Investigation into remediating dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings

The pace of work in removing dangerous cladding from high-rise residential buildings following the Grenfell Tower fire has been slower in the private sector, according to a report by the National Audit Office

Progress is being made in removing dangerous cladding from high-rise residential buildings following the Grenfell Tower fire. However, the pace of works has been faster in some types of building than others and progress in the private residential sector has been slower than the government expected, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government established the Building Safety Programme. One of the programme’s main objectives is to ‘oversee and support the remediation of high-rise residential buildings that have unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding’. In May 2018, the department announced £400 million to fund remediation in the social housing sector in England. In May 2019, it announced a further £200 million for the remediation of equivalent buildings in the private housing sector.

By April 2020, 149 of the total 456 buildings which are 18 metres and above and have unsafe ACM cladding systems had been fully remediated, leaving 307 where remediation was not yet finished, of which work had not yet begun on 167.

The pace of remediation has been fastest in the student accommodation and social housing sectors, but slowest in the private residential sector. By April 2020, 66.7 per cent of student accommodation blocks and 46.8 per cent of social housing buildings had been fully remediated, compared to 13.5 per cent of private sector residential buildings. Progress in the private sector has been slower because those legally responsible for private buildings have been difficult to identify and have required more support than expected. By the end of April 2020, the department had paid out £1.42 million (0.7 per cent) from the £200 million private sector fund and £133 million (33.3 per cent) from the £400 million social sector fund.

The department estimates that all buildings within scope of its funding will be remediated by mid-2022, with over 95 per cent completed by the end of 2021. This is later than the expectation set in July 2019 by the then Secretary of State who said: “Other than in exceptional circumstances, building owners should complete remediation… by June 2020.” This does not take account of the impacts of Covid-19: there are early signs that the pandemic has slowed the pace of remediation, with up to 60 per cent of projects that were under way paused by April 2020. The department had not at the time of this investigation assessed how its time frame for completing remediation would be affected by the pandemic.

Not all buildings with dangerous ACM cladding fall within scope of the government’s existing funding schemes for the social and private housing sectors. This includes high-rise hotels, student accommodation, and build-to-let blocks, as well as buildings below 18 metres. The department is aware of seven build-to-let properties over 18 metres with unsafe ACM cladding which are not eligible for funding, because the private sector funding scheme is designed to avoid the costs of remediation being passed on to leaseholders. In the case of build-to-let properties, the department believes that building owners have a clear legal and financial obligation to pay for remediation themselves.

The department’s Independent Expert Advisory Panel has advised that the most dangerous forms of ACM cladding are unsafe on buildings of any height, and that risks are increased in buildings with elderly and vulnerable residents. The department estimates there to be around 85,000 buildings in England between 11 and 18 metres, but does not know what cladding systems they have, nor whether there are any care homes under 18 metres with unsafe cladding. It will begin collecting data on buildings between 11 and 18 metres in summer 2020.

To access the funding schemes, building owners must demonstrate they have made a reasonable attempt to meet or recover costs without having to charge leaseholders – for example, by paying from their own resources, or through insurance, warranty claims or legal proceedings. The department expects it could take building owners several years to recover costs in legal proceedings in many cases. By February 2020, the department had recouped £0.8m from the private sector, and a further £6.4m from the social sector where building owners had successfully reclaimed costs from original contractors.

The department expects to pay for 94 projects (out of 208) in the private sector, where the developer or building owner has not agreed to fund remediation themselves. The owners of 84 private sector residential buildings have committed to fund remediation, with a further 23 self-funded through warranty claims. Seven buildings have not agreed a funding route. In the social sector, the department has committed to fund 139 (out of 154) residential buildings.

