Fire chiefs call for Grenfell Tower Inquiry to get to the truth about cladding
The National Fire Chiefs Council has called for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) to get to the truth about why such dangerous cladding came to be installed on the building and ensure those responsible are held to account
National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher stated: “It is imperative we find out why a non-compliant, extremely dangerous cladding system was on Grenfell Tower, along with hundreds of other buildings across the country.
“The bereaved, survivors and families deserve answers and I truly hope they get the answers they need from Phase Two.”
The first phase of the Inquiry found the cladding system was the ‘principal’ reason for the rapid and ‘profoundly shocking’ spread of the fire. The second phase concentrates on how – and why – the building was clad in a flammable material during its refurbishment.
In February, NFCC expressed shock following the opening evidence given to the second phase of the Inquiry, including emails which suggested companies knew the components of the cladding system would fail in the event of a fire.
NFCC stated: “The evidence undoubtedly showed a clear lack of concern for fire safety and a blatant disregard for people. It made it clear manufacturers and distributors were fully aware of the flammability of the cladding. This disregard for safety undoubtedly contributed to the loss of life at Grenfell Tower.”
Mr Wilsher said: “The evidence presented was so shocking I am not sure how anyone – including London Fire Brigade – could have possibly known the building was wrapped in such a cladding system that so clearly breached building regulations.
“Firefighters faced an impossible situation when faced with the enormity of the fire, with no prior knowledge of the materials used in the refurbishment. The extraordinary work of firefighters on the night must be commended.
“As highlighted by expert witnesses in Phase One it was not reasonable the brigade should be expected to fully mitigate a fire arising from the installation of these materials, particularly where the brigade had never been informed that a combustible system had been installed in the first place.
“The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy waiting to happen; it is indefensible that we still have such cladding systems on buildings across the country. The Independent Expert Advisory Panel highlighted this cladding system is a level of risk beyond anything else we have seen and has noted that there was nothing else firefighters could do that wasn’t already procedure.
“Fire and rescue services are doing their utmost to minimise the risk; however, 20 years of building safety failure is not the responsibility of fire and rescue. Phase Two should re-emphasise the importance of the reform of building safety and how it needs to happen at pace.”
NFCC has repeatedly stated it is “wholly unacceptable” that people are still living in dangerously clad buildings.
Mark Hardingham, Chair of NFCC’s Protection and Business Safety Committee, added: “It is only through better legislation, regulation and clear lines of responsibility we can ensure we do not see another tragedy of this scale unfold. The Grenfell Tower fire highlighted beyond doubt that the building safety regime was broken. Yet, three years’ later tens of thousands of people are still living in buildings clad in the same or similar materials as that on Grenfell Tower.”
NFCC also welcomed the decision earlier this year from the Attorney General not to grant any person or corporate entity involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower immunity from future criminal prosecutions. Witnesses from Phase One of the GTI did not make such a request and gave unfettered, open and honest disclosure surrounding the tragic fire.
Evidence presented so far includes:
- Decisions taken to use ACM cladding to make savings in the region of £450,000.
- Fire engineers being excluded from communications about the details of the cladding.
- An internal email from the insulation manufacturer where an executive admitted to a distributor it was ‘clearly wrong’ to think it was okay to use combustible insulation on buildings of any height.
- Emails show that distributors of the cladding stating they would only use non-combustible cladding if “specifically challenged”.
- In April 2016, while works on Grenfell were ongoing, Arconic was sent guidance stating that UK building regulations required “all significant elements of each and every layer of the wall to be non-combustible or of limited combustibility”.
Virtual video appointments for inspectors
For the first time, businesses are being offered virtual video appointments with fire safety inspectors from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s Business Fire Safety Team
As many businesses re-opened following lockdown restrictions being eased, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s Business Fire Safety Team were there to support them.
Ian Bell, Head of Business Fire Safety at TWFRS, said: “With many businesses starting to re-open across Tyne and Wear, it’s crucial that fire risk assessments are reviewed to consider any changes that have been introduced because of the Coronavirus pandemic, ensuring the fire safety systems and equipment have been maintained and in good working order and that staff are informed of any changes that have been introduced in the workplace.
“We have introduced virtual video Microsoft Teams appointments with a fire safety inspector where the businesses can book a convenient virtual meeting, enabling the business to contact us directly using modern technology, while maintaining social distancing.
“Our fire safety inspectors are here to help answer any queries or concerns regarding such matters as: helping to understand the implications that Covid-19 safety may have on the fire safety arrangements of your premises, updating fire risk assessments, maintenance regimes, staff training, fire drills, fire doors and much more.”
Renters better protected from fire hazards thanks to new regulations
Rogue landlords could face fines of up to £30,000 if they do not comply with new regulations which come into force designed to keep renters safe from faulty electrics and fire hazards
Under the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, landlords must now get wiring, light fittings, plug sockets and other electrical installations in renters’ homes checked at least every five years by a ‘qualified and competent’ person.
Landlords are already required to carry out gas safety checks every year and London Fire Brigade has been calling for electrical safety checks to be mandatory for many years.
The Brigade’s Information Management team provided data to demonstrate the risk in the private rented sector as well as fire investigation case studies to the government’s Electrical Safety Working Group, which made recommendations to inform the guidance, and the Brigade has welcomed the new regulations.
