Ian Hart

Editor, Safety & Health Practitioner

January 21, 2020

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Grenfell Tower: Government responds to Phase 1 report

The Government has published a document in response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s Phase 1 report, which was published on 30 October 2019.

Grenfell housing

The response sets out the actions taken by the Government, in addressing the recommendations made to it and to the Emergency Services, including the London Fire Brigade. In 2019, The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report, heavily criticised the response of The London Fire Brigade (LFB) citing ‘serious shortcomings’ and ‘systemic failures’.

The response sets out the actions taken by the Government, in addressing the recommendations made to it and to the Emergency Services, including the London Fire Brigade. The 12-page document, ‘Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report: government response’, covers the following points:

  • Use of combustible materials;
  • Recommendations where changes are required by law;
  • ‘Stay put’ and evacuation;
  • Fire doors;
  • Testing and certification;
  • Building regulations;
  • Evacuation alert systems and internal signage;
  • Building Safety Regulator.

The introduction to the paper confirms that the Government will ‘continue to ensure that we actively engage with those who have been personally affected by the tragedy and listen to their views on the changes made to building regulations and fire safety.’

It goes on to acknowledge that LFB has accepted in full the recommendations directed to it, as well as those for the Fire and Rescue Services more broadly. ‘The Home Office welcomes the steps. LFB inform us they have already taken to address the Inquiry’s recommendations. These include revisions to policy guidance and advice to ensure personnel are better informed of the risks of fire taking hold in external walls, and the roll out of Fire Survival Guidance refresher training. The Home Office also supports LFB making smoke hoods available as part of breathing apparatus sets on all their fire appliances,’ it says.

Phase 2 of the Inquiry will investigate the wider context – including the nature and application of building regulations, the way in which local and central government responded to the fire, and the handling of concerns raised by tenants over many years.

Read the full Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report: government response, here.

On 20 January 2020, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, said that the government would begin naming the owners of high-rise buildings who’ve been slow to remove dangerous cladding. Figures show that work has yet to start on 157 residential buildings with the same type of cladding identified as a factor in the Grenfell Tower fire. Mr Jenrick told MPs: “Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.”

London Fire Brigade condemned

Dany Cotton, the London Fire Brigade’s Commissioner, is stepping down from her role four months early at the end of December, following the criticism of the service’s response to the Grenfell Fire. Andy Roe has since been appointed to replace Ms Cotton.

Having previously announced she would be standing down in April 2020, she has faced calls to resign since the The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1Grenfell report heavily criticised the response of The London Fire Brigade (LFB) citing ‘serious shortcomings’ and ‘systemic failures’.

Ms Cotton said Grenfell Tower was “without doubt the worst fire” the LFB had ever faced.

72 people were killed by the fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington, West London on Wednesday, 14 June 2017. The 24-storey tower block burned throughout the day, taking firefighters over 24 hours to get it under control, leading to confusion and uncertainty that lasted for days.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced the appointment of Andy Roe as London’s new Fire Commissioner on the 10th December, subject to a confirmation hearing by the London Assembly’s Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee. Mr Roe is set to take up the post on 1st January, “following a comprehensive international recruitment process”.

A former British Army officer, he has worked at LFB since 2002, progressing through the ranks as a firefighter. Speaking about his new post, Mr Roe said: “It is an enormous privilege to be offered this opportunity to lead London Fire Brigade into a new decade. My priority is to protect and serve all Londoners and make sure the capital’s fire and rescue service is the very best it can be.

“We have some real challenges ahead, but I’ll be working tirelessly with the Brigade, the Mayor and London’s communities to ensure we deliver on the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report. I’m looking forward to leading the Brigade through a period of transformation and delivering a workforce that truly reflects the diverse city we serve.”

Phase 1 Report

In the 1,000-page document enquiry Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick states that fewer people would have died, if the LFB had taken certain actions earlier.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the report “gives the victims the truth,” and that the world “is finally hearing the truth about what happened.”

Issues highlighted in the report included:

  • A lack of training in how to ‘recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one’;
  • Incident commanders ‘of relatively junior rank” being unable to change strategy;
  • Control room officers lacking training on when to advise callers to evacuate;
  • An assumption that crews would reach callers, resulting in ‘assurances which were not well founded’;
  • Communication between the control room and those on the ground being ‘improvised, uncertain and prone to error’;
  • A lack of an organised way to share information within the control room, meaning officers had ‘no overall picture of the speed or pattern of fire spread’;

Click here to read the The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report in full.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick issued the following statement, on publishing the report.

In response, the LFB said it would “carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety,” but that it was “disappointed” by some of the criticism of individuals. It also added disappointment that “measures we have been calling for are not in the recommendations, including the wider use of sprinklers in both new and existing buildings”.

On the night of the fire, the London Fire Brigade received an unprecedented number of 999 calls, but the report calls their operation beset by “shortcomings in practice, policy and training”. It said that call handlers were not always obtaining necessary information from the calls to ascertain where in the building the call originated from. It also says that some handlers were not made aware of what to tell residents in terms of when to evacuate.

Sir Martin says that operators were “not aware of the danger of assuming that crews would always reach callers”, stating a lack of lessons learnt from the 2009 fire at Lakanal House.

On 16 September 2019, it was revealed that, as part of the investigation into the fire, The LFB had been interviewed under caution by police. The interviews were conducted voluntarily, “as a body, rather than an individual” in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the fire service said.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said that the fire service recognised the need for answers by survivors and the bereaved. She said that hundreds of LFB staff and volunteers had already provided interview voluntarily and that they would continue to assist the investigation.

“We must all understand what happened and why to prevent communities and emergency services from ever being placed in such impossible conditions ever again,” she added.

Ms Cotton herself was not exempt from criticism, regarding her evidence to the public inquiry in September 2018. She told the hearing that she wouldn’t change a thing about the LFB’s response to the fire.

The report said she showed “remarkable insensitivity” and a lack of willing to learn lessons from Grenfell.

With news that hundreds of buildings still have ‘unsafe’ cladding, IFSEC Global asked a number of fire safety experts, ‘Grenfell Tower: Have lessons been learned two years on?‘ They discussed whether, two years on from the worst residential fire in living memory, there has been an adequate cultural shift – in government, the construction industry and among responsible persons – and whether this will persist.

This article was originally published on SHP.

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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