The department announced a further £1 billion funding in March 2020 for the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding on high-rise buildings in the social and private residential sectors. It has not yet established how many buildings over 18 metres have unsafe non-ACM cladding, but has used a rough initial estimate of around 1,700 such buildings as a working assumption. The department intends to commit the £1 billion in full by the end of March 2021, but the administration of this new scheme may present significant challenges given how demanding it has been to manage the existing ACM funding schemes, which are just over half the size of the new fund.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “MHCLG has made progress in overseeing the removal of dangerous cladding from many buildings, particularly in the social housing sector. However, the pace of progress has lagged behind its own expectations, particularly in the private residential sector. It has a long way to go to make all high-rise buildings safe for residents.

“Going forward, it is important that the department successfully manages the administrative challenges of funding building owners to carry out remediation work, particularly given its intention to commit a further £1 billion in full by the end of March 2021.”


Charity launches urgent appeal after Coronavirus fundraising downturn

The Fire Fighters Charity has launched an urgent appeal for new donors after its usual fundraising income fell by around £200,000 a month during the lockdown period

The charity, which offers specialist mental health, physical health and social wellbeing support to members of the UK’s fire services community, receives no government funding and relies on its fundraising income to raise the £10m it needs each year to operate its national services.

However, the cancellation of all face-to-face fundraising and mass participation events over the past few months, and for much of the remaining year, means that the organisation’s income is falling short by hundreds of thousands of pounds each month.

Chief Executive Dr Jill Tolfrey explained why the Charity decided to launch an urgent appeal to all those across the fire services community, as well as to those who admire and support it: “This is an unprecedented time for The Fire Fighters Charity. We have never before faced such an extended period of time without any traditional fundraising activity and, for an organisation that is almost entirely funded through the generosity of its supporters, we need to find a way to turn this around.

“I am therefore hoping that this urgent appeal will strike a chord with those generous individuals and every member of our incredible Fire Service family. From frontline firefighters to support and control staff, retired personnel and everyone for whom we provide our services. We will always be there for you when you need us, but right now we need you. Please start donating today and let’s get through this together.”

The Charity’s Urgent Appeal film – https://vimeo.com/432298476/a8f7700129 – and its dedicated Urgent Appeal website page – www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/appeal – asks its supporters to set up a new regular donation, to uplift an existing one or, if not possible, to consider other ways in which they can help it through these challenging times.


Majority of UK workers want their bosses to provide PPE

The vast majority of workers across industries believe that it is their employer’s responsibility to ensure they have the right protective equipment in the workplace – with a significant number stating they would refuse to go to work without the right PPE, according to a survey by Populus Data Solutions

 

  • Eighty seven per cent of UK workers say it is employers’ responsibility to make sure employees have the right protective workwear
  • Forty per cent of workers would refuse to go to work without the right PPE
  • Eighty one per cent of workers want employers to give clear advice on PPE

The survey, carried out for industrial workwear and protective clothing specialists Ballyclare, also found that a large number of workers are still seeking clarity on PPE from their employers and the government. The results come as Ballyclare publishes a new factsheet, spelling out to employers and employees exactly which PPE should be worn across various workplace settings and how it can be worn most safely.

As the economy slowly reopens, worker safety is a key focus for both employers and employees. When asked who should be responsible for ensuring workers have the right equipment to work safely, 87 per cent of respondents said it is the employer’s role, while 40 per cent also said the government should shoulder the responsibility. Those working in the retail and consumer, manufacturing, transport, and logistics sectors all pointed to their employers as responsible for making sure they had the right protective gear (89 per cent), while hospitality and leisure followed close by (84 per cent).

In a stark illustration of the issues facing businesses coming out of lockdown, the survey found that if an employer did not provide the employee with personal protective equipment, almost twice as many people would refuse to go into work than would not. Forty per cent said they would be either likely or very likely to refuse to go into work, whilst 23 per cent said they would still attend.

The survey results showed that a significant majority of workers are crying out for clarity on what protective equipment they should wear. Seventy-four per cent said they would feel far safer in returning to work if their employers provide the right PPE – with 81 per cent saying they wanted clear advice from their employer. At the same time, 73 per cent of people said they also wanted clear advice from the government.

