. Its impact was felt across the world and the government committed to urgent action to ensure that such a tragedy won’t happen again.
The British Safety Council welcomes the publication of the final report resulting from the inquiry led by Dame Judith Hackitt: Building a Safer Future, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.
Louise Ward, Policy Standards and Communications Director at the British Safety Council, said: “The inquiry’s recommendations, drawn on the principles established under the Health and Safety at Work Act, are ambitious and far reaching; they set the right tone for a new regulatory system that will be fit for purpose in 21st century Britain.
“The government should extrapolate this robust, effective and proven regime to inform the developing theme of residents safety. We feel that the adoption of a risk-based goal-setting model is appropriate and will underpin proportionality and flexibility. We urge the government to set an ambitious timeline for a second phase of work, which should extend to other buildings.” The British Safety Council welcomes the following recommendations:
- the establishment of a joint competent authority (JCA) to oversee fire and building safety;
- application of a systems-based approach to the safety of buildings throughout their whole lifecycle;
- consideration of fire prevention at every stage of design, and a layered approach to protection;
- application of the outcome-based model for building safety. It promotes flexibility, proportionality and adaptability in the regulatory framework;
- identification of duty-holders at each stage of the building lifecycle, together with their associated responsibilities and accountabilities;
- extension of the regime to cover operation and maintenance as well as design and construction of buildings;
- strengthening of the sanctions regime as part of the new framework and support application of a model similar to that set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act;
- the call for a digital record to serve as a lifelong log for each building, acting as a single point of assured building-related information;
- the proposal for interaction with international building safety groups.
At the same time, however, the British Safety Council has concerns regarding the following issues:
Regulatory framework We are concerned about the practicalities of the proposed establishment of a joint competent authority (JCA) to oversee fire and building safety. This would require collaborative working across three separate regulatory functions and three responsible government departments, particularly as resources are already stretched.
We are also concerned about the proposed funding through a cost-recovery programme. There is a widespread feeling that the HSEs fee for intervention programme has significantly damaged relationships with duty holders and established a ‘parking ticket’ approach to regulation. We are also concerned that a chargeable regime could also introduce new non-regulatory burdens or ‘blue tape’.
Design, construction and refurbishment
We have significant concerns about the effectiveness of ‘self-certification’ schemes for building standards, and urge consideration of appropriate regulatory oversight in this important area.
We propose that the sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences should also be extended to cover fire and building safety.
Guidance and monitoring We have significant concerns about making this the sole responsibility of industry bodies. We suggest that it would be more effective to adopt a model similar to the one in place for health and safety, with a lead from the regulator.
Golden thread of building information We have some concerns about the implementation of the recommendation of a digital record to serve as a lifelong log for each building. The public sector has a poor record for roll out of large scale technology projects, and care should be taken to apply previous learning to inform this work.
Combustible material in cladding systems
Following the publication of the report, there has been, much discussion about the fact that it does not recommend a ban on the ACM cladding material used at Grenfell Tower. To impose a ban on this one type of cladding would drive compliance, but only in relation to this one product. It would do nothing to preempt problems not yet identified with other materials, or types of installation.
The review goes further than this. It proposes a new and more stringent system for testing and certification of materials, not in isolation, but as part of the system in which they are to be used. In relation to existing buildings and those under refurbishment, the review recommends application of a safety case system, and a duty to review fire and building safety and seek to make improvements throughout the lifecycle of the building.
So, rather than proposing a short-term fix to a single issue, the review proposes a system-level adjustment that should prevent a situation in which any combustible product could be included in a building in a way that might compromise fire or building safety. It also proposes a regulatory system to police compliance.
The British Safety Council supports the consultation regarding a ban on the identified cladding as a short-term measure. We do, however, believe that the regime change proposed in the Hackitt report is the right solution to address the systemic failures that allowed this cladding to be installed in the particular configuration at Grenfell. This would prevent yet unknown issues from becoming serious hazards in the future.