Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
May 22, 2018

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Grenfell review: The fire-safety industry responds to Dame Hackitt’s recommendations

Last week Dame Judith Hackitt released her final recommendations for overhauling building regulations and improving fire safety in the construction supply chain.

Set up by the UK government in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in which 71 people died last June, the review was widely criticised for not banning outright the use of combustible cladding in construction. However, the Government has since announced a consultation on doing so in tower blocks.

A separate, judge-led inquiry into the Grenfell fire started taking evidence on 21 May.

IFSEC Global has received detailed responses to Hackitt’s findings from four of the most significant associations in the fire industry, which you can read below alongside comments from London Fire Brigade and FM Global.

The Fire Industry Association (FIA)

“We question whether a Joint Competent Authority for HRRBs would result in the envisaged improvement to standards”

The Fire Industry Association welcomes Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. We, amongst others, have been pushing for years for changes in the regulatory environment and competency levels in the fire safety industry.

The Hackitt Report is a very wide-ranging review of the processes used to ensure high standards of fire safety within the design, construction and end use of buildings. It includes recommendations of major changes of those processes when used on High Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs) and also recommends that the government consider implementing those changes to other high risk buildings, such as hospitals and care homes.

The FIA would agree with this and would encourage the government to implement improvements to fire safety standards more widely, rather than just for HRRBs.  Areas such as competency checks of people and companies operating in key fire safety areas, and the quality control of fire safety installations need to be improved throughout the industry.

The Hackitt Report includes a variety of other recommendations, such as the introduction of the new Joint Competent Authority for HRRBs. That would be a very major change to the approval procedure and the staged process could potentially cause delays to the construction programme. The FIA would question whether the process would result in the envisaged improvement to standards of fire safety although we would welcome more engagement on this issue.

The FIA will be responding to the call for the various organisations within the fire safety industry to take a lead in resolving the problems that clearly exist within fire safety professionals and the construction industry in order to ensure that tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire never happen again.

Niall Rowan, CEO, Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP)

“We’d like to see many recommendations rolled out to cover most buildings since the issues are applicable beyond high-risk residential buildings”

The ASFP supports the report as aiming to deliver a better built environment with fire safety given the proper consideration it deserves.

We believe the focus on high-risk residential buildings (HRRBs) is a good place to start, but we would like to see many of the recommendations rolled out progressively to cover the great majority of buildings since the issues raised are applicable to all buildings and not just HRRBs.

The greater emphasis on considering fire safety early in the design process, and so building what was designed, is in alignment with the work we have been doing with RIBA on creating a fire safety overlay for the RIBA Plan of Works. Furthermore, to have a dedicated duty-holder is also a logical step in coordinating fire safety throughout the construction process and prevents responsibility being passed onto others when problems arise.

The ASFP also strongly supports the suggestion that third-party product certification be made mandatory. This is something for which we have been campaigning for many years.

Brian Robinson, president, Fire Sector Federation (FSF)

“We are concerned that the proposals do not go far enough”

The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) welcomes the completion of the review and recognises the direction is consistent with the UK’s approach to general health and safety.

We are pleased to see greater focus on the recognition of responsibilities and control of the fire safety building performance through the whole process from planning to building occupation and throughout the life of a building. We also support the creation of the Joint Competent Authority.

The report gives us a direction of travel but it is now up to the government to drive the recommendations forward, particularly those on regulation and testing, and to set and enforce high standards. Dame Judith has formulated a long term plan which will take time to achieve.

The lack of an interim arrangement and the need for substantial further work does not give confidence in an immediate or long term outcome which will provide residents with the reassurance they need.

We are concerned that the proposals do not go far enough to ensure the fitness for purpose of designs, materials, products and building processes. The industry needs direction and this is just as important for contractors, sub-contractors and facility managers working on site every day as it is for members of professional institutions.

While we welcome the recognition that the industry should take responsibility for developing suitable guidance and standards, the challenge is not for the construction sector alone. We believe it is vital for the wider fire sector to be significantly involved in any arrangements and will collaborate widely to help develop the far-reaching solutions required to solve this highly complex problem.

Brian Robinson CBE, QFSM, FSF President, Fire Sector Federation, will deliver a keynote address on the Hackitt Report at FIREX 2018The fire sector response to Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety will take place on 19 June, between 10.45-11.15am, in the FIREX Expertise & Guidance Theatre at London ExCeL.

Iain McIlwee, CEO, British Woodworking Federation (BWF)

“There still seems to be little recognition of the full scale of the problem”

The British Woodworking Federation, whose members manufacture around three million fire doors in the UK each year, welcomes the recommendations and urges government to crack on with embracing these recommendations as soon as practicable. Tightening and clarifying regulation, enforcement, responsibility and control processes is long overdue.

