The author of an independent review into fire safety and building regulations has warned it is impossible to rule out another “catastrophic event” like the Grenfell Tower tragedy if changes aren’t made to the regulatory system.
Addressing delegates at IOSH 2018, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s annual international conference, Dame Judith Hackitt said she was “truly shocked” about standards in the built environment when she started her review.
She said it is vital that there is a culture change implemented as soon as possible, while the horrors of Grenfell are still fresh in people’s memories.
Part of that culture change, she said, involves the construction industry having the same sense of care for those using buildings as it does for those involved in constructing them.
She said: “When I looked from the outside into standards in the built environment, what I encountered was truly shocking. The system for fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings was weak and ineffective.
“People actually said things like ‘we always knew something like this would happen’. They knew the system wasn’t working but didn’t know how to fix it. There was a race to the bottom. Companies were looking to do things as cheap as possible, getting around the rules. It was about cost, not quality.
“Unless we fix the system, we have no way of guaranteeing that there won’t be another catastrophic event.
“We need to get to a point where people those who construct a building are as responsible for those who use it over the next ten or 20 years as they are employee safety. What we are calling for is collaboration and joined-up thinking across the built environment sector, not self-interested groups protecting their own turf, something I have seen a lot of.”
Dame Judith’s review, commissioned following Grenfell, was published earlier this year and included 53 recommendations aimed at providing a stronger and tougher – but easier to follow – regulatory.
She said some industry groups and the government are already looking at how to implement some of the measures.
This, she said, includes bringing together bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive, local authority building control and fire and rescue authorities and having the same risk-based approach as there is across industry.
She added that there needs to be stronger powers of enforcement, to provide more deterrent to cost-cutting.
“Right now, the level of penalties when people are caught out is not strong enough,” she said. “There is no deterrent.
“We also need a system where people can raise concerns in the knowledge they will be acted on. The same goes for within industry, for example we don’t want people thinking they don’t know who to tell if there are concerns.”
IOSH 2018 is being held at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham on 17-18 September.