Silke Hendricks, Managing Director of Ballyclare, says: “If people continue to feel insecure about returning to work, we could see a huge impact on the UK’s efforts to reopen the economy.”


New approach to Business Fire Safety Week delivers for Oxfordshire takeaways

Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service has seen a dramatic upturn in engagement with local companies following its new and innovative approach to Business Fire Safety Week, promoted by the National Fire Chiefs Council

Each year, crews across the UK use the week to publicise the importance of fire safety awareness in the workplace. Reflecting on limited success in previous years, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service decided to take a new approach in 2019.

Dave Bray, Oxfordshire’s Fire Protection Manager, explains: “We were putting time and effort into planning and advertising but struggling to generate much interest. Previously business owners were invited to come to events organised by the fire protection team.

“Last year we turned it on its head; we would visit companies and retailers.”

Operational crews in Oxfordshire are not normally involved in fire protection activity but are ideally placed to do so. The project did not need enforcing officers, this was about sharing guidance and advice; an opportunity for local crews to engage with local businesses.

A decision was made to focus on takeaway establishments after a review of prohibition notices’ data showed their use of premises often raised a number of fire safety issues.

Dave Bray explains: “We decided to make the link between poor food hygiene and general standards in the building, including fire safety. This enabled us to further target resources, focusing on takeaways that had a two-star food hygiene rating or less.”

Google Maps were used to identify those locations that had domestic accommodation above the takeaways.

Wholetime crews are ideally located in the five big market towns of Oxfordshire. They were provided with guidance from the fire protection team, and with boxes of ‘Do you own a takeaway or restaurant?’ leaflets to give to owners or the responsible person at each takeaway.

This multilingual leaflet is available in Turkish, Bengali and Mandarin; reflecting the languages of many takeaway owners across the county.

Through consultation with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) – which translated the leaflets – Oxfordshire’s web services team created a specific campaign page with a link, taking those looking for a particular language leaflet straight into the DSFRS website.

A further single page alternate language document meant crews could converse with business owners who could not speak English, directing them through to the business fire safety pages, where they could get the leaflet in their preferred language.

Dave Bray said: “Everything was designed to make guidance and support accessible. We went to each business. We created different language versions. This was about us providing a safety advice service, rather than expecting businesses to find it themselves.”

Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service took a decision to run the initiative for a month, rather than just a week.

An extended campaign gave more time to identify premises that would benefit from the advice and support. Takeaways and restaurants often do not appear on the risk-based inspection programme. Many have alarm systems that are not linked to alarm receiving centres, so do not get flagged for unwanted fire signals. As a result, they are unlikely to be audited by fire inspectors.

During the campaign, 108 takeaways and restaurants were visited by the fire crews. Six prohibition notices were served as a result of situations that presented a risk of death or serious injury had a fire occurred. The prohibition notices directly increased the safety of 20 residents. These buildings were unlikely to have been inspected without the new innovative approach.

The literature’s link to business fire safety webpages stimulated a 200 per cent increase in traffic on those pages compared to the previous year’s campaign, and an increase in how long people stayed on them.

Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service completed a lessons learnt review and presented this to its strategic leadership team. The main points were:

  • Face-to-face sessions with crews, rather than email briefs, would have been beneficial in further enhancing the impact of the campaign
  • Takeaway businesses do present a fire safety risk
  • The working hours of some of fire and rescue’s shifts present a challenge in linking with opening hours of takeaways. The crews found ways to overcome this.

The strategic leadership team decided that takeaways and restaurants with a food hygiene rating of two or less – and which have domestic accommodation above them – must be added to fire and rescue’s risk-based inspection programme. This important step now means these premises can be regularly inspected by Oxfordshire’s fire protection team.

Dave Bray concludes: “Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service wants to help local businesses thrive, and to do so safely by complying with guidance to protect their workforce and customers, and to safeguard their premises from accident or fire.