The Brigade’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “We are very pleased to see these new regulations come into force, which should be seen as a huge win for tenants who often have to battle with landlords to ensure their homes are safe.
“Most landlords provide well-maintained and safe accommodation for their tenants, but there are those that don’t and put people’s lives at risk. So it’s a positive step that tenants now have protection and the support of local authorities if landlords don’t comply.
“Sadly, we are all too aware of what the devastating consequences of faulty electrics can be and provided detailed data to the working group to shape the guidance.
“As these regulations do not cover electrical appliances, only fixed electrical installations, we would urge people to ensure their appliances are safe and always register them so you can be informed if there is a fault identified.”
The regulations mean:
- Electrical wiring, sockets, consumer units (fuse boxes) and other fixed electrical parts in rented homes must be inspected and tested every five years, or more often if the inspector thinks it necessary.
- Throughout the whole time a tenant is living at the property, national electrical safety standards must be met.
- Landlords must give the tenant a report that shows the condition of the property’s electrical installations. They also have to give this to the local council if they ask for it.
Inspections will find out if any electrical installations are overloaded, if there are any potential electric shock risks or fire hazards, if there is any defective electrical work and if there is a lack of earthing or bonding. If the report identifies any issues, landlords will have 28 days to carry out necessary works, or less if the inspector deems the work more urgent.
For full guidance for both landlords and tenants visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/electricalsafety-standards-in-the-private-rented-sector-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities.
Don’t Just Specify, Verify!
The United Kingdom Accreditation Service has announced its full support for BAFE’s Don’t Just Specify, Verify! campaign focusing on third party certification
The campaign, Don’t Just Specify, Verify! launched by the BAFE Fire Safety Register earlier this year, was established to create greater awareness of third party certification in the fire safety sector. It is important that all management (ie the Responsible Person/Duty Holder) understand quality regulation is present in the fire safety industry through UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification and specify these appropriate providers.
This should always be followed up with verifying their certification, which is a quick action to ensure they have been assessed and deemed competent to deliver the specific service required.
Matt Gantley, CEO, UKAS, says: “UKAS is delighted to see this important initiative from BAFE and we offer it our full support. Accredited third-party certification of fire safety services is an essential element of fulfilling statutory obligations. UKAS is the only accreditation body recognised by the UK government and BAFE have always shown great commitment to meeting this ‘gold standard’.”
Stephen Adams, Chief Executive, BAFE, commented: “It is excellent to report UKAS’ support for the ‘Don’t Just Specify, Verify!’ campaign. This campaign is to benefit all UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification in the fire safety industry, not just BAFE, as we feel evidential competence is the key issue here for life safety. The wider public needs to be aware of these options to be confident they are using competent providers. This can reassure them an appropriate provider is being used, especially at this time when so many businesses are planning to get back to work and need to review their fire safety protection.”
Further information on third party certification and BAFE’s Don’t Just Specify, Verify! campaign can be found at: https://www.bafe.org.uk/Dont-Just-Specify-Verify-Third-Party-Certification
Guidance on testing transportable gas cylinders
Euralarm has published a guidance document on the important aspects relating to the periodic inspection of cylinders used in fixed gaseous fire extinguishing systems and especially in respect to hydrostatic testingThe guidance note is intended to identify some critical areas that are often not fully understood and does not prescribe the full processes involved in the testing or the physical handling of the cylinders.
Transportable cylinders under the TPED (Transportable Pressure Equipment Directive) and ADR (European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road) are required to go through periodic testing for re-certification. The new Euralarm document addresses the issues related to the importance of procedures for periodic testing and subsequent refilling the cylinders. The document guides the reader to avoid serious safety issues of hydrostatic testing.
The guidance note is meant for the testing of gas cylinders of seamless steel, seamless aluminium alloy and welded carbon steel according to respectively EN 1968:2002,
EN 1802:2002 and EN 1803:2002. Aspects that are covered in the guidance note are moisture control, the reuse of cylinder valves and the recertification of cylinders. A useful checklist is part of the document. The checklist covers important steps to ensure that the safety of cylinders is maintained during periodic inspection processes and during the filling afterwards.
Copies of the guidance document on periodic testing of transportable gas cylinders used for firefighting can be downloaded from the Euralarm website: www.euralarm.org
New sprinkler system measures ‘will protect lives and property’
The new measures which make sprinkler systems mandatory in all new high-rise blocks over 11 metres high will help save lives and property in the event of fire, says specialist AEI CablesStuart Dover, General Manager of AEI Cables, said: “The new guidance is so critical that it will undoubtedly save lives and property at some stage, but we need to see the detail behind it.
“The fire performance industry has been waiting for this announcement for some time so it is warmly welcomed, but now we need to see how it will work in practice.
“The sooner the practical guidance can be rolled out then the sooner they can be applied and the sprinkler systems being specified now can be installed in the knowledge that all best practice has been followed the interests of safety for all concerned.”
The reduced requirement for sprinkler systems from the current 30 metres to 11 metres.
The Fire Safety Bill, which was introduced to parliament in April, will also empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they do not comply with the law.