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Last updated: 19/12/2018, 3:17 PM

Government building safety recommendations could fail due to fire safety skills crisis

18/12/2018 15:00
Grenfell Tower

London Fire Brigade is warning that the Government’s building fire safety reforms announced today could fail unless urgent action is taken to address the skills gap in the building and fire safety sectors.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government committed to make buildings safer and their ‘Building a Safer Future’ implementation plan contains most of the Brigade’s recommendations.

However, while there are plans to improve the oversight of a building’s design, construction and maintenance, there are not enough people with the relevant skills and qualifications to provide the proper scrutiny.

While the Government’s plan does acknowledge that a skills gap exists, there are no clear plans to address it.

Dan Daly, Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, said: “There are countless points in a building’s life where decisions are made that can have dangerous consequences. Everything from a poor choice of building materials to badly designed refurbishments could undermine a building’s safety and risks lives which is why we need urgently need more people who are qualified to give these decisions proper oversight.

"Wrong decisions can have devastating consequences"

"Wrong decisions can have devastating consequences, the most obvious example of that is the ACM cladding that is now being removed from residential tower blocks. It is vital that these critical decisions are made by competent, skilled people to ensure the safety of the building is not compromised.

“ACM cladding has now been banned but in ten years time we could be looking back on another disaster where an equally dangerous issue with building safety has gone unnoticed because unqualified people were making critical decisions.

“It’s not just large scale building renovations or engineering decisions that need proper skilled oversight, we regularly see issues with everyday maintenance such as smoke extraction systems and fire doors beings fitted incorrectly or holes being drilled through walls and floors to run cables or pipes without making good the fire protection.

“Next time, it won’t be ACM cladding, it will be some other unforeseen risk that will only be noticed after a fire unless we take this opportunity to ensure there are sufficient, competent people who really understand building and fire safety.”

The Government has also announced a new Joint Regulatory Group (JRG) which has been set up to explore how improvements to building safety can be made before the need for new regulations. While this is welcomed, the Brigade has concerns that it only covers high rise buildings and residential buildings of ten storeys or more. Complicated construction projects and buildings that house people with complicated needs, like a care home, should also be included.

The Brigade would also like reassurance about how such a group will be paid for to ensure it has the resource to be effective.

Brigade's consultation response

Read our response to Dame Judith Hackitt's full independent review of building regulations and fire safety

Read the full response

AC Daly continued: “Although Fire and Rescue Service expertise is an essential part of the JRG, London has thousands of tall buildings and so it will have huge resource implications to ensure we can provide our expertise on so many complicated projects both in construction and occupation. We would like reassurance the Government will properly fund this and commit to addressing the skills gap to ensure the availability of competent people across the sector for this work. “

The Building a Safer Future report, reflects recommendations in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, which in turn reflects issues that London Fire Brigade has spent years lobbying for.

In particular, the Brigade welcomes a commitment to

  • consult on the scope of the new regulatory framework, as we want to see care homes and specialised housing included
  • improve the accountability framework and measures to give residents more of a voice at the heart new regulatory system
  • have a full technical review of the fire safety guidance known as Approved Document B.

The Brigade would also like assurances that the review of Approved Document B includes sprinklers to be mandatory in all residential tower blocks. We are also calling for new school builds or refurbishments to have sprinklers fitted.

AC Daly said: “Sprinklers will detect a fire, suppress a fire and raise the alarm. Omitting sprinklers from this crucial regulatory document would leave thousands of homes and business at risk.“

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