The report recognises the importance of duty holders, competence, the need to align construction design and management regulations and establishing a joint competent authority to manage and enforce.

We also welcome the guidance note issued yesterday by MHCLG that encouraged that there is an emphatic endorsement that UCAS-accredited third party certification of product and competence of installation, inspection is picked up as a priority – this is fundamental to safety reform.

We do still have reservations with the announcements from the Prime Minister. Government is finally grasping the fact that urgency is required, but there still seems to be little recognition of the full scale of the problem.

We know that cladding was a major reason the Grenfell fire turned from a potentially minor incident into a tragedy, but the cladding and external envelope is only part of the story.

The condition of the fire doors and the specifically the performance of the Manse Masterdor fire doors have also been highlighted as a major concern and some more detailed advice has been issued, but, with our experience it is just the tip of the iceberg, the question remains how do we set about and fund the fixing years of fire safety neglect?

Setting aside the issue of the Manse Masterdor fire doors, referenced, there remain a plethora of other challenges. For years, weak and fragmented legislation, combined with poor skills and control in construction and maintenance have undermined installation and failed to address inadequacies in inspection and maintenance regimes.

We believe that a new financial mechanism is needed to enable local authorities, housing associations and others to access the funds required to upgrade safety recommendations.

We are campaigning for the creation of a Building Safety Fund (similar to the Pension Protection Fund), which will offer a solution to the current predicament of Housing Associations and Local Authorities by providing them with a scheme to apply to for compensation to support these costs.

The fund would alleviate concerns while helping consolidate legal matters through a centrally controlled process. Although the cost of this may need to be born through insurance premiums, when we consider the true and ongoing cost of Grenfell, we cannot let it be ignored.

Dan Daly, Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, London Fire Brigade

“We hope sprinklers and other automatic fire suppression systems are given additional consideration”

We have a once in a generation opportunity to save lives by ensuring buildings are built and maintained with proper fire safety measures and so we are very pleased that Dame Judith has included so many of our recommendations.

It took the Grenfell Tower tragedy for the fire safety of buildings to be taken seriously. Fundamental change is outlined and the Government must now take this forward without undue delay to ensure we have robust legislation and regulation in place to make buildings safer.

We understand why many would want materials such as ACM cladding banned but The Brigade agrees with Dame Judith Hackitt’s conclusion this would not help safety in the long term. It’s more important that the review concentrates on appropriate testing regimes for building materials, tighter regulations and ensuring that competent people are making decisions about building safety.

Context is as important as raw materials when it comes to making buildings safe. For example, a type of material used in an low rise office block could be safe but dangerous if used in a high rise block.

However, the challenge for Government now will be to ensure there is proper funding to resource these new responsibilities and plug a nationwide engineering skills gap. This is a particular issue for London due to the sheer volume of high rises and building projects.

We also hope that the use of sprinklers and other automatic fire suppression systems are given additional consideration as part of this work.

Read more on the LFB’s response

Tom Roche, senior consultant for international codes and standards, FM Global

“Pushing responsibility onto industry without issuing updated technical guidance is likely to create further confusion for building owners”

While the Hackitt Review provides some clarity over who is responsible for what and when, it’s disappointing not to see a direct call for current technical guidelines to be reviewed.

Instead, it looks like the government will be pushing more responsibility onto industry to ensure building safety. Pushing responsibility onto industry without issuing updated technical guidance is likely to create further confusion for building owners who are typically looking to government guidelines and building standards to make sure they are compliant.

Hackitt also falls short of calling for a ban on combustible materials which many expected, again relying on the sector do the right thing based on outcomes and pushing the responsibility onto industry to trace and test materials.

Whilst this is a good long term approach we have to at the present. It’s even more imperative that the Government takes responsibility for updating technical guidance for the industry to use in the short term.

Hackitt’s report focuses heavily on high rise residential buildings. No doubt this is an important area post-Grenfell.

However, Grenfell exposed multiple failings across the UK’s fire safety systems that were not just specific to high rise buildings. When it comes to fire safety, we need the same level of rigour to be applied to all buildings, including homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces, many of which are low rise buildings.

What is clear from this review is that rather than waiting indefinitely for the government to provide answers, building owners need to get ahead of the issues and have a fire safety strategy in place. If there’s a material they are unsure about the safety of, they shouldn’t delay for the Government to make recommendations, they should get it looked at now.

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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Ken Bentley
Ken Bentley
May 25, 2018 11:51 am

Would it not be a good idea to ensure that sprinkler systems that have been installed are periodically; and automatically tested, to ensure the pump has not seized up?

sean coleman
sean coleman
May 29, 2018 9:57 pm

interesting to see sprinklers being taken out of or not being considered for basement car parks in Ireland in multistory developments


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