July 23, 2018

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FIREX 2018

Hackitt report too narrowly focused on fire prevention, says former HSE chief

Geoffrey Podger, the former chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, has expressed misgivings about Dame Judith Hackitt’s report into the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Speaking at FIREX International 2018, Podger welcomed Hackitt’s diagnosis of the problem but suggested that her prescription for addressing the problem was misguided.

“I think no one should doubt what Dame Judith is trying to do and in terms of her diagnosis of what is wrong she pretty much got it right,” he told delegates. “But when all is said and done, is what she is proposing actually going to work?”

He argued that Grenfell shared similarities with health and safety disasters given that it was foreseen, took place in an unsatisfactory regulatory framework and the proposals made to remedy the problem remain unclear.

“I’m afraid ultimately the report puts the cart before the horse”

“One of the things that worries me about Grenfell,” he continued, “is that we persist in regarding it purely in the narrow perspective of fire prevention. Which is important but actually there are, in my view, a lot of lessons from wider regulation which would be useful now in working out what we’re actually going to do.”

He continued: “What this all boils down to is proportionality. How much does it cost? What’s it going to do? We have to decide what it is we want to regulate and what our priorities actually are.”

He also queried Hackitt’s proposal of modelling regulation on how high-risk chemical plants are run, specifically the COMAH (Control of Major Hazard) regulation.

“COMAH is actually a virtual agency, it does not exist in its own right. It simply exists of two groups of staff who are drawn from other agencies. Is this actually suitable for the problem we’re trying to solve here?”

Podger was unsparing in his final conclusion: “I’m afraid ultimately the report puts the cart before the horse and doesn’t put out a plan of where we need to go.”

Also speaking at FIREX 2018, Brian Gregory from Safety Management UK offered a more positive view on the report. “I believe Dame Judith got a lot right,” he told delegates at the event. “It’s about how cheap we can get the job done. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Everybody has looked to cut corners and save money.”

Set up in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 71 people in June, Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report says that “the current overall system is not working effectively and needs to be overhauled.” Hackitt said a “universal shift in culture” was required to rebuild trust with residents of high-rise buildings.

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2 Comments on "Hackitt report too narrowly focused on fire prevention, says former HSE chief"

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Bryan Catcheside
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As a former senior enforcement officer now involved in the training of enforcement officers throughout the country I feel that there are three fundamental issues to be addressed, namely: 1. The doctrine of self regulation upon which current health and safety procedures are based. Effective self-regulation is dependent upon the integrity stemming from a moral compass which is simply not in evidence in today’s society. 2. The reluctance of the Health and Safety Executive to be prescriptive in the interests of the stake holder whilst paradoxically being ever more prescriptive regarding enforcement procedures to be implemented by enforcement authorities severely… Read more »
Barrie Jones
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For many years we as a business BAJ system design Ltd have tried to sell various forms of emergency escape equipment and we have always had negative responses from the fire authorities. I was interested in a specific product my former employer was asked to supply (during 1987) and as I had been involved in a fire where a work colleague had been badly burned this interest grew and we (BAJ) supplied the product together with others until the recession. I have always believed the first response to a fire is GET OUT not go to some safe place and… Read more »