“The reach we achieved; the involvement of local crews, community engagement, and an innovative and collaborative approach – all these factors meant we made a big difference. We now have a model to further improve and develop during future Business Fire Safety weeks.”

For further information visit: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/businessfiresafety


Royal visit to recognise pandemic work

His Royal Highness Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex, has recognised the vital work of Hampshire emergency services and authorities in a visit to the shared headquarters

The Earl of Wessex visited the Covid-19 Strategic Co-ordinating Group (SCG) to thank the leaders who have worked to keep the people of the county safe during the pandemic. The vital work of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Resilience Forum (LFR) has kept essential services running and co-ordinated the work of various agencies and partners.

The Earl attended the meeting, which had some members dialing in from home while others observed social distancing at the Hampshire Fire and Police shared headquarters in Eastleigh. In addition to attending the meeting, The Earl also visited the control room which has remained staffed throughout Coronavirus.

The LRF SCG Chair and Chief Fire Officer Neil Odin said: “It was a great honour to be visited by The Earl of Wessex and explain what we have been doing at a local level. Staff from every organisation have been working hard to keep vital services running, in these challenging circumstances, with many agencies taking on roles outside their normal remit.

“The Earl expressed his thanks and appreciation for the work of the group, individual partners and their teams.”

After the meeting, His Royal Highness spoke to directors of Public Health England, the NHS and military colleagues as well as senior fire service representatives.

The LRF is made up of emergency services, councils, health authorities, military personnel and others.


Fire service awards recognises women’s exceptional leadership at London Fire Brigade

Four female colleagues at London Fire Brigade have been recognised for their exceptional leadership, innovation and for delivering on the Brigade’s commitment to diversity in the 2020 Women in The Fire Service awards

Dr Anne Scoging, the Brigade’s Head of Psychological Health, and Lynsey Seal, the Brigade’s Principal Fire Engineer

Dr Anne Scoging, the Brigade’s Head of Psychological Health, and Lynsey Seal, the Brigade’s Principal Fire Engineer, share the Dany Cotton Inspiring Leader award in its inaugural year. They were selected out of 11 other nominations across the UK’s fire services.

Dr Scoging commented: “It’s always been really important to me that our counselling service tries to reflect as many differences that exist in the Brigade’s workforce as possible; that where we don’t represent a group, we should gather as much knowledge as we can and really listen to people’s experiences.”

Julie King, Women in The Fire Service (WFS) Chair and Awards Panel Judge, said Dr Scoging demonstrated “great vision and commitment” in raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing within the Brigade, helping develop its mental health peer group support, United Minds and its Mental Health First Aiders network.

Sharing the Dany Cotton Inspiring Leader award with Dr Scoging is Lynsey Seal, the Brigade’s Principal Fire Engineer. She has been recognised for having developed one of the Brigade’s most diverse teams, while tirelessly promoting a career in the Fire Service among girls and young women.

Lynsey was instrumental in the Brigade’s support for the book My Mummy Is A Firefighter, published in March 2020. The book is part of a series for four to seven-year-olds showcasing inspiring female role models in jobs or professions traditionally portrayed as being for men. “I’m an engineer, not a firefighter, but it just seemed like a logical idea,” says Lynsey. “Having a diverse team not only makes for better team performance; having people from different backgrounds with varying experiences allows a wider diversity of thought and approach.”

Kimberley Jerray-Silver, a Firefighter at Acton Fire Station, wins this year’s WFS Bright Light award – she was one of 16 nominees – for her work supporting older people in her local community. Kimberley organises social events and open days at her station for the more mature members of the community. The events also act as a place for them to meet local organisations who provide essential support services.

Kleria Baptista-Mendes, Borough Commander Fire Cadet Ambassador, is a joint runner-up in this year’s Young Person’s Role Model award. That award recognises someone aged 11-24 years old in the Fire and Rescue Service who has shown they are an excellent role model.

