Grenfell review calls for an end to fire safety ‘on the cheap’

18 Dec 17

The chair of the government's independent review set up in the wake of the Grenfell tower-block blaze has called for an end to cutting corners on fire safety to save costs.

In an interim report of a review into building regulations and fire safety following the North Kensington fire, which claimed 71 lives, Judith Hackitt warned that commercial pressures on local authority building control departments conflicts with fire safety at high-rise blocks.

As building control bodies (BCBs), local authorities carry out certification work to approve the legal requirements of building works.

Since 1985, private companies have been allowed to compete for BCB work.

There are around 3,000 local authority building control staff, who deal with up to 70% of the estimated 300,000 building works certified every year.

The report said that the need for BCBs to compete for business “can sit uncomfortably with a proper consideration of fire safety design”, and that this was compounded by “tight margins on building work and the broader pressures on local authority resources”.

It added: “We have heard repeated concerns expressed about the commercial pressures associated with rigorous enforcement of fire safety requirements.”

Hackitt, who is a former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said that the whole system of regulation was “not fit for purpose” and left room for people to take shortcuts.

“I have been shocked by some of the practices I have heard about and I am convinced of the need for a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement for high-rise and complex buildings which will encourage everyone to do the right thing and will hold to account those who try to cut corners.”

She added: “The mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems and shortcomings to others must stop.”

The report also warned that a “declining and ageing workforce” at some fire and rescue services is impacting on their ability to carry out statutory inspections. 

In addition, it said there were incidents where fire services had raised concerns about compliance with a Fire Safety Order, but where no action had been taken because of the cost.  

The interim publication made a series of recommendations ahead of the final report, expected in the spring next year.

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