The fire at Grenfell was a tragedy. A suspected 80 people lost their lives and hundreds more left homeless with nothing more than the clothes they were standing in. This horrific inferno has not only triggered the launch of a public inquiry and criminal investigation but a review of the building and fire safety regulations that govern how these buildings are constructed to reassure residents that the complete system is working and that the buildings they live in are safe and remain so.
Tests undertaken by the Building Research Establishment following Grenfell found that 82 residential multi-occupancy buildings use a combination of cladding and insulation that doesn't meet current fire safety standards for preventing the vertical spread of fire. The independent enquiry, being led by Dame Judith Hackitt, is essential to ensure that there is a sufficiently robust regulatory system in place for the future and it will examine building and fire safety regulations along with related compliance and enforcement. An interim report is due later this year with the final report expected in Spring 2018. Now Dame Hackitt is looking to engage widely with industry and the public to inform the recommendations from the review, believing that these recommendations will lead to any necessary improvements in the system being made.
Current Building Regulations have not been updated since 2010, and experts have previously flagged concerns that these regulations are unclear on the use of combustible cladding, which has resulted in unsuitable materials being used in the course of refurbishment and construction work. The current regulations mean that it is permissible for buildings over 18 meters in height to have combustible insulation. However, strict guidelines must be followed which are designed to help prevent fires from spreading across the exterior of buildings.
Unfortunately, ambiguous drafting in the building regulations means that in some cases, assumptions have been made that the rule only applied to the insulation on the outside of buildings and not the exterior of the cladding. It is also possible to use combustible materials in cladding if you commission a fire test. However, these mock-up tests do not reflect a real-life installation as they are conducted on a perfectly installed wall. In reality, if items have not been installed as standard, or have suffered wear and tear they may be much more vulnerable to fire.
So, what can we expect from Dame Hackitt’s report when it is published? Well, there is a call for evidence from the Government that was published on 12th September this year. The review aims to make recommendations to ensure a sufficiently robust regulatory system that covers the framework of building, housing and fire safety legislation and associated guidance. There is interest in hearing from respondents on aspects of the current regulatory system that are working well and aspects that could be reformed to enhance fire safety, particularly in the context of high-rise multi-occupancy residential buildings. In addition to this there are a set of questions laid out in the document that are of particular importance to the review which will help the panel gain clarity on areas such as appropriate levels of training and accreditation for those responsible for compliance, whether the current checking and inspection regime is adequately backed up through enforcement and sanctions, and whether the current regulations are clear and easy to understand.
It is hoped that this independent review panel will use this information to form a tighter set of regulations that are not open to interpretation. The current regulations have proved themselves to be problematic in that the cladding used in the Grenfell refurbishment was not compliant with current regulations, and while these ‘loopholes’ still exist, there is always the ability for disaster to strike.
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