Andy Roe, London Fire Brigade Commissioner, said: “This kind of leadership from some of the fantastic women we work with, ensures we as an organisation talk about our mental health worries, that we reflect the real makeup of the communities we serve, and that we deploy kindness; this is what the evolving London Fire Brigade is all about.”

Dany Cotton, Patron of WFS and former Commissioner of London Fire Brigade said: “I am thrilled with the two winners – Anne Scoging and Lynsey Seal. I have had the privilege of having worked with both these worthy winners and I can genuinely say that they both display outstanding leadership characteristics alongside being very dedicated, professional and caring individuals. I know they will both be very shocked and exceedingly humble when they find out they are winners. I really hope to be able to congratulate them both in person very soon.”

See pg 44 for full list of winners at the 2020 Women in The Fire Service awards.


Continuous improvement to the building safety system

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher reports on the Building Risk Review Programme and how the NFCC will continue to influence government policy and advocate for continued improvements to the UK’s building safety system

It has now been more than three years since the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and as the government’s Fire Safety Bill progresses through parliament, with a draft Building Safety Bill scheduled for 2020, building safety continues to be at the forefront of the UK fire and rescue services’ (FRS) focus.

The National Fire Chiefs Council is pleased that this focus is now being reflected in – and supported by – additional government grant funding. This will uplift protection activities across the Fire and Rescue Service and undertake a dedicated risk review of fire safety in England’s high-rise building stock. It would be good to see this welcome injection of finance included in the base budget for future years. Supported by this funding, the Protection Board launched the Building Risk Review (BRR) Programme in November 2019 with phase one concentrating on high-rise residential buildings with ACM cladding systems.

The Protection Board is Chaired by myself, and includes membership from the Home Office, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Health and Safety Executive, Local Government Association, National Fire Chiefs Council, London Fire Brigade and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.

“NFCC continues to call for change to fix the failings of the UK’s building construction and safety regime which led to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower”

In order to meet the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s commitment to inspect or review all high-rises, the BRR aims to receive responses from all English FRSs on all residential buildings 18 metres and above in height by the end of December 2021. By providing BRR returns on a building by building basis, FRSs will be able to begin developing a database of building information which will also assist the new Building Safety Regulator when it comes into force. This information will not only stand safety regulators on a much stronger footing, but also help to reassure residents that fire safety is being assessed and managed in their buildings by their owners or the responsible person/s.

NFCC will be coordinating responses to the review programme and reporting back to partner organisations and the Minister of State for Fire, Stephen Greenhalgh, through NFCC’s extended Protection Hub, to be known as the Protection Policy and Reform Unit. The unit will provide central functions to assist and support protection activity within FRSs. In addition, it will build on the work of NFCC’s Protection Hub carried out by the existing Building Safety Programme Team. We will continue to influence government policy and advocate for continued improvements to the UK’s building safety system.

Following an appointment process in May, which saw a number of exceptional candidates, London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Dan Daly was appointed as the head of the extended hub on June 1, 2020. Dan brings with him a wealth of experience from his career at London Fire Brigade as well as his involvement in the development process for the BRR Programme. I would like to welcome him to the team.

Dan is now overseeing the development of the Protection Hub through the recruitment of roles in a variety of disciplines, ranging from data management to legal support for regulatory enforcement, and additional technical and policy roles. The Protection Unit will work closely with government and other partner organisations, whilst the additional resources for NFCC will allow us to provide much more support and tools to fire and rescue services, helping to drive improvements in consistency.

NFCC continues to call for change to fix the failings of the UK’s building construction and safety regime which led to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, alongside other members of the fire sector. It is hoped this one-off grant funding and resource increase for the fire and rescue services and NFCC will continue so we can campaign hard to make homes safer places to live, continue to promote stronger oversight and regulation of the construction sector, and strive for greater engagement, consultation and overall support for residents.